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Prof. Gary Samore: the man who survived a terrorist attack

Imagine traveling to India for a conference and getting caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. You are stuck in your hotel room and hear explosions and gunshots all around you. Suddenly, when you are finally able to get some sleep, you hear an extremely loud explosion and see that your hotel is on fire. What would you do? Professor Gary Samore (POL), was in this very situation, during the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks in 2008. He was staying at the Taj Palace and Tower with his family. When he saw that the hotel was on fire, he and his family escaped through a fire exit and were helped by the Indian security forces. 

Samore is the senior executive director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and a Professor of the Practice in Politics and previously worked under the Clinton and first Obama administration. During the Clinton administration, he was the Senior Director for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls at the National Security Council. During the Obama administration, he served as the White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). 

As a teenager, Samore enjoyed reading about the history of Europe and foreign policy regarding Europe. He always had a unique interest in foreign affairs. Later on, Professor Samore received an undergraduate degree in government from Harvard University and pursued a PhD at Harvard as well. 

“I was interested in practicing foreign policy,” Samore told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview. “So that’s the choice I made and spent most of my career working in the US government or working in think tanks that produced policy reports for government officials. He illustrates how you should “do something that you find fascinating…enjoyable and rewarding.” 

His first job was working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which works to strengthen the security of the United States. At this job, he analyzed nuclear programs of foreign countries in the Middle East and South Asia, specifically writing lots of reports on classified information about Iraq, Iran, Israel, Libya, Syria, India and Pakistan. 

Under President Clinton, Professor Samore was a civil servant in the state department on loan to the National Security Council. He had experience in non-proliferation and export controls, so he worked in North Korea, Russia and China on export control issues. He worked for President Clinton during his second term. President Clinton had mastered a lot of the subject matter and had already formed relationships with foreign leaders and as a result he did not require as much staff support and briefings. 

Under the Obama administration, he had a much broader job which consisted of arms control and nuclear security issues with Russia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. He was appointed to this job by the President. Professor Samore worked with President Obama during his first term and as a result needed more support and more time to learn the subject matter. 

“It was more satisfying to work for Obama, because…I had a more important role in terms of, you know, providing background material and briefing him and the top leaders on the key issues they would have to deal with,” Samore explained.

He further explained how, “we try to avoid taking the President’s time unless he asks for it or it’s something where it’s important… [then] we meet with him personally.” Professor Samore left at the beginning of President Obama’s second term as he felt that he had done everything he could to help the President with arms control and non-proliferation and he wanted to spend some time outside government work. 

His day as the White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction always began with coffee and a blueberry muffin and reading a brief from the CIA with intelligence reports and analysis and any information that the National Security Advisor or the president deemed as important. Then, his day consisted of many meetings, some being interagency meetings with officials from different departments. In these meetings, Samore and others would discuss issues and come up with decisions and go through certain options that they could recommend to the president. These meetings often took place in the Situation Room, a space in the White House designated for interagency meetings. 

Samore would also meet with foreign diplomats to discuss various issues, prepare memos for the president and give him background information and talking points for his meetings with foreign diplomats. For example, if the President was on a phone call with a foreign diplomat, he would also be on the call, writing notes to Obama if he had a question. 

Samore explains that there were many successes during the Obama administration. There was a specific international conference on nuclear security in which the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia was created that decreased the number of nuclear weapons on each side. In addition, during this administration, they were also able to strengthen sanctions against Iran which created the Iran nuclear deal. However, there were also a few disappointments during this administration. Specifically, the administration was unable to come to an agreement with North Korea and Pakistan regarding their nuclear weapon and missile programs. 

President Obama “came in at a time when there was an interest in reviving international arms control efforts,” Samore explained. “And so in 2009 and 2010 we had a number of successes, including the Nuclear Security Summit, the new treaty with Russia…We had a successful review of the NPT, the Non Proliferation Treaty and those were all…important accomplishments that the President had laid out in his program for international arms control.”

While negotiating contracts, Samore illustrates that you begin with a definition of your objectives. When you go into a negotiation, you must have a clear understanding of what your goal is which is reached by a government consensus. Then, you have to prepare a presentation of those issues to the country that you are negotiating with. There is a lot of back and forth between sides and therefore you need to always think about what compromises you want to make to come to an agreement. 

“You can’t necessarily force the other side to accept your maximum demands,” he highlighted. “So I think a lot of negotiation is preparing for potential compromises from your opening position.”

The environment in the negotiation room depends a lot on the circumstances. While negotiating New START with the Russians, it was clear that Russia wanted a new arms control treaty and was willing to compromise. In the case of Iran, the first few meetings in the negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal were very unsuccessful as the Iranians did not have any interest in negotiating. The meetings consisted of diplomats from Iran, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, however, it was very clear that the Iranian diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was under strict instructions to not engage in any compromises which created a lot of tension. 

Negotiations often take months and sometimes years. There is a lot of going back and forth and going through many rounds of negotiations in order to come to an agreement. In addition, there are many technical details that must be worked out. There must be monitoring techniques in order to ensure that both sides are following their deliverables based on the agreement. It involves a lot of detail work and a verification process to make sure that everyone complies with the agreement.

Overall, Samore very much enjoyed working for the government and loved the team environment “The way the government operates best is if there’s a sense of teamwork,” he told The Hoot. “Everybody is sort of working together to try to achieve a common objective, and that’s, to me, that’s a very satisfying feeling.” 

After exiting government work Samore began teaching politics at Brandeis in 2019. There is no news as to whether he will return to politics, and he remarks,“I’m quite happy at Brandeis. I enjoy teaching.”

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