Jittery Reflections from the Brookings InstitutionON Tuesday, August 19, 2003 at 11:00 AM, Strobe Talbott,
President of the Brookings Institution participated in an online chat with the Washington
Post. IRmep, which has published a great deal lately about American think tanks in
general and Middle East think tanks in particular, was not invited, but provides annotated
comments to our readers that help explain the crisis of credibility now engulfing
Brookings and other formerly vaunted American think tanks.
Politics: The Brookings Institution
Brookings Institution President
Tuesday, August 19, 2003; 11:00 AM
The transcript and IRmep data and analysis in Bold follows.
Strobe Talbott: I'm delighted to have a chance to join in a
discussion with your Web-users. As a former journalist who frequents cyberspace, it's fun
to see the way the Post is taking advantage of the medium....
College Park, Md.: Who are the main funders of Brookings, and
how does that impact your choices of topics to study and the outcomes you advocate?
Strobe Talbott: Brookings gets its funding from a combination
of sources. We have an endowment, which covers about a quarter of our 40 million dollar a
year budget; the rest comes from foundations, corporations and individuals....
IRmep: Brookings has immense resources available for
research, advocacy, and lobbying. In 2000, Brookings reported just under a quarter
of a billion dollars in assets ($242,176,802) to the Internal Revenue Service.
With its current financial resources and expenditures, Brookings could be completely self
sufficient from any further donations.
However, donations continue to pour in.
No one funds research without a motive. The
resources of those still funding Brookings and the centers to which they contribute is an
all-important question that Brookings, and most other think tanks, simply refuse to
Washington, D.C.: What is your best response to individuals
who assert that think tanks are of limited practical value, but rather produce thoughts or
rather lines of thinking that are highly esoteric and disassociated from actual real life
situations and social needs?
Strobe Talbott: There are obviously lots of different think
tanks -- more than a hundred just in Washington -- and different kinds as well. Brookings
has, for its more than 80 years in existence, made a specialty out of research that is of
use and interest to policymakers, and also to informing the public about policy issues. In
short, we put a premium on relevance.
IRmep: This is a question of perspective.
Esoteric and disconnected is not an accurate description of Brookings policy
promotion. Brookings enjoys privileged access to policy makers and key government
officials, without the need for filing as a lobby, foreign agent, or special interest
group. It is precisely this level of access and ability to influence policymakers
from behind the scenes that makes Brookings an excellent investment for some vested
interests. The only group that legitimately considers Brookings to be esoteric and
disassociated is average Americans.
Arlington, Va.: Why do you think people have different views
and opinions? How does you institute try to influence and persuade others?
Also, is there an objective analysis versus politically influenced
analysis? For example do you think any one or any agency could have produced an object
analysis on Iraq that is not politically motivated one way or the other?
Strobe Talbott: It's healthy and natural that there should be
a wide range of views on Think Tank Row, just as there is in the country at large. In
fact, we encourage a diversity of views here at Brookings. Our ability to influence the
public and the policymaking community derives not just from the expertise of our scholars
but from the fact that they are truly independent and nonpartisan -- that is, they're not
advancing a political party's agenda.
Iraq is a good example of this. Our scholars who know a lot about that subject -- and
there are quite a few -- had some points on which they supported the premise of the
administration's policy, other points where they had their differences.
IRmep: Brookings, like most fellow think tanks and
immediate neighbors on Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. contributed relatively little to
what would be considered "honest debate" on the Iraq question. A content
analysis of Brookings press quotes reveals that issues of low to no relevance at Brookings
were the likely costs of postwar occupation, implications for U.S. credibility if WMD
intelligence was flawed, and the new era that would be created by a democracy launching a
"preemptive" war the rest of the world protested. Similarly
irrelevant to Brookings were the conflict's impact on trade, regional economic development
and other issues affecting the U.S. economy.
Parkville, Md.: The Brookings Institute is often cited as a
Democratic counterpart to right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the
American Enterprise Institute. Many Democrats, however, disagree and have gone about
putting together a American Majority Institute, to serve as a counterweight to Heritage
My question is this: How would you contrast Brookings with AEI and
Heritage, and what advice would you give Democrats in setting up a more unabashedly
partisan think tank of their very own?
