Rob Satrom, Lincoln Fellow 2016
What is your current position?
I am the Near East Unit Chief for Counterterrorism Policy in the Department of State’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
The short answer: God and love of country.
The long answer: I could not have predicted a career path in national security. While I’ve always had a love for my country, I would never have imagined I would be advising senior U.S. government officials on counterterrorism policy.
9/11 happened while I was in college. I remember writing in my journal that night that what happened when jihadist terrorists brought down the twin towers that day would change the course of my generation. As the years went by, I began learning more about the spread of Islamic jihadist ideology and terrorism. I wanted to do something to try to prevent that spread and keep America and other parts of the world from suffering from more terrorist attacks like what happened on 9/11. It took me a while to get there though.
I was a journalism major in college, but figured out around the time of my senior year that I didn’t think that was a great fit for my career. A couple of trips to Southeast Asia during college focused my thinking overseas. After college, I worked for a Coca-Cola bottling franchise in my home state of Oklahoma while I tried to figure out exactly what to do longer-term. My overseas travel and reading a ton of books about foreign affairs got me more interested in trying to find a career in international relations. My mom encouraged me to look into working for the State Department. I did, and decided that if I wanted to go that route I would need more specialized education. I moved to Washington, DC for graduate school and after that received a fellowship that helped me get into the State Department. I’ve now worked at the State Department for almost ten years, serving as an advisor in the Special Envoy to Sudan’s office, as Somalia desk officer, as a counterterrorism advisor for East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and most recently as a Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council. I returned back to the State Department in February to continue working on counterterrorism there.
What are you currently working on?
I lead a team of six policy advisers that track counterterrorism issues in North Africa, the Levant, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and the Arabian Peninsula. We provide insights and advice to senior State Department leadership, in particular in advance of NSC-chaired counterterrorism policy meetings with other national security agencies.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
I heard about the Claremont Institute from a good friend, Dave Wilezol, who was a Publius Fellow in 2012.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
I really enjoyed the interaction between the fellows at night during my fellowship, including Michael Uhlmann’s late night stories about working in the Reagan administration. I also enjoyed the debate between John Yoo and Angelo Codevilla over foreign policy issues toward the end of my fellowship week. Claremont should do more to get into the foreign policy game.
If you could have a fireside chat with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you discuss?
George Washington. I would love to ask him how he thinks his farewell speech, particularly his guidance about avoiding entangling alliances, applies to America today.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Both seem indispensable to me, but if pressed, I would have to say Lincoln. Without Lincoln, our great Union may very well have dissolved.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Two things concern me about our country today. The polarization between parties seems to be particularly wide and the propensity for much of the population to get their news and information only from people they agree with. This isn’t a recipe for working together to solve the tough problems we face, but I’m confident we can overcome it. We shouldn’t be afraid to hear opposing views and engage them in a civilized manner. One of the things I value about the Claremont Institute is its emphasis on the virtues and on statesmanship.
What books are you currently reading?
The Bible. I read through it every year.
I just finished Presidential Command, by Peter Rodman and am in the middle of The Kingdom, by Robert Lacey. I’m also a big fan of audio books. I’m currently listening to Jerusalem: the Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
What book has left a lasting impression with you and why?
Two books: First, a book called Desiring God, by John Piper. It helped to change my view of God, teaching me that you cannot truly love God without enjoying Him. Second, a book called Conservative Internationalism, by Henry Nau. Among other things, I agree strongly with Nau’s concept of armed diplomacy. Our nation’s diplomacy is most effective when backed up by the use of force, where necessary, and our use of force is most effective when backed up by strong diplomacy. Doing so gives us the best chance to secure vital U.S. national interests.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
I love my home state of Oklahoma. Oklahomans are both independent-minded and kind. It was a great place to grow up. The other thing I love about Oklahomans is their odd fearlessness. They’re the kind of people who hear a storm siren and go outside to check out the danger themselves.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
Baseball. Nothing makes me feel more American than heading to the ballpark after a long week of work to enjoy our national pastime. I also play guitar and help lead music at the church where I am a member.