D.C. insider advises students on friends, enemies in politics


“There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies,” foreign policy expert Alexandra Toma said in a recent speech on the nature of working in the nation’s capital.

Toma addressed a small group of students and faculty gathered in Fleck Hall on Jan. 29 in a brief speech titled “Everything You Wanted to Know About D.C. Policy (and Policymaking) But Were Afraid to Ask: Views of a Washington Insider.” The event was a part of the Center for Ethics and Leadership’s speaker series.

Toma, who has over 10 years of experience working in Washington, D.C. and who specializes in fissile material and nuclear security, covered everything from climate change to the immediacy and proximity of the threat of nuclear weapons.

“The U.S. and Russia together have 98 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons,” Toma said. “They (Russia) also have stockpiles of fissile or nuclear material, so you can’t just write it off as something that’s happening in the Ukraine and not here.”

She also commented on the complexity of addressing problems in Russia and the Ukraine. Russia’s global economy is one of the top 10 in the world and is closely tied to the United States’.

“We can’t continue to put sanctions on them (because) we don’t want to tank their economy,” Toma said. “It’s a big question that not many people have a good answer to.”

In addition to questions of policy, Toma also offered pointers on getting into the foreign policy business. 

She emphasized the importance of having a vast network and making strong connections with mentors as a promising way to grow a career.

Toma said that standing out by getting internships and developing expertise on a particular subject are important steps in getting the job you want.

“Working on Capitol Hill is a huge gold star on your resume, even if you are just an intern,” Toma said.

She added that “writing well and often” is essential.

Professor Jack Green Musselman, a professor at St. Edward’s University, asked how students could get involved in solving foreign policy issues. 

Toma offered standard advice which she admitted she thought was cliché, but nonetheless important: to write to our congressman and senators.

“I know, perhaps, your members of Congress are not the best members of Congress on these issues” Toma said, eliciting laughter from the audience.

While parts of her speech were dictated in a serious and straightforward manner, as the topics she covered were often enigmatic, Toma relayed her words conversationally in a way that was relatable to her audience,.Occasionally, Toma would insert jokes about Russian President Vladimir Putin and the amount of beer that is consumed at the White House.

Administrative Coordinator Sherri Defesche said that the CEL frequently hosts speakers and events on important global and political topics. They can be found by emailing Defesche, keeping an eye out for fliers and promotional posters and monitoring MyHilltop for updates.

Michael Doucet, a freshman who is double majoring in international business and global studies, enjoyed the event.

“It was interesting. I didn’t know what to expect; I went for one of my Middle East survey classes,” Doucet said. “She gave us a good look inside Washington beyond what the media allows.”