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Aaron David Miller on What the Trump Administration Should Focus on in the First 100 Days

February 2, 2017

We all have to understand the intersection between foreign policy and politics. It may be objectionable, it may be irrational, but it’s a reality.

I’ll answer your question with a story, because it speaks volumes about my view and follows on both what Robert and Duncan said. In 1982, I’m a very young intelligence analyst in the Department of State following Lebanon and the Palestinians during a crisis period -- ‘82, ‘83. And I’m sitting at my desk one morning and the phone rings, and a voice at the other end says “It’s the White House Sit Room, hold.” So I’m holding. No music, but I’m holding, holding. Next voice I hear is the following: “Aaron?” “Yes.” “This is Vice President George H. W. Bush calling. I read one of your memos on Lebanon. Do you have a few minutes, because I’d like to ask you a few questions about it.” So I got off the phone and I thought to myself You know -- curiosity. This guy was not getting the answers he needed, or he needed additional information, from his CIA briefings, so he picks up the phone, he penetrates --- Kennedy used to call the agency analysts and the IR analysts on Vietnam --- but, knowing what you don’t know, and being in a hurry to find out, in my judgement....

Foreign policy is not common sense and knowledge of an atlas. It does require additional expertise. Now you don’t want to overdo this, because common sense as judgement is critical, if you don’t have that, you could be advised by a thousand experts -- Iraq 2003 is a classic example -- but you have to know what you don’t know; you have to be curious; you have to surround yourself with smart people who do know, and then you have to listen to what it is they say, and weigh their recommendations.

If I had one --- and there’s a lot you can do in a hundred days -- you could start an exercise program, you could learn how to program a VCR -- it’s a crazy metric. It’s a crazy metric to judge any president. But if I had any hope and wish for this administration and the future of this country’s foreign policy, it’s that. It’s looking at the world the way it is, and making decisions. Yeah you want to change the world, but find the balance between the way the world is and the way you want it to be, because in that balance, therein lies, probably, the most judicious and effective way to make some policy and protect the interests of the United States.


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Aaron David Miller

Global Fellow
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