Policy Wonk With No Military Experience on Shortlist to be 1st Female Defense Secretary

It’s a long way from playing volleyball at Beverly Hills High School to being the most powerful woman in Washington, but Michele Flournoy could cap such a remarkable journey if President Obama selects her as Defense secretary.

Flournoy, little known outside the world of military policy, is on the shortlist to lead the Pentagon in Obama’s second term. She would be the first woman in that role.

An inveterate policy wonk who first worked in the Pentagon under President Clinton and later co-founded a respected think tank, Flournoy, 52, has spent two decades climbing to the top of Washington’s notoriously male-dominated national security establishment, winning the admiration of military officers and politicians from both parties even as she remained out of the spotlight.

Although a child of Hollywood — her father was a TV cinematographer, her mother a onetime theater actress — she long ago abandoned Los Angeles for the distinctly unglamorous world of defense policy. She never served in uniform but has been at the center of her generation’s most important debates over the future of the U.S. military, from arms control in the Reagan years to the counterinsurgency strategies employed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Obama took office in 2009, Flournoy returned to the Pentagon in the department’s No. 3 position — undersecretary of Defense for policy — but resigned last February, saying she wanted to spend more time with her three children.

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