Jed Snyder ’76 picked up a new hobby in each of the countries where he’s lived. In Bahrain he played chess with local cab drivers. In Croatia he polished his cooking skills, hosting a dinner party at his place every Sunday. And in Italy he went to the opera.
But while these activities kept Snyder busy they also helped the Philadelphia native get a better sense of the cultural, political, and societal forces at work in the respective countries. That, along with his research, helped him understand the forces affecting leaders’ decisions regarding their international interests. That, in turn, affects U.S. strategic planning.
An international security affairs specialist and advisor to the senior U.S. Navy commander, Snyder serves as the eyes and ears of the Center for Naval Analyses, the U.S. Navy’s federally funded research and development center. Throughout 30 years of working in defense, foreign policy, and strategic planning, he has toggled back and forth between the policy-research community and government.
“[My job is] to try to limit the number of surprises that national security decision-makers in Washington have to anticipate,” said Snyder, a 56-year-old self-described conservative. “That means if you’re working on issues in the Middle East or Asia or Europe, they depend on you to tell them what’s going on out there.”
Having served as an advisor in each of those regions, Snyder says his goal is to help the United States plan to act proactively rather than reactively. “We’ve been too reactive in Pakistan,” he said. “We’ve been sufficiently anticipatory regarding China and North Korea. But some of the most serious threats don’t develop over a period of time; they come up overnight.”
Acting proactively, Snyder said, requires a combination of knowing what’s happening in those countries and understanding trends that have occurred elsewhere so they can be applied to potential hot spots. “It’s more of an art than a science,” said Snyder, who’s now based in Hawaii. “The capture and killing of bin Laden is an example, but that took many years. We don’t always have the luxury to spend four or five years trying to stop a threat from getting worse.”
A biology major at Colby, Snyder intended to go to medical school until he took an international relations class his junior year. Rather than becoming a doctor, he went from Colby to the University of Chicago to earn his Ph.D. in political science. But before completing his dissertation, he was distracted by a think-tank in California, the RAND Corporation, and, with a masters degree in hand, decided to work there instead.
“I was all of twenty-five years old, and I find myself in the middle of an advisory group for Ronald Reagan,” Snyder recalled. “When he became President, I then went to Washington and took a job in the State Department.”
Since then he’s held a variety of positions, including with the Department of Defense’s Institute for National Strategic Studies and the Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Policy Institute.
Despite a résumé brimming with accomplishments, Snyder has two more goals for his career. The first, one more round with the government, preferably in an appointed position where he could put his fieldwork to use.
And the second?
To write a screenplay based on his experiences. You can bet it will include stories of chess games, dinner parties, and opera.
—Alexis Grant ’03