Carrie Filipetti graduated from University of Virginia in 2011 with a degree in religious studies. Now 33, she’s spent part of the years since in the foreign policy world — as senior policy adviser to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and in the State Department as a deputy assistant secretary and deputy special representative for Venezuela. Now out of government, she is executive director of the Vandenberg Coalition, a nonprofit national security think tank named after former Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.).
What is the Vandenberg Coalition?
We decided to found the Vandenberg Coalition in early 2021 because we recognized there was a real need for strong principled American leadership. We were seeing there was this trend toward isolationism that myself, and our chairman, Elliot Abrams, thought was antithetical to the founding principles of this country.
Broadly speaking, the Vandenberg Coalition hopes to ensure that it is the preferences of the United States — as opposed to the preferences of China, Russia or some other adversary — that determine the future prosperity and security of the American people. We do a lot of work in trying to educate people in foreign policy and then trying to generate a sense of, “What is the best American foreign policy today?”.
We decided to name ourselves after Sen. [Arthur] Vandenberg [R-Mich.] because I was going through some old speeches, trying to figure out what would best embody the sentiment of strong, principled American leadership, and I came across a speech [of his] from Jan. 10, 1945, and it was sort of this public conversion from an isolationist to an internationalist.
What I loved about his reputation is that he was not hyperpartisan; he wanted to work across the aisle, he believed in putting the country before politics. We wanted to bring back that ethos and the idea of positive civil discourse around foreign policy.
How did you get into government?
I initially started working for the State Department because I wanted to work for Ambassador Haley, because to me she represented a political leader who had character and integrity. I was fortunate to be accepted and I started working for her as her senior policy adviser on the Middle East, counterterrorism and the Western Hemisphere. When she resigned, I was offered the opportunity to work as the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department.
How did you go from a religious studies major to your work now?
I always had in my mind that I wanted to work for the government. I initially went to UVA to study political science, but I’m a bit of a contrarian, and so when I saw how many people were studying that, I wanted to focus on some other area where I could understand human behavior from a different lens. I didn’t intend to major in religious studies but I just fell in love with what I was learning and who was teaching it.
When I graduated, I looked at my degree in religion and thought, “I’m not qualified for anything.” I went to a fellowship with Tikvah Fund and they connected me with a family foundation that was looking to bring someone on board with knowledge of the Middle East. I was hired and had the opportunity to meet some fantastic people, learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meet government officials and, as this was happening, the idea that I had as a kid of wanting to serve in government started to come back.
Where does Judaism fit into your life?
I have had a fairly wild Jewish journey. I was raised Reform, my mother’s Jewish, my father’s Catholic — so Reform and celebrated Christmas, had Easter baskets. When I was in college, I became much more observant — from what I was wearing and keeping Shabbat and kosher — for almost a year.
As time went on, I realized there’s different components of being Jewish: the social aspect of friends and networking, the intellectual component of studying and the mind and the religious component. For me I’ve gravitated much more toward the intellectual. I’m fascinated by Jewish history. I do try to stay connected to Jewish writing and live a Jewish life, morally speaking. I’ve always identified more as a Reconstructionist, just understanding that Judaism is a civilization, it’s an ethnicity, it’s part of who I am. I’m still on my Jewish journey trying to figure out the exact right mix of things.