Age vs. Youth in National Security

I didn’t really think much of the news that Christian Brose, who was running FP’s Shadow Government blog, will be taking over as John McCain’s new national security adviser. I’d known Brose had already worked at State during the Bush administration. What I hadn’t realized is that he is now just 29 years old.

This is kind of like what happened to baseball in the early 90s, when Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman became GMs on either side of their 30th birthdays. And to state the obvious, this sort of thing was simply unimaginable when I was growing up (essentially alongside Epstein and Cashman, generationally speaking).

Things have worked out pretty well for the Yankees in the meantime. (For the Red Sox, too, I’ve heard, but that would imply that they bother playing out the season once the Yankees are eliminated, which I have trouble believing.) And to be clear, I’ve always found the age-centric criticisms of this trend — used more recently against some of the younger online political commentators — irrelevant and often motivated by sour grapes.

Still, I wonder about this. Not because I doubt a young person’s ability in general, or Brose’s in particular. I know nothing substantive about him, and what little I read of his writing struck me as thoughtful. Certainly, too, the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, so in some ways a younger person might have a better grasp of today’s challenges and be less constrained by outdated framing.

But advising on national security has much a more significant impact than running a baseball team or commenting on politics. And regardless of his future prospects, McCain is among the most prominent opposition voices on national security, and still wields a great deal of power.

There is still something to be said for wisdom and experience, two very different qualities than intelligence and talent. Neither is guaranteed by maturity, but other things being equal, they are more commonly found in folks with some years under their belt. Past experience can be a limiting factor, if it keeps you from seeing novel opportunities and possibilities. But used properly, it adds context and perspective, creating a body of knowledge that functions like a roadmap of successful and unsuccessful approaches.

Again, this isn’t a knock on Brose. But I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about the benefits and disadvantages of age vs. youth in the upper echelons of national security policy.