Alum of the Month

Alum of the Month
  • May 2016: Andrew Peek '99

    Andrew Peek ’99 is a writer, media commentator, and visiting assistant professor at Claremont McKenna College, where he teaches international relations and directs the College’s Washington Program. Peek previously served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer and as strategic advisor to General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

    Peek’s interest in international politics can be traced back to Hotchkiss. “I think it was in my second year there when I began reading books like Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Back in Tinker Dormitory, we somewhat compulsively played a board game called ‘Diplomacy,’ and I was fascinated by the shifting alliances, the strategic thought, and the high stakes inherent in international relations. I also found Tom Drake’s course, The New World After 1945, nothing short of inspirational. I had a lot of floating ideas about world history and politics, but Tom’s course put it all into context. His knowledge of the topic was extensive. I also took Julia Wu Trethaway’s American History course, and she allowed me to do my final project on American foreign diplomacy.”

    After Hotchkiss, Peek matriculated at Princeton University, where he earned an A.B. with high honors. He then went to Harvard’s Kennedy School, earning a Master of Public Policy degree in 2005, focusing on International Security; his thesis was a co-winner of the New York Herald Prize in Politics. Fresh out of graduate school, Peek worked in international relations at a think-tank in Washington briefly, before becoming the foreign affairs advisor for Gordon Smith, a prominent Senator from Oregon. Peek helped craft policy toward Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, and advised Smith on national security issues, including the primary Iran sanctions bill in the U.S. Senate, which became law in 2010. After Smith’s election loss in 2008, Peek served in the same capacity for Republican Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

    Having decided at that point to enlist as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, Peek explained his reasoning. “There were two elements of that decision. First, I am from New York City, so the events of 9/11 made a deep impact on me. The second reason was that I grew up with a lot of advantages. This was my way to give back, to make a down payment so to speak.” He deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

    As strategic advisor in Afghanistan, Peek handled intelligence and special operations issues for General Allen. “General David Petraeus actually requested me, but by the time I got there, Petraeus had gone to the CIA, and General Allen was in charge. He had a small advisory group, called the Commander’s Initiatives Group, which handled different parts of the war for him, including – for example – the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, NATO, corruption, and operations in the south. I helped to manage intelligence, special operations, and the Pakistan side of the house, which kept me busy with programs like the Afghan Local Police (a militia-type organization partnered with our SEALS and Green Berets) and the very high-end special operations raids.” Peek noted the changes in defense technology. “In the past ten years or so, technology has brought the cycles of decision-making and improvising to the lowest level. The race to create IED countermeasures is a good example. We are always a half step behind. We introduce something to jam IED signals, and the enemy comes back with a countermeasure.”

    When Peek returned to the States, he served as an intelligence officer for one of the highest-end special operations forces and began working on his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins. “I came back to work for Eliot Cohen, the Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He is, and has been for the past 20 years, a master of foreign policy, and it was a great honor to work for him. I started working on my Ph.D., centered on how revisionist states use warfare. I also began doing a lot of media work, including a weekly appearance on Fox News, writing for various groups including the New York Daily News, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, Real Clear Politics, and a foreign affairs column for the New York Observer.” In addition, he is a foreign affairs advisor to one of the 2016 Presidential campaigns.

    In order to cover international politics, Peek reads a lot to keep current in the rapidly changing news world. “You have to be a bit obsessive about the news. Maybe it’s the remnant intelligence officer in me. Every morning I go to Reuters.com and to major U.S. newspapers news sections. I read everything I can, which feeds my love of writing. My grandfather was a writer, and we read a massive amount. This naturally builds in you a love of language and books.” Peek’s recent writings include coverage of Saudi Arabia’s security struggles and Putin’s announcement to pull out of Syria.

    For Peek, teaching gives the platform to talk about the issues he finds most fascinating. “I began teaching at American University, but my first full-time academic job was at Claremont McKenna. If I weren’t getting paid to teach, I would be talking about these high-stakes issues anyway, and I love bringing others into the fascinating and complex subject of international politics. I would absolutely recommend a career in international relations and strategic studies to current Hotchkiss students. One of my mentors recently said, ‘There are approximately 4,000 people in the DC area working on foreign policy. I don’t know what everyone else does.’ I talk to a lot of students who are interested in policy, and I tell them this career is not a sprint but a marathon. But it’s completely worth it.”

    Hotchkiss remains relevant for Peek. “Last fall, when Chris Wallace ’65 was featured as the Hotchkiss Alum of the Month, I reached out immediately to compare notes. And it is a bit of an irony that I would end up at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, as Paul Nitze, the great statesman, was Hotchkiss Class of 1924, and his grandson, Paul Nitze ’96, was my proctor in Coy. I learned a lot at Hotchkiss and came out of it with a group of really great lifelong friends.”

    Posted May 2, 2016

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