Strobe Talbott: The key word in describing Brookings is
nonpartisan. That, by the way, is different from "bipartisan." Our Congress is,
or should be, bipartisan in that it looks for common ground between the two parties. A
nonpartisan approach is one that is open to the possibility that neither party has the
right answer to a tough issue. At Brookings, we have people who are registered
Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We have an environment here that is open and
collegial. People listen to each other and think about alternative views in shaping their
own. We have had people who come to Brookings from Republican administrations (for
example, Ken Dam, who was deputy treasury secretary, and it was recently announced that
Larry Thompson, the deputy attorney general, will be coming here next month), as well as
from Democratic administrations. An example there, in addition to myself, is Jim
Steinberg, the head of our foreign policy department. His predecessor, Richard Haass, went
from Brookings into the Bush administration as director of policy planning -- a job Jim
had held before. So there's a revolving door that ensures maximum nonpartisanship, at
least at this outfit.
IRmep: From a systems analysis perspective, the think tank
ecosystem does not at all favor progressive or liberal thought. Since conservative
principles are generally broadly agreed upon, with an anchor in the past, think tanks can,
and often do, tacitly agree on general principles.
Liberals, however, generally only agree on the need for
change. Any three liberals gathered among the fluted columns and polished marble
floors of a new think tank would likely profoundly disagree on approaches for changing and
improving America. Thus, truly progressive and liberal thinkers will for ever be
found scattered about in colleges and universities.
West Palm Beach, Fla.: Dear Strobe: Brookings is considered
to be the moderate to left think tank as compared to the libertarian Cato or
right/conservative American Enterprise Institute or Hudson, or the conservative Heritage
Foundation, etc. Is there any updated score card or chart that arrays/arranges think tanks
based on their bias/point of view and perspective. Please don't say you are "fair and
balanced" or I'll report you to Fox News Network and you will become a co-defendant
with Al Franken.
Strobe Talbott: Okay, I'll rise to the bait! We're fair and
balanced. Take a look at our mission statement. And more to the point, take a look at our
product, which comes in the form of books, op-eds, "policy briefs," appearances
by our scholars in the media -- and you'll see that they are not advancing any party
agenda and that, because they reach their conclusions through open-minded inquiry and
rigorous analysis, they often surprise people who mistakenly associate us with a fixed
point on the political spectrum (sometimes they even surprise themselves).
IRmep: Brookings is the single most influential think
tank in the U.S. if measured by number of media citations. Brookings provided 17% of
the media quotes from the 25 think tanks profiled in a year 2002 Nexis search conducted by
FAIR. When ranked by media quotes, Brookings emerges as the most important
opinion leading think tank in America.
Exhibit 1 Citations of Think Tanks in Media
(Source: FAIR and IRmep 2003)
However, the output of policy analysis at Brookings differs little from that of
conservative think tanks. 47% of total quotations from think tanks are Conservative
or right leaning, 41% are Centrist, and only 12% are considered Progressive or left
leaning. Brookings does little that is unique in the way of media influence that
could be called "fair and balanced" much less "Progressive".
Exhibit 2 Number of Media Citations by Ideaology
(Source: FAIR and IRmep 2003)
Brussels, Belgium: Mr. Talbott,
Europeans liked (loved!) Clinton but can't stomach Bush. Why? The Clinton Administration
also used U.S. forces to affect regime change and, arguably, Bush follows the same foreign
policy objectives: securing U.S. interests, fighting terror, promoting democracy, engaging
allied forces in peace-making operations, etc.
What did Bush do that so alienates Europeans (or, what did Clinton
do to endear himself so to Europeans?) There is more to this than Kyoto and Iraq, but
what? (Not the Saxophone!?)
Strobe Talbott: Actually, the situation is more complicated
than you suggest. As someone who worked in the Clinton administration, I can assure you
that there was plenty of complaint abroad, particularly in Europe, about American
"unilateralism" from time to time. The French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine,
called the US "l'hyperpussiance" -- the hyperpower -- and he didn't mean it as a
compliment. In fact, Vedrine elaborated on this theme at a conference here at Brookings.
