Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 Election Sparks Firings at Think Tanks

The 2016 election season still has many more months to go, but it is already taking a toll on think tank land, with a pair of recent firings at different think tanks that were linked to presidential politics.

The conservative think tank Center for the National Interest (CNI), which recently hosted Donald Trump for a foreign policy speech, has fired one of its employees who questioned the think tank's ties to Trump.  Here is more from Foreign Policy:
The dust-up marks the latest feud among the country’s top foreign-policy realists over whether to embrace the real estate tycoon — whose more narrow interpretation of U.S. national interests bears some resemblance to their own — or disown him as a charlatan with no serious ties to any intellectual tradition.
The employee, a junior fellow named Alexander Kirss, sharply rebuked the think tank for inviting Trump to explain his foreign-policy platform in an April 27 event at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel.
In hosting the mogul, Kirss said the think tank exhibited the same “opportunism displayed by others who have sided with Trump, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and former presidential candidate Ben Carson.”
He was fired the same day the story published.
Paul Saunders, the executive director of the center, told FP that the decision to terminate Kirss’s position had “nothing to do with Trump.”
“The real issue is that this individual publicly disparaged the organization he was working for,” he said, noting that Kirss had never voiced his misgivings about the event to his superiors. “I don’t think that any employer would tolerate that.”

Some of Kirss past writings for the think tank can be found here.  Kirss, who is a Senior Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, was a member of the inaugural five member class of resident junior fellows tasked with pursuing independent research to support the mission and goals of Center for the National Interest.  In the past, he was a Research Assistant at the International Center for Defense Studies, and a Research Intern at the Cato Institute.

In response, the think tank said that when think tanks invite someone to speak, it does not constitute an endorsement.  CNI said that over the years, it has hosted then-President Bill Clinton, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Ash Carter, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, but those guests were not necessarily endorsed by the think tank.

In response to suggestions that CNI has been unable to contribute any policymakers inclined toward realism for government service, the think tank said that three of its current program directors have served as political appointees in the US government.  It also noted that former CNI employees are working in the State Department, Defense Department, National Security Council (NSC), and the intelligence community (as well as Capitol Hill).

In another think tank firing, progressive blogger Matt Bruening of the liberal think tank Demos was reportedly axed for calling a Hillary Clinton ally (Neera Tanden - the head of Center for American Progress) a "scumbag."

Center for American Progress (CAP) has strong ties to the Clintons, and Tanden is often mentioned as a possible chief of staff for a Hillary Clinton Administration.  (And as Mother Jones said, being president of CAP is a "Big Effin Deal.")

Here is what Demos, a New York-headquartered think tank founded in 2000, had to say about the firing.

During the past few years a number of think tankers have been fired for various reasons.  Examples include one who was let go for lying on a resume, and someone who was sacked for having a different policy stance from the think tank he belonged to.