National Security

In Defense of Policy Planning

Strobe Talbott responds to Rosa Brooks.

In her critique of President Barack Obama's foreign policy (posted Oct. 18), Rosa Brooks characterizes the Policy Planning staff of the State Department as "marginalized and disempowered" and suggests that its director, Jake Sullivan, is too young and inexperienced for the job.

I believe both judgments to be incorrect and unfair. I have followed the evolution of the Policy Planning office for 40 years and known virtually all its directors since the Nixon administration. Jake is among the more able and effective of those I have seen in action. I have known him for 11 years, when he was involved in the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, a connection that gave me a chance to value his knowledge, sophistication, and imagination in strategic thinking. Over the past year, I have worked closely with him in my capacity as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Policy Board, a bipartisan advisory group established by Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Under Jake's leadership, the Planning staff has generated fresh ideas to help strike a balance between long-term coherence and tactical flexibility in the cause of advancing U.S. interests and values in a changing international environment. As a result, his office has been highly influential with the secretary and with policymakers elsewhere in the government, notably including at the White House. The Planning staff has also been admirably open to a broad spectrum of views from outside the government, a reflection of the secretary's determination to protect U.S. diplomacy from domestic partisanship -- and to solicit and absorb input from distinguished Republican foreign-policy practitioners.



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