The comment was directed at the Clinton administration. As for the Bush administration,
there's no question that transatlantic relations have gone through a bad patch, but that
was at least in part because of the way President Chirac of France made it hard if not
impossible for the Bush administration to keep the UN involved in the endgame on Iraq. I
think there's a real effort underway, on both sides of the Atlantic, to smooth things
IRmep: As Strobe correctly states, since there was an
"endgame" as opposed to any actual consultation, high level negotiation or
debate between the administration and key U.S. allies, the U.S. was unable to put together
a coalition in the rush to war. To American Enterprise Institute and Brookings, the
lack of ally malleability means either that new allies are necessary, that NGOs are
obsolete, or that new ways of coercing traditional allies are needed. Most
legitimate observers understand that treatment of longtime allies that are globally
sophisticated does not involve a predetermined "endgame" but rather strategic
cooperation through honest debate.
New York, N.Y.: What issues do you see driving the 2004
Strobe Talbott: Brookings has just published an important
book called "Agenda for the Nation," which provides very useful, thoughtful
readable analysis on many of the big issues for next year: the budget (including tax
policy), homeland security and the direction of national defense post-9/11, welfare
reform, international trade in an era of globalization.... Economics, as you may know, was
the original franchise of Brookings back nearly a century ago, and it's remained a key
part of what we do, but we also now have full programs on the state of our cities, on
foreign policy and on ways to improve our governing institutions. You can be sure that
Brookings will, starting in about two weeks, have a full array of programs that are
intended to help citizens understand the issues of the presidential campaign.
Alexandria, Va.: One of the objections raised against Bush
nominee Daniel Pipes is that he runs a Web site called Campus Watch that in the past has
criticized professors for what those professors taught and said.
Do you have any problem with anyone criticizing Brookings
Institution staff for what those staff members have taught or said? (Assuming, of course,
that the criticisms are not libelous.)
Strobe Talbott: In general, my colleagues are not against
criticism. It's a component of a healthy national debate. We engage in criticism
ourselves, although we try hard (and I think successfully) to keep it from being ad
hominem or partisan -- i.e., we try to make it constructive. I do have strong reservations
about what I'd call "attack research" and any sort of criticism that labels as
unpatriotic questions raised about ANY administration's policies.
IRmep: The Campus Watch website is a relevant metaphor
for the larger battle between think tanks and academia. While Campus Watch is overt in
discrediting political views it disagrees with, and then attempting to derail university
funding (such as title VI funds) in Congress, other think tanks are doing essentially the
By employing powerful PR agencies to dominate highly limited prime time slots on
national television, think tanks have edged academics out of many key discussions.
By replacing real scholars with ideologues, the national debate has suffered
greatly. No better example exists than the broadcast punditry and one sided analysis
during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Brookings and other think tanks generally fear deep analysis
of the background of their analysts (ad hominem). The ties to special interest
lobbies, foreign governments, and well established political movements clearly influences
policy output to a level that most strive to focus on any issue but authorship.
Harrisburg, Pa.: What is your analysis of how the Russian
government is doing? Is the economy improving any? Have the possibilities of communists
regaining power diminished significantly?
Strobe Talbott: Russia has made extraordinary strides in the
last decade and a half. As someone who has spent most of his career studying that place, I
never expected to see the day when Russia would be developing a parliamentary democracy
and a multi-party political system. That said, there are a lot of problems, including in
the economy. The Russian economy was beginning to turn around and even take off, but the
recent showdown between some powers-that-be in the Kremlin and the so-called oligarchs has
had a chilling effect on Russia's ability to attract and retain foreign capital, which is
crucial if the economy is going to continue to modernize.
My other big concern about Russia is Chechnya, which is festering in a way that threatens
to poison the democratization of the country as a whole.
Washington, D.C.: How would you characterize the differences
between think tanks and university research/institutes/centers? For think tanks, other
than providing a convenient base for career political/policy people and intellectuals in
between jobs/administrations, isn't there a great deal of overlap, and don't academic
enterprises hold out prospect of even greater objectivity because most academicians are
not looking for government/party jobs after the next election cycle?
