Influencing Policy From the Outside

CONVINCED of the need for a dramatic response to the crisis in the Soviet Union, a team of American and Soviet scholars joined to propose a "Grand Bargain" to resurrect the Soviet economy through Western help. The response of the Bush administration to the Harvard-Moscow concept was cool. The incident illustrates the difficulty of inserting ideas on a major issue into the foreign policy process from the outside. Scholars who work on international issues in universities and public-policy institutes across the country hope that the results of their scholarship will influence policy. Seeing what they believe to be unrealized opportunities, they are frustrated by the apparent lack of official action. Their yearning for influence is further encouraged by the individuals and foundations who fund private research and who insist that the publications, conferences, and seminars that result will produce policy recommenda t

ions. Yet rarely have such recommendations been adopted by an administration and converted directly into policy.

Exceptions do exist. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington was instrumental in fostering legislation that effectively reorganized the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Yet CSIS in this instance worked on this issue in cooperation with key members of Congress, where members and their staffs are more open to ideas from the outside.

US scholars have also had influence in advising other governments. Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard economist, has played a major role in implementing economic reforms in Poland. But efforts to influence US policy by direct uninvited approaches to the executive branch encounter several obstacles. Outsiders do not have access to the same flow of information as those within the government. This is especially true in the Bush administration, where sensitive information - and policy decisions - are confined to a sm a

ll circle.

Those within government, conscious of the need to coordinate different positions in the executive and to deal effectively with Congress, are apprehensive toward external initiatives that will threaten their control over the process.

This concern applies to initiatives that create unrealistic expectations of what Washington can do. The Harvard-Moscow initiative was criticized by the administration for mentioning dollar amounts of American aid well beyond what officials considered realistic.

Politics are also a factor. Administrations do not like to see credit for bold ideas fall to others identified with another party. A critic of the "Grand Bargain" noted that Graham Allison, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, might have been national security adviser to Michael Dukakis.

The universities and policy institutes that concentrate on foreign policy in the United States serve an important function in promoting the flow of ideas, a process not duplicated on such a scale anywhere else in the world. They bring together people from government, business, Congress, the press, and academia from the US and around the world. They provide environments in which officials can talk with citizens away from the pressures and inhibitions of government offices. They educate citizens on the de t

ails and intricacies of policies and issues. Through both formal sessions and individual meetings, ideas are undoubtedly exchanged and fed into government. As in the case of the Harvard-Moscow project, such activities can also raise public and congressional awareness of an issue. But the initiative toward great decisions and the shaping and credit for the concepts ultimately fall to those in government.

One of the great initiatives in US foreign policy was the Marshall Plan that reconstructed Europe after World War II. Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, describing how that initiative was created, wrote that, to achieve "prompt and effective aid for gravely threatened countries ... the President and the Secretary of State must shock the country into a realization of its peril by telling it the facts which daily poured in through our cables." If today, the president and his advisers do not choose to lead in a similar fashion, no outsider can do it for them.

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