Policymakers must routinely assess how certain core beliefs shape their perceptions of what is required to keep the United States safe and prosperous, and what is possible to advance US interests. They should challenge the conventional wisdom, and subject certain core beliefs to careful and rigorous scrutiny. They need, in short, a reality check.
But, too often, the marketplace of ideas rewards groupthink over originality. It suffers from path dependency, defines threats too expansively, and fails to prioritize them effectively. In these instances, men and women of principle and conviction must take difficult or unpopular stands, examine closely held beliefs, and explain, deliberately and patiently, why the prevailing assumptions deserve scrutiny.
When the crush of events seem to be pressing upon policymakers to act now, when the crowd exudes confidence, and demands boldness, the skeptic favors humility, and urges caution.
Imagine if this was done with regard to the Vietnam conflict in 1964, or prior to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
The Atlantic Council created the New American Engagement Initiative (NAEI) within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security to systematically scrutinize the critical assumptions that have guided US foreign policy, in some cases for many decades. The NAEI team identifies these core beliefs and assesses how conditions have changed since they were first adopted; proposes modifications to existing assumptions or proposes alternatives; and suggests different policies, as warranted, that are better aligned to contemporary reality.
Communicating these policy alternatives in a timely manner to the widest possible audience is critical to the NAEI’s success.
Accordingly, the initiative launched a new series of short policy briefs dedicated to exploring a particular policy or set of policies, assessing their efficacy, and, where appropriate, proposing alternatives.
The papers in the “Reality Check” series will all follow a consistent pattern: first, describe the issue under consideration; second, provide a critical assessment of the conventional wisdom surrounding it; and third, make recommendations for the path forward.
Some will be tied to the news of the day, others will derive from NAEI’s Assumptions Testing series. But all will be succinct and straight-to-the-point. The briefs are designed for busy professionals anxious for pragmatic and timely policy options.
The need for fresh perspectives is particularly acute at this moment in time. Coming out of the tumultuous years of the Donald Trump presidency, some are anxious to take the United States back to the pre-Trump era and see little value in trying to derive any lessons from it, or assessing how we got there. Still others, however, would build on the experience of the past four years to redefine and adapt America’s role in the world. They aim to fashion a foreign policy for the United States that can deliver tangible benefits for the American people, even as it works with allies and partners to shape the global future.
The short papers in the Reality Check series will be available through this page as they come out.
New America Engagement Initiative
Tue, Jun 9, 2020
The New American Engagement Initiative, housed within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, challenges prevailing assumptions governing US foreign policy and helps policymakers manage risks, set priorities, and allocate resources wisely and efficiently. The United States confronts a range of national security challenges, but the marketplace of ideas defines these too expansively, fails to prioritize them effectively, and limits the range of options for addressing them. Unconventional thinking is needed to help Americans put dangers into perspective, and encourage them to embrace global engagement through diplomacy, trade, and mutually beneficial cultural exchange.
Tue, Jan 12, 2021
The New American Engagement Initiative’s Assumptions Testing series explores some of the foundational beliefs that guide US foreign policy. By questioning the conventional wisdom, and exposing these assumptions to close scrutiny, the series aims to open a new seam in the policy debate and generate a more lively, fruitful, and effective strategic dialogue – one that is capable of producing a sustainable, nonpartisan strategy for US global engagement.
Mon, Aug 26, 2019
The Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security works to develop sustainable, nonpartisan strategies to address the most important security challenges facing the United States and its allies and partners. Subscribe