Statecraft's November Roundup
The Roman Empire, kludgeocracy, and what bureaucrats are good for
In How to Predict the Future, we interviewed RAND CEO and former IARPA head Jason Matheny about how to build tools that help spies make better predictions.
“You need to be thoughtful about what information can be misinterpreted by others if they're aware of an investment. We also tend to overestimate our ability to keep secrets… When you're operating in a classified environment, you're so aware of the protections: the guards, the guns, the gates, the special rooms with air gapping and no electronic devices. The environment creates so many inconveniences to go in and out, you assign a high level of confidence to it. But there are so many historical instances of our protections failing that we should be more realistic about the base rate of things getting stolen. That has implications for the research that we pursue and how we pursue it. For example, if you develop a technology that would actually create an asymmetric disadvantage if used against you.”
“We don't do enough red teaming in general. Sometimes it's just awkward, because you're trying to beat the stuff that you're investing a lot of money and time to building. You're not highly motivated to see the ways that it breaks. There are institutional and even personal incentives not to explore the ways in which your own investment is potentially vulnerable. Also, it takes time and investment, and that trades off against efforts that are seen as more within the “job jar” of an R&D agency.
There's no permanent red team at the (NSC) National Security Council that tries to anticipate how China will respond to a particular US action. It might be incredibly valuable for that to exist.”
“Our idea was simple: If we could siphon people who are getting STEM PhDs from the H-1B program and, where qualified, request O-1 instead, we could make the H-1B program more usable without Congress.”
“You can’t actually get that much done from the White House unless you have career officials, staff, policy analysts, lawyers, and politically appointed leaders who believe in what you’re doing. It’s very easy for departments and agencies to never get around to your initiative.
I worked on projects that became policies and were announced — and they probably wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t there, but it was not rocket science. I was just enthusiastic, and I was a little bit relentless.”
What We’re Reading
In a recentpiece, highlighted the need for a federal bureaucracy that actually works.
In the Washington Post, Jen Pahlka described how “kludgeocracy” makes the federal government bad at the things it tries to do.
The anonymous authors ofpublish consistent, excellent, consistently excellent book reviews. This one on Luttwak’s Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire explains the book’s groundbreaking thesis and suggests it may be immediately relevant to American grand strategy.
In our conversation with Jason Matheny, Angelo Codevilla’s Informing Statecraft came up more than once. Codevilla argued in 1992 that the intelligence community was consistently outmatched by the KGB during the Cold War. As a contemporary review in Commentary notes, it backs up Senator Daniel P. Moynihan’s pronouncement, that, “For a quarter-century, the CIA has been repeatedly wrong about the major political and economic questions entrusted to its analysts.”
The new installment of American Affairs is out, featuring several excellent pieces on the ins and outs of statecraft, including:
IFP Co-Founder and Co-CEO Alec Stapp on How to Be a Policy Entrepreneur in the American Vetocracy
FAI’s Thomas Hochman on It’s Not Just NEPA: Reforming Environmental Permitting
If you have suggested interviewees for Statecraft, let us know below!