Michèle Flournoy

Michèle Angelique Flournoy (born December 14, 1960) is the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy who served as a principal advisor to U.S. Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta from February 2009 to February 2012.[1] When the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination on February 9, 2009, she was at the time the highest-ranking woman at the Pentagon in the department's history.[2]

Michèle Flournoy
Michele Flournoy official portrait.jpg
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
In office
February 9, 2009 – February 8, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byEric Edelman
Succeeded byJames Miller
Personal details
Michèle Angelique Flournoy

(1960-12-14) December 14, 1960 (age 59)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Scott Gould
EducationHarvard University (BA)
Balliol College, Oxford (MLitt)

In 2007, Flournoy co-founded the Center for a New American Security,[3] a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that specializes in U.S. national security issues. After leaving the Obama White House, Flournoy joined the Boston Consulting Group as a senior advisor.[4] In 2018, she joined the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm with military contracts and cyber security expertise.[5] She is currently the co-founder and managing partner of West Exec Advisors,[6] and a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.[7]

Early life and educationEdit

Flournoy's father George Flournoy was a cinematographer who worked on shows including I Love Lucy and The Odd Couple. He died of a heart attack when Michèle was 14 years old.[8] Flournoy attended Beverly Hills High School in Beverly Hills, California. She studied at Harvard College where she received a bachelor of arts degree. She received an M.Litt. in international relations in 1983 from Oxford University, where she was a Newton-Tatum scholar at Balliol College. From 1989 until 1993 she was at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she was a Research Fellow in its International Security Program.[2]


Clinton administrationEdit

Flournoy served as a political appointee under the Clinton administration in the U.S. Department of Defense, where she was dual-hatted as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy. In that capacity, she was responsible for three policy offices in the Office of the Secretary of Defense:

Flournoy was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 1996, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1998 and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award in 2000.[9]

While serving under the Clinton Administration as a deputy assistant secretary of defense, Flournoy assisted in drafting the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, which in a post Cold War era "determined U.S. forces must be capable of fighting and winning two major theater wars nearly simultaneously."[10]

Public policy researchEdit

She then joined the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University (NDU) as a research professor, founding and leading NDU's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) working group, which had been chartered by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop intellectual capital in preparation for the Defense Department’s upcoming QDR in 2001.

She then moved to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where she was a Senior Advisor working on a range of defense policy and international security issues before co-founding the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), to which she was named President, in 2007 with Kurt M. Campbell.[2] Flournoy and CNAS co-founder Kurt Campbell wrote a 2007 policy paper called "The Inheritance and the Way Forward" that advocated for a U.S. foreign policy "grounded in a common-sense pragmatism rather than ideology".[2][11] Specifically, the paper recommended U.S. phased withdrawal from Iraq but rejection of isolationist impulses.[12]

In 2020, Flournoy was in line to become Joe Biden's Secretary of Defense, should the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee defeat Donald Trump.[13] At that time, Flournoy turned her attention to China in "How to Prevent a War in Asia; The Erosion of American Deterrence Raises the Risk of Chinese Miscalculation."[14] In this essay, Flournoy argued the US must invest in new military technologies, such as prototypes for artificial intelligence, as well as more long range missiles, escalate U.S. troop deployment to the South China Sea area, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and step up roving war games in Asia to show China the US has the modern technology, might and will to deter Chinese aggression. Without such ramped up U.S. military activity in the waters off China and absent the technology to ward off a Chinese cyber attack on U.S. navigation systems, Flournoy asserted the U.S. could stumble into a nuclear confrontation with China over Taiwan sovereignty.[15]

Obama administrationEdit

After the 2008 presidential election, she was selected as one of the Review Team Leads for the Obama transition at the Department of Defense. On January 8, 2009, President-elect Obama announced that he was nominating her as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to serve under Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.[16] In his memoirs, Secretary Gates wrote that he had "developed high respect for" Flournoy, whom he characterized as "clear-thinking and strong".[17]

In 2009, Flournoy told the New York Times she had spent much of her adult life steeped in the practice of war. “We’re trying to recognize that warfare may come in a lot of different flavors in the future,” she told the newspaper.[18]


In 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring and popular street uprisings, Flournoy, then Undersecretary of Defense, helped persuade President Obama to intervene militarily in Libya, despite opposition from members of Congress and key White House advisors, such as Joe Biden, Vice President; Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor; and Robert Gates, Defense Secretary.[19]. Flournoy supported the NATO-led imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to oust resistant leader Muammar Gaddafi, accused of ordering the killing of demonstrators and promising to "hunt the rebels down and show no mercy."[19] Flournoy said imposition of a no-fly zone necessitated first destroying Libya's air defenses with U.S. and British cruise missiles targeting the Libyan missile defense system, and U.S. B-2 bombers attacking Libyan airfields.[1] In a 2013 conversation with the Council on Foreign Relations, Flournoy said she had supported US military intervention on humanitarian grounds.[20] Critics who disagreed with Flournoy described the war on Libya as "disastrous" in its destabilization of entire regions in the Middle East and North Africa,[21] facilitating the transfer of arms to extremists across countries. Two years after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, Flournoy defended the U.S. military intervention in Libya, telling the Council on Foreign Relations: “I think we were right to do it.”[21]


On December 12, 2011, Flournoy announced that she would step down in February 2012 to return to private life and contribute to President Barack Obama's re-election bid.[22] As part of the Obama campaign, Flournoy appeared in a message from the official Democrat Twitter feed on October 22, 2012. She was shown in a video responding to GOP candidate Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia was the US's "number-one geopolitical foe" by stating Romney's was "a really curious statement, given that the Cold War has been over for some time."[23]


Flournoy speaking on the panel, "Is the Pentagon Adapting Fast Enough?" at the New America Foundation first annual Future of War conference, Washington, D.C., February 25, 2015; also pictured, left to right: Kevin Baron, Flournoy, Janine Davidson, Thomas Ricks

In 2017, Flournoy, along with Antony Blinken, US Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration, co-founded WestExec Advisors, a strategic advisory firm for international companies and financial institutions addressing geopolitical factors that affect their business strategy and investment portfolios.[24] She previously served as a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group's Washington D.C.-based public sector practice.[25] In July 2020, American Prospect journalist Jonathan Guyer reported in "How Biden's Foreign Policy Team Got Rich," that under Flournoy's direction the Boston Consulting Group's military contracts went "from $1.6 million in 2013 to $32 million in 2016."[13]

Flournoy is a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.[7] She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and endorsed a CNAS 2016 report "Extending American Power." The report's recommendations included: approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership, escalation of the US military campaign against ISIS, weapons shipments to the Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and significant increases in U.S. military spending."[21]

Flournoy formerly served on the board of the Atlantic Council.[26] She is a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the CIA's External Advisory Board.

She is a former member of the guiding coalition of the Project on National Security Reform, the Defense Policy Board, and the Defense Science Board Task Force on Transformation.[27] Flournoy is an Advisory Board Member of Spirit of America, a 501(c)(3) organization that supports the safety and success of Americans serving abroad and the local people and partners they seek to help.[28]

Personal lifeEdit

Flournoy's husband, W. Scott Gould, is a retired captain who served for 26 years in the United States Navy Reserve.[2] He was a vice president at IBM before becoming United States Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The couple have three children, and reside in Bethesda, Maryland.[29][30]

Flournoy is a supporter of the Democratic Party and campaign finance records show she contributed $500 to Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in June 2007.[31]


In addition to several edited volumes and reports, Flournoy has authored many articles on international security issues:

  • "The Inheritance and the Way Forward", with Kurt M. Campbell (Washington, DC: CNAS, June 2007)[2]
  • "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols Phase III Report: The Future of the National Guard and Reserves", with Christine Wormuth, Clark A. Murdock, and Patrick Henry (Washington, DC: CSIS Press, July 2006)
  • "European Defense Integration: Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Capabilities", with David R. Scruggs, Guy Ben-Ari, and Julianne Smith (Washington DC: CSIS Press, October 2005)
  • "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: Phase II Report", with Clark A. Murdock, Pierre Chao, Anne A. Witkowsky, and Christine E. Wormuth, (Washington, DC: CSIS Press, July 2005)
  • "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era: Phase I Report", with Clark Murdock, Christopher Williams, and Kurt Campbell, (Washington, DC: CSIS Press, March 2004)
  • Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War: Guidelines for U.S. Policy. Harpercollins College Div. August 1992. p. 314. ISBN 978-0065011289.


^ Ranking based on U.S. Secretary of Defense succession was changed by Executive Order 13533 on March 1, 2010. When Flournoy was confirmed and sworn into office in 2009, the position was fourth-ranking, which was the highest for a female in the U.S. Department of Defense history at that time. As of September 2015, the highest ranking woman having served in the U.S. DoD is Christine Fox as acting Deputy Secretary of Defense (from December 2013 to February 2014).


  1. ^ "Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, First Session, 111th Congress"
  2. ^ a b c d e f Emily Wax (November 6, 2011), "Michele Flournoy, Pentagon's highest-ranking woman, is making her mark on foreign policy", Washington Post, retrieved November 8, 2011
  3. ^ "Michèle Flournoy". Center for a New American Security. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  4. ^ "Former DOD official Michele Flournoy joins Boston Consulting Group -". FCW. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  5. ^ "Michèle Flournoy". www.boozallen.com. Retrieved August 10, 2020.
  6. ^ "Michèle Flournoy". WestExec Advisors. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Experts: Michèle Flournoy". Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  8. ^ http://fortune.com/2014/11/24/michele-flournoy/
  9. ^ "DefenseLink Biography: Michèle Flournoy". U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  10. ^ Marcetic, Branko (October 7, 2019). "Meet the Hawkish Liberal Think Tank Powering the Kamala Harris Campaign". In These Times. ISSN 0160-5992. Retrieved August 10, 2020.
  11. ^ Horowitz, Jason (August 15, 2007). "Hot Policy Wonks For The Democrats: The New Realists". New York Observer.
  12. ^ "The Inheritance and the Way Forward". www.cnas.org. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  13. ^ a b Guyer, Jonathan (July 6, 2020). "How Biden's Foreign-Policy Team Got Rich". The American Prospect. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  14. ^ Radchenko, Sergey (February 6, 2014), "Tokyo's Miscalculation, 1988–89", Unwanted Visionaries, Oxford University Press, pp. 249–269, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199938773.003.0007, ISBN 978-0-19-993877-3
  15. ^ Flournoy, Michèle (June 25, 2020). "How to Prevent a War in Asia". Foreign Affairs : America and the World. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  16. ^ Scott, Ann (December 2, 2008). "Gate's Top Deputies May Leave Tyson". Washington Post. Retrieved December 2, 2008.
  17. ^ Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Alfred A. Knopf; (January 14, 2014). ISBN 978-0307959478, Kindle edition location 5150
  18. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (July 3, 2009). "A Pentagon Trailblazer, Rethinking U.S. Defense". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  19. ^ a b Hastings, Michael (October 13, 2011). "Inside Obama's War Room". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  20. ^ "A Conversation with Michele Flournoy". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  21. ^ a b c Marcetic, Branko (October 7, 2019). "Meet the Hawkish Liberal Think Tank Powering the Kamala Harris Campaign". In These Times. ISSN 0160-5992. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  22. ^ "Pentagon's Michele Flournoy To Step Down". Washington Post. December 12, 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2011.
  23. ^ Romney, who calls Russia our "No. 1 geopolitical foe," doesn't seem to realize it's the 21st century. #RomneyNotReady
  24. ^ "Michèle Flournoy and Tony Blinken Form Global Strategic Advisory Firm with Former Senior National Security Officials". WestExec Advisors. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  25. ^ "Former DoD Under Secretary Michele Flournoy Joins BCG as Senior Advisor". Boston Consulting Group. July 16, 2012.
  26. ^ "Board of Directors (last updated March 21, 2014)". Atlantic Council. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  27. ^ "SheSource: Michèle Flournoy". Women's Media Center. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  28. ^ https://spiritofamerica.org/staff/michele-flournoy
  29. ^ Vogel, Kenneth P. (June 15, 2009). "15 Obama administration power couples". Politico.com. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  30. ^ Skelton, Ike (January 15, 2009). "Confirmation Hearing on the Expected Nominations of Ms. Michele Flournoy" (PDF). U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 5, 2009. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  31. ^ "Michele Flournoy Political Campaign Contributions 2008 Election Cycle". campaignmoney.com. Retrieved December 28, 2012.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Eric Edelman
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
Succeeded by
James Miller