How to Reverse Failed Policy

U.S. policy makers have all too often clung to orthodoxies even as they fail. Yet a select few have managed to turn the ship of state around, to a better course.

Issue: May-June 2013

SCHOLARS AND specialists often lament that once the United States commits itself to a course of action abroad, it rarely adjusts its path. Bureaucracies prize continuity over innovation and cling to the prevailing orthodoxy. Top officials often embrace positions predetermined by past prejudices and lessons. The gravitational pull of politics induces presidents and secretaries of state to persist with existing policies even when they aren’t working. Although such inflexibility may not be particularly harmful in ordinary times, big problems can arise when the United States finds itself in uncharted territory or facing unexpected geopolitical shifts.

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