For the first time in history, half of the senior leaders of the National Security Council are women. Twelve of the 24 directorates are led by women now, including three of the six regional directorates that cover the world.
While the White House press corps has not yet noticed that fact, and Vanity Fair didn’t have Annie Leibovitz come do a photo shoot, as would have been obligatory in the previous administration, women in the White House noticed and appreciated the historic first.
“President Trump has demonstrated his commitment to empowering women in the U.S. and across the world, implementing a pro-growth, pro-family agenda that lifts up women of all backgrounds. It’s no surprise that women are leading the way across the Trump administration, including more women leaders at the National Security Council than at any other time in history,” adviser to the President Ivanka Trump said.
The National Security Council has both functional and regional directorates. The functional directorates tackle issues such as international organizations, border security, and COVID response, all three of which women now lead. Three of the six regional directorates covering the globe — Africa, Asia, and South Asia — are now led by women.
Last year, national security adviser Robert O’Brien announced his plan to restructure and decrease the size of the council, which advises the president on national security and foreign policy. Policy staff of the council swelled from a dozen during the Cuban missile crisis to well over 200 in the Obama administration. O’Brien said the “right size” for the council was about where it was under the leadership of Brent Scowcroft in the George H.W. Bush administration and Condoleezza Rice in the George W. Bush administration.
Rice was the first female to serve as national security adviser when she was appointed in 2001. She later became the first African American female to serve as secretary of state.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, over the past nine months we have brought the NSC back to its proper size and role as a lean and efficient advisory body, and we were able to make that happen because we have some of the strongest leaders in the history of the NSC, half of whom are women for the first time ever,” O’Brien said.
The streamlined NSC has received plaudits within the national security community. “There are some exceptionally capable people over there focused on getting wins on the board for the country,” said Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security scholar with the Hudson Institute, citing a “willingness to reconsider approaches to persistent problems and guts to do some things that are long overdue.”
Trump has long relied on the leadership and counsel of women, the White House says. Three of his top advisers and his communications director are women, and the only three mothers ever to be named press secretaries were all installed by Trump. Even in a 2016 article critical of Trump, The New York Times reporters wrote that he promoted several women to the loftiest heights of his company, “a daring move for a major real estate developer at the time.”
The female NSC leaders include arguably the most important. Dr. Deborah Birx is the physician and diplomat serving as head of the coronavirus response. In February, O’Brien named her to the NSC, where she works on detail from the State Department. Here are just a few of the other senior directors currently serving:
Allison Hooker is the senior director in charge of Asia. Prior to coming to the White House, she was a career civil servant at the State Department, serving as a senior intelligence analyst on North Korea since 2001. She staffed the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and has been involved in all negotiations with North Korea since then.
As a young teenager, Hooker became interested in national security and foreign affairs while watching President Ronald Reagan and President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik Summit. Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall took place her senior year of high school, and both significantly influenced her career path. Hooker was the director for Korea before becoming a political appointee in the Trump administration.
Elizabeth Erin Walsh has been NSC’s senior director for African affairs since July of last year. Before that, she was senior director for international organizations. Prior to that, she serviced as assistant secretary of commerce for global markets and other positions.
Before joining the Trump administration, Walsh had an extensive career in international affairs in both the public and private sectors. She was the head of corporate engagement for Asia Pacific at Goldman Sachs, during which time she lived in both Hong Kong and Beijing. She spent seven years at Cisco and more than 10 years in federal government, including at the State Department, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Department of Energy, and the White House.
Walsh received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown in government and international relations, and her master of science in political science from the London School of Economics. The third female regional director is Lisa Curtis, a former Heritage Foundation scholar. She is the senior director for South Asia.
Sue J. Bai is deputy assistant to the president, principal deputy legal adviser to the NSC, and associate counsel to the president in the White House Counsel’s office. Before joining the White House, she served as a federal prosecutor for the Department of Justice. Bai was an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Columbia. Bai received her J.D. from Georgetown Law and her bachelor of science in foreign service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
Julia Nesheiwat is the senior director for homeland security affairs and one of the women most recently named to a senior leadership role on the NSC. A combat veteran with multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, she deployed immediately after 9/11 and is the recipient of a Bronze Star. She served on President George W. Bush’s commission on weapons of mass destruction, and as an envoy for hostage affairs, helping to release dozens of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained by rogue nations and terror groups.
Nesheiwat helped to stand up the first ever Cabinet-level agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and served as the chief of staff for policy and planning there. She was also the first female deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Energy Resources.
She has served as a visiting professor and lecturer at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Stanford University, and the University of California-San Diego. Nesheiwat has a Ph.D. in science and engineering and speaks Arabic and Japanese.
Mollie Hemingway contributed to this report.