The importance of understanding the U.S. in the world
“Immersing ourselves in foreign affairs is even more important today than it was a few months ago,” said Mr. John Hempelmann, president of the board at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation to over 100 UW students, faculty and members of the public gathered in Kane Hall at the University of Washington the evening of Jan. 25.
The evening program was a celebration of the induction of Daniel Bessner as the first Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Professorship in American Foreign Policy, with Bessner speaking on “Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Defense Intellectual” and introductory and closing remarks by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and the UW Jackson School of International Studies.
In reflecting on the naming of the professorship, Hempelmann told the crowd “Ken Pyle’s distinguished career is firmly planted in what Senator Henry M. Jackson believed to be paramount in today’s world – that our students be very well-informed of global challenges and very much involved in advancing the best of the United States.”
When Pyle, a Japan expert, retired in 2015 after teaching over 50 years at the Jackson School, even becoming its director for a period of time, the Jackson Foundation named the professorship in his honor.
Pyle was also a close friend and adviser on East Asian Affairs to Senator Henry (Scoop) M. Jackson, the namesake of the Jackson School.
A new professor of U.S. foreign policy
In introducing the audience to Daniel Bessner, Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba said: “Daniel is one of the youngest members of our faculty, but already within the short three years he has been with us, he has made a name for himself in U.S. foreign policy, and also is a very effective teacher, advisor and member of our community.”
He noted Bessner’s forthcoming book also the subject of the evening’s lecture on “Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Defense Intellectual,” which is due for publication in 2018 by Cornell University Press.
Kasaba thanked the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for their support through endowments, donations and fellowships, and extended a special welcome to several others in the audience, including recently retired U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott, who is teaching a course for graduate students at the Jackson School, and the Dean of UW College of Arts and Sciences, Bob Stacey, and UW Divisional Dean of Social Sciences Judy Howard.
“It is due to Ken Pyle’s work that we have the Jackson School of International Studies today, with programs and centers and the very popular and important international studies programs,” Kasaba emphasized in celebration of the re-naming of the Professorship in Pyle’s name.
Making sense of the origins of U.S. foreign policy
Prof. Daniel Bessner opened his talk on “Democracy in Exile” by thanking the Jackson School and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and highlighting Prof. Pyle as “the best example of what an engaged intellectual should be.”
Turning to the subject of U.S. foreign policy, Bessner talked about his research and findings that will be subject of his upcoming book that seeks to answer how and why did social scientists come to exert influence in U.S. foreign policy during and after the Cold War.
“While scholars have noted a culture that values expertise has permeated institutions of American foreign policymaking, no one has yet identified German contributions to this culture,” he said.
He reviewed the critical role German-born émigré academics played in the early Cold War “in creating expert-centered institutions” that have become prominent influencers in U.S. foreign policymaking, like The RAND Corporation and the MIT Center for International Studies.
He also noted some of the most important policymakers and thinkers in the U.S. — most famously former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger — were German exiles.
One such émigré, Hans Speier, founder of the RAND Corporation Social Sciences Division who became a policy adviser in the executive branch of the State Department, Bessner argues, is representative of understanding U.S. history of foreign policy.
In looking to examine the U.S. role in the world — showing how U.S. foreign policy affected the politics, societies and cultures of others around the world — and how foreign experiences themselves, like the World War II Nazi era, re-shaped how foreign and American intellectuals understood their own role in the U.S., Bessner focused on three areas:
- Ideological origins of social science-based foreign policymaking
- Rise of the defense intellectual
- What does this mean today
The transformation of Hans Speier from a disillusioned supporter of Marxism in the 1920s in Germany to his emigration to the U.S. in the early 1930s included ideas on the use of propaganda in democracy and developing the first examples of ‘big data’ in the U.S. to predict Nazi strategy, said Bessner.
Speier went on to serve at the highest levels of the U.S. Office of War Information, and founded the Social Sciences Division of the RAND Corporation.
The 1950s saw the expansion of new institutes created to give national security advice, with German intellectuals like Speier playing leading roles. This led to a new kind of career path, said Bessner, from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to contemporary foreign policy influencers like Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
What does it mean today?
One key challenge, Bessner noted, is how policies have been made since 1945: the outsourcing to institutes outside of government where often information influencing foreign policy remains classified.
“The U.S. [public] has lost faith in the foreign policy establishment, because the elite [experts] are rarely held accountable,” Bessner said. “We need to create a moral norm … the public should know information being presented to government.”
He concluded: “Democracy needs expertise [public intellectuals], but we also need to hold these experts accountable,” he said. “So I am for expertise, but I am for a ‘humble and modest’ expertise,” he concluded.
Ken Pyle, Professor Emeritus, gave closing remarks, noting that he was “particularly happy to have his name, and that of his wife, on this professorship because it was U.S. foreign policy that led him to teaching.”
“We look forward to Daniel Bessner’s promising career,” he said.
In 2005 the Henry M. Foundation first created the Henry M. Jackson Professorship in American Foreign Policy at the Jackson School, naming Professor Kenneth B. Pyle as its first recipient.