On Friday, February 17th, 2017, for their first policy dialogue of the spring semester, students from the William & Mary Public Policy Program traveled to D.C to hear from speakers on the topic of defense and national security. As part of this trip they met with a member of the professional staff for the House Armed Services Committee as well as James Phillips, a Senior Research Fellow for Middle East Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and an expert on Middle Eastern terrorism. These two visits gave students an opportunity to speak with policy experts and to have an inside look into part of the decision making apparatus for American foreign policy.
At the Rayburn Building the students were greeted in the House Armed Services Committee room by a member of the professional staff of the committee. They discussed the structure and function of the committee as well as the role that the professional staff plays in meeting the committee’s responsibilities. Specifically, they discussed the work that is done behind the scenes by the professional staff to help produce committee reports. The students also got a chance to learn how the Senate, House, and executive branches work cooperatively to advance defense policy.
From Capitol Hill, the students made their way to the Heritage Foundation where they met with James Phillips, an expert on terrorism and the Middle East. He spoke about ISIS and how it has differed from earlier terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. Specifically, he discussed how ISIS is a broader movement than Al-Qaeda and how it has been successful in appealing to younger people. He discussed how ISIS has gained support from the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria who have felt threatened by the Alawites and Shiites in the region. According to Mr. Phillips, ISIS has been more successful than other terrorist organizations in attracting fighters from around the world. The final distinction that Mr. Phillips drew between ISIS and previous terrorist organizations is the Islamic State’s claim to being a new caliphate and its control of significant territory. He concluded with a discussion of how ISIS can be combatted going forward.