This interview is adapted from a segment in the Brookings Cafeteria podcast called “Coffee Break,” where a scholar new to Brookings introduces their background, research interests, and offers book recommendations. The transcript has been slightly edited from the audio recording.
Q: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Calgary, Canada, out in the Rocky Mountains, but I was actually born in Texas and I went to graduate school there. So, I still think of myself as a Texan at heart.
Q: What inspired you to become a scholar?
I think I got started as a scholar in sort of an unconventional way. My undergraduate degree was Music and Theater, so I didn’t start off in the policy world. My first job after school was in an opera, playing a 5‐year‐old. So, it might seem like a bit of an about‐face that I ended up here. I think the common ground for me between theater and the policy world was really a desire on my part to understand more about the world, how it works, how people think. And, I think there are surprising similarities there. So, studying international relations, getting into government, into the policy space, for me, was a great way to understand those problems, really, on a macro level, maybe feel a bit like I could help shape some of the policy outcomes.
Q: What do you think is the most important issue we’re facing today?
I think the most important issue that we’re facing today in the United States is the debate that’s taking place about America’s global leadership role, not just a question of whether or not America continues to lead in the future but how we lead. So, to me, some of the questions that result from that are: Does the U.S. need to take a more restrained approach to military interventions overseas? Are we actually still interested in repairing and rebuilding the international institutions that we put together after World War II? And, if we are entering into a world that’s more multipolar, are we having the right kinds of conversations with our allies, with our friends, and tending to those relationships to ensure we can respond to problems like China and Chinese revisionism collectively rather than individually?
Q: What are you working on now?
What I’m really going to spend a lot of time focusing on right now is thinking about the future of the U.S. alliance system in Asia, in the Indo‐Pacific region, looking at how the U.S. and its allies can create more effective coalition models and multilateral defense networks that are appropriate for the Asian region and different from the multilateral models that we’ve really established in Europe through NATO. And, the flip side of the question that I really want to look at is understanding what China is doing to create its own security and defense partnerships and network in the Indo‐Pacific region and what impact that’s going to have on U.S. foreign policy.
[Ed. Note: Ford hosted a special series of the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast on the Global China project.]
Q: If you could recommend any book to our listeners, what would it be?
If I could recommend a book right now to people, it’s one that I’ve been re‐reading lately that I really appreciate by Mike Green called By More Than Providence. It’s a pretty sweeping look at the history of U.S. engagement in Asia, how the U.S. has shaped its strategy toward the region. There’s a lot of debate happening right now about the U.S.‐China relationship and how the U.S. needs to think about adjusting its policy toward China. And, what I really like about Mike’s book is he helps you situate that relationship within the context of broader U.S. strategy in the region and think about how the U.S. has traditionally defined its interests in Asia. Mike lays that out really well, which, to me, is a really important part of the conversation when you think about how we need to approach China in the future.