Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Solarium Project

In several recent posts I've linked to papers from CNAS's American Grand Strategy Solarium. (Which is no longer available online)

Here's an article about Michèle A. Flournoy, CNAS and the Solarium Project that gives some background:

The enormity of these challenges led Flournoy to reflect on the importance of Eisenhower’s approach in assessing the country’s security policies and crafting a grand strategy.

She pointed out that shortly after assuming the presidency in 1953, Eisenhower created a competitive strategy development process called the Solarium Project that questioned the fundamental assumptions of U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. Eisenhower set up several teams to present alternative viewpoints to senior members of the administration in the White House solarium on the nature of the Soviet threat, that nation’s capabilities and intentions, and America’s options regarding its archrival. Eisenhower then used this process to refine his foreign policy goals and establish a strategic agenda for his presidency.

Flournoy said the next president should consider setting up a similar process to review fundamental U.S. interests, capabilities and resources. So her center created its own Solarium Project in 2007 to demonstrate how such a process could work and to generate alternative grand strategies for the next president. “We hope this project plays a small role in helping shape and elevate the debate on America’s place and purpose in the world,” Flournoy said.

At the same time, she admitted that seeing the forest through the trees and developing a grand global strategy isn’t exactly second nature to most presidents, who tend to be more reactive and tactical than proactive and strategic.

“Very few American presidents have led strategic discussions at that level. It’s not necessarily a part of our political culture to have significant discussions of grand strategy,” Flournoy said. “The real value of strategy developing is the norming and informing of a group of people around a common vision and a set of objectives. We face so many hard foreign policy challenges that it’s hard to know where to start. You can’t deal with everything with equal emphasis. That’s where a grand strategy comes in.”Flournoy wants her center to play a positive role in setting that strategy and creating a sense of national renewal.

“Success for us is reframing the debate and having an impact on policy. It is causing change in a direction that advances U.S. interests,” she said. “We are very happy to get no credit if our work actually has impact. We like seeing policymakers steal our ideas. We like columnists to write paraphrases of our words. We like congressmen to introduce legislation based on our work — even if the center is never mentioned. The name of the game is influencing those who are in a position to make changes.”

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