A plea for foresight in government

ONE of the great moments for me each year since coming to Georgetown University is the annual senior awards ceremony of the School of Foreign Service.

The flavor is international. Students come from every continent. The emphasis of the remarks of the day is on the intercultural, the international.

Postgraduation plans of students showed that they were already moving onto the lower rungs of power - into the military, the Foreign Service, the economic areas of government, and the corporate world.

It was a shining moment - but there was another, more sober current. A speaker of the day, correspondent Georgie Ann Geyer, spoke of revolution and turmoil, of erosion in the code of international behavior, of the deterioration of national institutions, and the rise of radical movements. She echoed Henry Kissinger in asking whether the United States was becoming irrelevant to the world's currents because of its failure to understand what was happening.

At the reception that followed, one professor asked, ''Why is it that those in government do not look beyond the immediate, do not see new trends before it is too late?''

No more important question could have been uttered. None is more difficult to answer.

How can one ''think the unthinkable'' in a normal human institution where people are concerned with the immediate, where people have vested interests in the assumptions of the present? How does one look beyond that present while working in political institutions that have a two-year or four-year - or even six-year - cycle? In most institutions rarely is there a challenge to the conventional wisdom, a look to the distant future that might give signals about today. As a result, the world moves inexorably into wars, debt crises, recessions, revolutions, and declining national competitiveness.

At no time in our history has it been more necessary to ask where we are going. A revolutionary leader in Iran spurns all previous international rules. Peasants and laborers, long ''nonpersons'' in their own countries, are seeking a better way under whatever sympathetic sponsorship they can find.

Present were many from another generation who wished they had had, at moments in the past, the opportunities and courage to challenge the conventional and unmask the shadowy future.

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