Lost in the sound and fury of President Trump’s first days in office was the tapping of Victoria Coates to serve as Trump’s senior director for strategic assessments on the National Security Council.
Coates — who has served as the national security advisor for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (A, 97%) for nearly four years — before that was an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a foreign affairs advisor for Governor Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign, and director of research for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, where she edited Rumsfeld’s autobiography.
Pretty decent national security bona fides, right? Overall, Coates has been working in a very high level of the foreign affairs field for a decade.
But Coates has attained other impressive achievements in another field: art. Coates has a doctorate in Art History from the UPenn, served as a consulting curator for the Cleveland Museum of Art for three years, and recently published a book titled “David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art.”
Victoria Coates’ art-related background has opened her up to questions and criticism about her qualifications to advise anyone on national security. In a salty piece for Esquire, Army veteran Robert Bateman took aim at Coates’ liberal arts background, criticizing the fact that she hasn’t worked in the Pentagon, the State Department, served in the military, or written books or articles on national security. As for her work as Donald Rumsfeld’s research director, Bateman said: “Editing the English Language does not exactly make you a National Security expert, does it?”
What Bateman didn’t know or acknowledge was that Coates had written about national security — but had written under pseudonyms. Further, it was the quality of her thoughtful writing on foreign policy that first drew Rumsfeld’s attention. In a 2016 interview, Coates said that she “always had a double track” when it came to art history and national security as intellectual pursuits.
“It was something I’ve always been involved in. My family was politically active, it’s long been a part of my life,” Coates told Breitbart.
So not only does Coates have 10 years of solid, professional national security experience, but her liberal arts background is a help — not a hindrance. The point of a liberal arts degree is to learn how to think critically, so that a person can discern truth. The intensive reading, writing, and thinking involved translates into lifelong skills.
In fact, the Association of American Colleges and Universities has found that “the skills employers value most in the new graduates they hire are not technical, job-specific skills, but written and oral communication, problem solving, and critical thinking—exactly the sort of ‘soft skills’ humanities majors tend to excel in,” Fortune reported.
In his attack piece on Coates in Esquire, Army veteran Robert Bateman says, “Death is permanent. For those who deal in the reality of combat, this is not an abstract issue open to offhand suggestions … based on the advice of Don Rumsfeld’s art-historian editor.”
While no one denies that combat experience makes the reach of foreign policy decisions viscerally real, to argue that a person who has never seen a death in the field can’t understand foreign policy or national security issues and give good counsel on them is unfair. Jeane Kirkpatrick never served in the military, yet was an excellent foreign policy adviser on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. Reagan then made her the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Most American presidents haven’t had military experience, and most have had liberal arts degrees. President Obama never served in the military, and also was an academic before he ran for Senate — to then almost immediately start running for the presidency. Did Bateman and other Coates critics have a problem with Obama’s lack of visceral foreign policy experience?
Victoria Coates’s strong speaking, writing, and critical-thinking skills will only serve to benefit her on Trump’s National Security Council. And to be sure, if Coates was incompetent or a political lightweight, Sen. Ted Cruz wouldn’t have kept her around.
Maria Jeffrey is a correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTJeffrey