Avoiding Trivia

Avoiding Trivia: The Role of Strategic Planning in American Foreign Policy

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 190
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  • Book Info
    Avoiding Trivia
    Book Description:

    After World War II, George Kennan became the State Department's first director of policy planning. Secretary of State George Marshall's initial advice to Kennan: above all, "avoid trivia." Concentrate on the forest, not the trees, and don't lost sight of the big picture. Easier said than done.Avoiding Triviacritically assesses the past, future, and future role and impact of long-term strategic planning in foreign policy.

    Strategic planning needs to be a more integral part of America's foreign policymaking. Thousands of troops are engaged in combat while homeland security concerns remain. In such an environment, long-term coordination of goals and resources would seem to be of paramount importance. But history tells us that such cohesiveness and coherence are tremendously difficult to establish, much less maintain. Can policy planners -in the Pentagon, the State Department, Treasury, NSC, and National Intelligence Council -rise to the challenge? Indeed, is strategic planning a viable concept in 21st century foreign policy? These crucial questions guide this eye-opening book.

    The contributors include key figures from the past few decades of foreign policy and planning -individuals responsible for imposing some sort of order and strategic priority on foreign policy in a world that changes by the minute. They provide authoritative insight on the difficulties and importance of thinking and acting in a coherent way, for the long term.

    Contributors: Andrew P. N. Erdmann, Peter Feaver, Aaron L. Friedberg, David F. Gordon, Richard N. Haass, William Inboden, Bruce W. Jentleson, Steven D. Krasner, Jeffrey W. Legro, Daniel Twining, Thomas Wright, Amy B. Zegart.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0366-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Part I: Introduction

    • 1 The Challenging Future of Strategic Planning in Foreign Policy
      (pp. 3-20)

      Strategic planning for American foreign policy is dead, dying, or moribund. This, at least, has been the assessment of several commentators and policymakers in recent years.¹ Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley observed in 2006, “For a country that continues to enjoy an unrivaled global position, it is both remarkable and disturbing that the United States has no truly effective strategic planning process for national security.”² At an academic conference in 2007, a former director of the State Department’s policy planning staff complained that, “six years after 9/11, we still don’t have a grand strategy.” Aaron Friedberg, who was director of...

  5. Part II: Grand Strategy and Policy Planning

    • 2 Planning for Policy Planning
      (pp. 23-33)

      The State Department’s policy planning staff was launched just over sixty years ago, in May 1947. George Kennan was its first director. In many ways and with all due respect to more recent directors, it has been downhill ever since. There is one possible exception, Paul Nitze, who was Kennan’s immediate successor and the principal architect of NSC-68, which in many ways translated containment into an operational national security strategy for the cold war.¹ Secretary of State George Marshall, who led the State Department when the staff was founded, gave Kennan an injunction that was as concise as it was...

    • 3 A Road Map for American Leadership in a Changing World
      (pp. 34-51)

      George Kennan is fondly remembered as the personification of policy planning at the dawn of America’s global age. We spend less time dwelling on the fact that his organizing concept for American management of the post–World War II world was rejected.

      In his Long Telegram, Kennan proposed a limited form of political containment of the Soviet Union, focused on countering its influence in times and places of our choosing—a patient and peaceful effort that would ultimately mellow Soviet power by exposing its internal contradictions. But this view was decisively repudiated by NSC-68, the guiding document of American foreign...

    • 4 A “Return to Normalcy”? The Future of America’s Internationalism
      (pp. 52-66)

      When new presidents take office, expectations for change always run high. Such is the case for Barack Obama. Yet a major change in U.S. foreign policy in the next few years is unlikely in the absence of unforeseen events. The United States, after a brief experimentation with the Bush doctrine, has returned to the basic “American Internationalism” (AIM) foreign policy that guided the United States between 1946 and 2001. There remains widespread support for continuing the AIM agenda, featuring U.S. international leadership, military superiority, support for democracies abroad, free trade, and multilateralism. To be sure, there will be “Anything but...

  6. Part III: Reforming Strategic Planning

    • 5 An Integrative Executive Branch Strategy for Policy Planning
      (pp. 69-83)

      Getting policy planning right within the State Department is hard enough. But it’s not enough. There also needs to be a better executive branch–wide process, systematically integrating policy planning across State, Defense, the intelligence community, Treasury, and other key departments and agencies and structurally linking them to the National Security Council (NSC).

      The challenges—analytic, organizational, political—of devising an integrative executive branch policy planning strategy that is not just neatly rational on paper but effective in practice are not to be underestimated. Nor, though, is the need. Good policy planning is not a sufficient condition for successful foreign...

    • 6 Strengthening U.S. Strategic Planning
      (pp. 84-97)

      The U.S. government has lost the capacity to conduct serious, sustained national strategic planning. Although there are offices and bureaus scattered throughout the executive branch that perform parts of this task for their respective agencies, there is no one place where all the pieces are brought together and integrated into anything resembling a coherent, comprehensive whole. What is worse, to judge by the tentative and incomplete efforts that have been made thus far to correct this shortcoming, there appears to be very little concern about what it may mean for the nation’s security.

      These institutional and intellectual deficiencies have existed...

    • 7 A Strategic Planning Cell on National Security at the White House
      (pp. 98-110)

      Any effort to do strategic planning on national security at the White House encounters a paradox. On the one hand, it is hard to do because even the largest White House feels understaffed and the time horizons of those staff are necessarily focused on dealing with the urgent tyranny of the president’s daily “to do” list—the most daunting in-box in the U.S. government, perhaps in the world. Conversely, strategic planning on national security is hard to do anywhere besides the White House because the long-term fruits of strategic planning form such a central part of the president’s vision and...

  7. Part IV: Limits and Opportunities for Strategic Planning

    • 8 Why the Best Is Not Yet to Come in Policy Planning
      (pp. 113-124)

      Policy planning is hard and getting harder. Created at the dawn of the cold war, the State Department’s policy planning staff was designed to bring the future into the present—fusing longer-range, big-picture thinking with the here and now of U.S. foreign policymaking. Although some staffs have fared better than others, all have confronted four types of constraints: time pressures to address current issues at the expense of longer-term planning; bureaucratic competition for influence; cognitive barriers to anticipating the future; and cultural tensions between policy planning “thinkers” and policymaking “doers” within the U.S. government. All of these constraints have grown...

    • 9 Learning the Right Lessons from the 1940s
      (pp. 125-136)

      Occasionally, the question “what decade would you most like to live in?” is an interesting way of reviving a flagging dinner conversation. Among scholars and practitioners of international relations, though, the response is almost as predictable as death and taxes. I speak, of course, of the 1940s. No other decade has been cited as frequently as a model for contemporary U.S. strategy. Since September 11, 2001, everyone, from President George W. Bush to his most ardent critics, has tried to lay claim to the mantle of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and the strategist George F. Kennan.¹ On its surface, what...

    • 10 Foreign Policy Planning through a Private Sector Lens
      (pp. 137-158)

      At the start of the twenty-first century, the United States confronts profound foreign policy challenges. Consider the unraveling of the global financial system, the rise of the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and the erosion of the United States’ relative power in the world, climate change and energy policy, the proliferation of technologies of potential mass destruction, and the cascading implications of state weakness and failure. Appreciating the complex interplay of long-term trends is a prerequisite for developing policies to manage, if not solve, such challenges. The U.S. government, however, lacks a standing strategic planning process to...

    • 11 The Garbage Can Framework for Locating Policy Planning
      (pp. 159-172)

      Foreign policy is a particularly complex arena. There are many different actors—not just states, but also international and regional organizations, transnational groups both benign and malign, multinational corporations, domestic interest groups, NGOs, and others. The capacity of these different actors may be difficult to assess. Their motivations may be opaque. Principals have to weigh not only the domestic political reaction in the United States to foreign policy initiatives, but also the constraints confronting their counterparts in other countries.

      Paul Nitze wrote in 1954, when he was director of policy planning:

      To deal with such problems as present themselves to...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 173-178)
  9. Index
    (pp. 179-190)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-191)