2014-2015 SPEAKERS


Date:            Wednesday June 2, 2015

Speaker:     Ambassador Steven Pifer

Topic:         NATO / Ukraine

Steven Pifer is director of the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and the Center on the United States and Europe in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. A former ambassador to Ukraine, Pifer’s career as a foreign service officer centered on Europe, the former Soviet Union and arms control. Pifer also had postings in London, Moscow, Geneva and Warsaw, as well as on the National Security Council. At Brookings, Pifer focuses on arms control, Ukraine and Russia issues.


Date:            Wednesday May 6, 2015

Speaker:     Brian Harding

Topic:         The U.S. and Japan: 70 Years after the War

Brian Harding is Director for East and Southeast Asia for the National Security and International Policy team at American Progress.

From 2009 to 2013, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy) as country director for Asian and Pacific security affairs, where he managed defense relations with major U.S. partners in Southeast Asia and Oceania—including Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand—and advised senior Department of Defense leadership on Asia-Pacific regional strategy. In this position, Harding played an instrumental role in several high-profile defense policy initiatives, including agreements to station U.S. Marines in Darwin, Australia, and littoral combat ships in Singapore.

Prior to working at the Department of Defense, Harding was a research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he focused on Southeast Asia and Japan. As a research associate, Harding helped build the first Southeast Asia policy program in the Washington, D.C. think-tank community and managed several initiatives aimed at strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance. Previously, he was a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia, a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a research assistant at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. Harding holds an M.A. in Asian studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, a B.A. in history and Japanese studies from Middlebury College, and has studied at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.


Date:          Monday March 30, 2015

Speaker:     Collin Laverty

Topic:         U.S.-Cuba Relations: Accomplishments, Challenges, and Opportunities

Collin Laverty is the founder and president of Cuba Educational Travel. Mr. Laverty's expertise and focus on U.S.-Cuba academic exchange and Cuba policy concerns date back many years. Nearly a decade ago Laverty took part in a semester-long study abroad program between the College of Charleston and Havana's Institute of Philosophy, one of only a handful of U.S. programs on the island at the time.

He then served as the director of the Center for Democracy in the America's Cuba program for several years, taking dozens of Members of the U.S. Congress and Congressional staff on fact-finding trips to Cuba. Mr. Laverty has visited the island over one hundred times and is the author of numerous reports and articles on diverse themes related to U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuban society. His recently released book, Cuba's New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy, was widely reported on in U.S. and Cuban media.


Date:            Thursday March 5, 2015

Speaker:     Ambassador Dennis Jett

Topic:         The role of American Ambassadors

Dennis Jett is presently a professor at the School of International Affairs at Penn State.  Before joining Penn State he was dean of the International Center at the University of Florida for eight years.

Ambassador Jett spent 28 years in the U.S. Foreign Service were he served on three continents.

His career abroad began in 1973, when he was a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He later spent several years in Africa, first as the deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Malawi, where he assisted in the response to an influx of more than 500,000 Mozambican refugees, and then as deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, where he was the second ranking officer during the Liberian Civil War. For his service in Liberia during this tumultuous time, he received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award for “exceptional service, superb leadership, keen perception and adroitness in the formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Ambassador  Jett has been interviewed on Jim Lehrer News Hour, CNN, NPR and other national news programs on a range of international issues including peacekeeping, democracy, Peru, Liberia, and terrorism. Additionally, he has written more than eighty opinion pieces for major newspapers including the International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Miami Herald.  His most recent book is, Why American Foreign Policy Fails: Unsafe at Home and Despised Abroad.


Date:            Wednesday January 21, 2015

Speaker:     Michael Kofman

Topic:         Understanding Russia's Foreign Policy

Michael Kofman is presently a Public Policy Scholar at the Kennan Institute - part of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

He spent years managing professional military education programs and military to military engagements for senior officers at National Defense University. There he served as a subject matter expert and adviser to military and government officials on issues in Russia/Eurasia. He has represented the Department of Defense in a number of track one and track two efforts with Russia and Pakistan, along with strategic dialogues and conferences with experts in the field.

His prior experience includes working at the U.S. Institute of Peace, HSBC Bank, and The Diplomatic Courier. He has published and co-authored articles on security issues in Russia, Central Asia and Eurasia, along with numerous analyses for the US government. Mr.Kofman holds a M.A. in International Security from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and a B.A. in Political Science from Northeastern University.


Date:           Tuesday December 9, 2014

Speaker:     Christian Whiton

Topic:          Using Smart Power against the Islamic State

Christian Whiton is a principal with D.C. International Advisory, a firm that helps clients manage political risk and develop international business opportunities. Prior to joining DCIA, he served as a special advisor for communications to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs. He also helped establish the Office of the Special Envoy and served as the senior policy advisor on North Korean human rights and transnational issues. Before joining the State Department, he worked in corporate finance for KPMG.

Whiton holds degrees from Tulane University and the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He writes and speaks frequently about business and foreign policy issues for major media outlets. He is the author of Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.


Date:            Thursday, November 20, 2014

Speaker:     Shair Shahidsaless

Topic:         Iran-U.S. Relations: View from Tehran

Shair Shahidsaless is an Iranian-Canadian political analyst and journalist. He has written extensively about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs for Farsi and English-language news outlets including Gulf News, Christian Science Monitor, Asia Times, BBC Persian, and Entekhab, one of the most popular Persian political news outlets in Iran. He is also co-author of Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace, published in May 2014, which was on sale at the dinner.

Shahidsaless received his master’s degree in Geopolitics and Grand Strategy from the University of Sussex, England.


Date:            Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Speaker:     Scott Bates

Topic:         Ukraine in Crisis

Scott Bates is the president of the Center for National Policy, a Washington D.C. think-tank focused on national security issues. Previously he served on numerous Congressional staffs including as senior policy advisor to the House Homeland Security Committee. He was the principal author of Winning the War on Terror for the 9/11 Commission.

Bates has worked around the world to build democratic governance, and he has lectured and written extensively on international security issues, including teaching at the National Defense University. He holds degrees from the University of Virginia School of Law and the London School of Economics.


Date:            Monday, September 15, 2014

Speaker:     Ambassador John Maisto

Topic:         Not Your Father’s Latin America: The Winners, the Losers and the

John F. Maisto is a former career diplomat with over three decades of service. He was Ambassador to the Organization of American States-OAS (2003-2006), Venezuela (1997-2000), and Nicaragua (1993-1996).    From 2001 to 2003 he was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council.

Previously, he served as Foreign Affairs Advisor to the U.S. Southern Command, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central American Affairs, and Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affairs in Panama. He also headed the State Department’s Philippine Affairs Office during the Republic’s transition to democracy in 1986.

Currently, he is Director of the U.S. Education Group; Board Member of the International Student Exchange Program; Board of Advisors at the Inter- American Dialogue; and Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the American Committees on Foreign Relations.