Immaculately Conceived Policy Adam Garfinkle

by Nathan Hamm on 8/21/2003

Immaculately Conceived Policy

Adam Garfinkle has an interesting articly in Policy Review
on the lure of this type of analysis of foreign policy. He call it
“foreign policy immaculately conceived” and that it consists of three
premises:

    1) “foreign policy decisions involve one and only one major
    interest or principle at a time.”
    2) “it is always possible to know the direct and peripheral impact of
    crisis-driven decisions several months or years into the future.”
    3) “U.S. foreign policy decisions are always taken with all principals
    in agreement and are implemented down the line as those principals
    intend — in short, they are logically coherent.”

He notes that it looks pretty silly like that, but when you look at the
analysis that gets bandied about in public this is how it looks. It’s
easy for people to get their heads around this type of analysis, it
doesn’t take much knowledge of fact, it’s about the only kind of
analysis found in the media, and when you have an administration that
“markets” their foreign policy, you’ll definitely hear this type of
analysis from public officials. In all fairness though I agree with
Garfinkle that every administration has a right to some disconnect
between rhetoric and conduct. Garfinkle shows that a few applications
of this line of thought (from the left: support of the Shah and Afghan
mujahideen; and from the right: failure to remove Saddam in ’91) don’t
capture the whole story that went into a decision. That’s not to say
that these policies weren’t mistakes, but they also were all very
reasonable policy decisions.
Give this a quick read, it’s good. Not great, but worth a gander–I
haven’t seen too much else on this phenomenon.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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