Friday, December 21, 2012

In Defense of Think Tanks

Dr. Nadia Schadlow, a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation, penned this piece for Foreign Policy magazine.

Here are some excerpts:
Every major government program, from Obamacare to tax reform to defense budget realignments, has benefitted from the research and analysis of analysts who work at think tanks and in academic centers. If experts on health care or on Pakistan are not reaching out to non-government experts, they are not doing their job. And since these experts need to make a living, they must raise money for the institutions in which they work; They, unlike the government, do not have a tax base upon which to draw.
Think tanks are one of the great strengths of this country. They provide a dynamic environment of intellectual inquiry that helps to refine ideas and translate academic arguments into policy-relevant recommendations. They allow individuals who have been fast-paced operational practitioners some time to sit back and consider the history or politics of a country more deeply, and then go back and work the long hours with greater context. They provide a way for younger individuals to gain knowledge and then "deploy" that knowledge once they enter government.
Unlike the British executive branch, in which senior civil servants serve at the undersecretary level and hold the collective national wisdom in their expertise, the U.S. government populates the executive as far down as the office director level with short term political appointees. In our system, the think tanks and many in the academy constitute the collective national expertise, and every administration rightly calls upon them when weighing policies and making decisions. Many of the more successful high-level government officials today came from this community.
President Obama and other White House officials recognize that think tanks and universities generate debate and that is why they choose to speak at them. That is why White House and other officials cite non-government reports and books, often. That is why even during the last series of presidential debates, both candidates identified outside studies written by individuals who sought to influence debates about tax rates and health care and Iran.
Her piece is in response to a recent Washington Post article about think tankers (namely Kimberly and Frederick Kagan) involved in the war in Afghanistan.

Anthony Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), also came out in defense of think tanks, penning this opinion piece for the Washington Post.