Strobe Talbott: I respect the work done in universities, and
spent a year at Yale between my stint in gov't and coming here to Brookings. Many of our
scholars have been university professors and quite a few still teach at universities in
the DC area (Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, U of Maryland, George Mason, etc.) But one
difference between a think tank and a university is that we do not go in much for
"pure" research -- which is to say, we emphasize research that is relevant and
useful to policymakers. I don't think our objectivity is jeopardized by our
policy-orientation. Quite the contrary, we make a real effort to keep our policy objective
in the sense that we let chips fall where they may as we identify the big questions and
seek the big answers -- rather than letting our product be skewed in any fashion by
ideological or partisan preferences.
IRmep: Academia may be the last bastion of free thinking and
honest debate about public policy. Since the role of think tank pundits is
ultimately to advocate, rather than find the truth, America is replacing diamonds forged
in the crucible of debate, with spin produced in self referential and deeply compromised
Washington, D.C.: Brookings is fair and balanced. That's the
problem. There's nothing in the center/left that takes as aggressive an approach to
changing the national debate and influencing policymakers the way the Right-wing think
tanks do. Why doesn't the left have similar institutions?
Strobe Talbott: I don't think what you've identified is
entirely accurate, nor is it necessarily a problem. There are think tanks that
affirmatively identify themselves with liberal (or "progressive") positions. As
you know, there's an effort underway right now to set up a new one -- quite explicitly as
a counterbalance to those on the conservative end of the spectrum. My own view is that
there is now more than ever -- in a supercharged atmosphere where there is a lot of
political polarization -- the need for an outfit like Brookings that seeks "fair and
balanced" answers to questions that should not be oversimplified or hijacked by one
side or the other.
Dallas, Tex.: Please comment on this administrations policy
Strobe Talbott: It's good that President Bush went to Africa,
but it's too bad that that continent so often falls off the radar screen of American
foreign policy. That's been a historic problem, not just a current one. We have, among our
senior fellows, Susan Rice, who's doing some important work on corporate social
responsibility and globalization, but who is expert and experienced in Africa, having been
assistant secretary of state for that region, and we have a growing program on global
governance issues that is focusing a lot of on Africa. We also have, thanks to a generous
grant from Richard Blum of San Francisco, a "global poverty reduction
initiative" that has already come up with ideas on how best to spend the
administration's "Millennium Challenge Account" for foreign aid -- and Africa is
clearly one of the target beneficiaries of administration policy and the Brookings effort
to suggest ways that policy can be most effective.
Virginia: I looked over your staff roster, and most have
PhDs. What about the retired military man with only a high school degree but with 20 years
of war and operational experiences? Can they work there too?
Strobe Talbott: Great question! And you're addressing to
someone who does NOT have a Ph.D. One of the advantages of being an institution with more
than 50 resident scholars and nearly a 100 if you count non-resident affiliates is that we
can have many kinds of diversity, including in credentials and background. That way we can
have "true" academics, with their doctorates and university backgrounds, working
with "policy practitioners." As for military people, we have an Federal
Executive Fellows program that brings up-and-coming military and intelligence officers to
Brookings for year. They make a big contribution to our thinking and our writing, and they
feel it benefits them as they go back to the Pentagon or the intelligence community.
Somewhere, USA: If my figures are correct, you have been
president of The Brookings Institution for roughly a year now. How do you like your job?
What is your day to day routine?
Strobe Talbott: I love my job. One of the things I love about
it is that there's nothing routine about it. I have a chance to work with the scholars on
substance (I'm writing a book about India, Pakistan and nuclear weapons which brings me
into contact with our world-class South Asia expert, Steve Cohen), and it also gives me a
chance to work with the program directors and scholars on making sure that Brookings, when
it enters its second century in 2016 is as strong and as relevant as ever.
Arlington, Va.: What is the history of think tanks in the
United States? How did they start? Are there similar groups in countries overseas?
Strobe Talbott: Think tanks are in some ways not just an
American invention -- they're really still a uniquely American institution. There are
approximations of think tanks in other countries, but they tend by and large to be
sponsored by governments, by political parties, or offshoots of universities. My
colleagues and I here are looking into the possibility of helping partner-institutions in
other countries "clone" the Brookings model, which I see as a major opportunity
and responsibility for Brookings as the originator of that model.
IRmep: Brookings receives significant funding from the US
government. In 2000, Brookings received $1,169,524 million directly from the U.S.
government. This is 7% of the combined support given directly by the government and
individual contributors able to support their own policy agendas through a tax deductible
However, the idea of a "Brookings" model in a
smaller, or undeveloped country is curious. The 1980's and 1990's saw the formation
of many developed country institutions, such as stock markets, in regions that were
significantly different than the U.S. or Europe. Most failed. Since few developing
countries actually need to "sell" and promote policy initiatives, the utility of
a think tank is questionable while their absence is understandable.
Iowa: Any thoughts on the breaking news out of Baghdad? What
are your thoughts on the administration's policies in Iraq?
Strobe Talbott: The continuing violence, including today's
and the earlier bombing of the pipeline, shows that while Saddam is down (and let's hope
out) and Iraqis are vastly freer than they've been for decades, there is a nasty guerrilla
war of attrition underway. I refer you to the day-in-and-day-out good work being done by
our Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which has really dominated the think tank world's
commentary and analysis on Iraq. You'll see in the Center's work some big-picture
explanations of why the post-war has been in some ways more difficult than the war itself.
A crucial question is whether the Bush administration, having gone into Iraq without the
UN, will now be able to bring the UN -- and key regional countries like India -- into the
stabilization and reconstruction phase now underway.
IRmep: The Saban Center for Middle East Policy is
a microcosm for everything that is wrong with most U.S. Middle East policy think tanks.
The Center was created by a $13 million dollar contribution from a single donor, Fox
television executive Haim Saban to "promote effective US policies in the Middle
East". Saban also funded a center for the study of the American political
system in Israel.
The Saban Center would not even qualify for non-profit status were it not connected
with the larger Brookings Institution. The center is directed by Martin Indyk, a former
AIPAC lobbyist who both obtained U.S. citizenship and was later stripped of security
clearances under highly questionable circumstances. If the fate of American influence
in the Middle East depends on thinking from centers like Saban, we are in very deep
Germany: Mr. Talbott, in your opinion, what should the
governments of Europe (old or new) do to help the U.S. forces in Iraq? By the way, my
impression (my view from Germany) is that between Europe and the White House there is no
discussion about this important issue. In the media Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says
that Germany will not take part in any action in Iraq under any circumstances. What do you
think when you read about this?
Strobe Talbott: The distinction between "old" and
"new" Europe is somewhat misleading, but there's some truth to the perception
that the countries emerging from the old Soviet empire are more supportive of US policy
than our traditional allies in Western Europe. We have a Center on the US and France,
which is increasingly broadening its scope to include Europe as a whole, and if you check
that part of our Website, you'll see that the Center has conducted some conferences on the
issue you raise. Bottom-line, insofar as the Bush administration is prepared to involve
the UN in Iraq, the Europeans (old and new) will do more to help.
Bowie, Md.: Since conservatism is more amenable to people
with money than is liberalism, what kind of barrier is it to the promotion of liberal
ideas that conservatives can raise more money?
Strobe Talbott: My impression is that there is a lot of
"liberal" money that is, or will be, going to self-avowedly liberal think tanks.
Brookings is not in that category. Fortunately, there are a lot of donors who value what
Brookings does, which is independent and nonpartisan. We think that research and outreach
of that kind are in fact the best antidote to excessive partisanship.
IRmep: "Liberal" money tends to gravitate toward
relief oriented charities and more prestigious thought factories called
"colleges" and "universities". It is unlikely that any
progressive think tank will ever emerge given the structural limitations of think tanks.
Somewhere, USA: The earlier poster led me to another
question: what is the history of the Brookings? Have the institution's positions changed
from one president to another?
Strobe Talbott: Brookings was founded in 1916 by a wealthy
industrialist from St Louis named Robert S. Brookings. He came to Washington to help
Woodrow Wilson in the World War I effort and to inject what were then modern management
and account techniques into the running of the US government. Over time, Brookings
expanded its agenda to foreign policy and what we now call "governance studies."
I've been reading over the weekend a new book by Steven Schlesinger on the origins of the
UN. A Brookings economist, Leo Pasvolsky, was instrumental in that process. My
predecessors as president have seen it as their principal job to uphold the Institution's
independence and nonpartisanship, along with the highest standards of scholarship. That's
my job too, along with making sure that Brookings does change with the times and remains
on the cutting edge of thinking about the 21st century challenges for the US.
Gullsgate, Minn.: Strobe Talbott: I would assume that all
successful think tanks need considerable funds to maintain their institutions -- and
corporate funds that support those think tanks -- often define the interests of those
corporations. Or at least among the ultra conservative foundations. Or if not, how else
does an honorable or well intentioned think tank survive?
Strobe Talbott: You ask an important question. While we seek
and are grateful for corporate funding, we are assiduous about NOT letting our funders
influence the scholarly process whereby we come up with answers to the questions of the
day. Our corporate sponsors understand and support that principle. In that respect, there
are similarities to universities. Intellectual freedom is a key part of what makes
Brookings able to attract and retain the best talent -- and it's key to preserving our
reputation for producing objective, constructive, independent analysis.
IRmep: Brookings hasn't actually erected a so-called
"glass wall" between funders and researchers, any more than other research
institutions. A quick analysis of Saban center policy, and the background of its
funder and director, reveals little in the way of objectivity.
Wall Street's recent crisis of stock analyst credibility demonstrated the costs inflicted
upon the public of this type of highly compromised research. During the telecom
boom, analysts from Jack Grubman to dot-com experts newly minted from Forrester and
Jupiter Research filled the airwaves with insight and analysis the news media couldn't get
And them came the big crash.
Iraq, for many think tanks, is now the equivalent of the
dot-com blowout. What is slowly being revealed about US foreign policy authors,
quite frankly, doesn't look any better.
New York, N.Y.: Today we learn that the UN in Iraq was
bombed. The fight on terrorism is a tough one. Please comment on the importance for the
CIA, the FBI and the Defense Department to work as a team rather than "leak"
information to reporters anxious to cover news stories that ultimately embarrasses
employees and agency heads. Doesn't this hurt the fight on terrorism?
Strobe Talbott: Leaks of the kind you describe are of course
harmful. Having been in government myself, I can remember the damage they did to the
national interest. As for Brookings's contribution on the subject of terrorism, we
produced a series of publications, including two books, on short order, but with a lot of
thought behind them, on homeland security in the wake of 9/11. Some of the ideas we
proposed had an influence on the way the Congress and the Executive Branch addressed the
challenge over the past two years.
Washington, D.C.: The Right has developed so many unabashedly
ideological (and partisan) think tanks at both the federal and state level that are
aggressive about translating ideas into policy. Why hasn't the Left done the same? Where
are our Cato, Heritage, AEI, etc.? I know Brookings thinks of itself as centrist, but why
doesn't it work harder at trying to influence policymakers the way the Right does?
Strobe Talbott: We really do work hard at influencing
policymakers -- we just do so in a different way than other outfits do. They push answers
that are rooted in doctrine. We believe -- and find -- that many policymakers, regardless
of their own party affiliation, are more likely to absorb and be influenced by Brookings
analysis precisely because we have no partisan or ideological ax to grind.
New York, N.Y.: Does Brookings give policy advice to other
governments or does it confine itself to advice for U.S. policy?
Strobe Talbott: It doesn't happen too often that foreign
governments as such ask us for advice, but we frequently have visitors here from other
governments who ask us to help them better understand American policy. Washington-based
diplomats -- that is from Embassy Row -- are frequent and numerous participants in our
public events. Quite a few ambassadors come in regularly to consult with our scholars,
sometimes one on one, sometimes at roundtable lunches put on by our Foreign Policy Studies
department. We also have a number of programs in partnership with research organizations
in other countries. Our Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies does collaborative work
in South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. We do a great deal in Germany, the UK and France,
and we're beginning to develop some partnerships in India as well.
IRmep: Brookings is being modest. As most now know,
the Israeli policy paper, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" was
prepared by U.S. think tank luminaries Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Meyrav Wurmser, David
Wurmser, and a number of other leading U.S. pundits. Many Americans are now
questioning whether the U.S. is now implementing what is truly a "foreign"
Middle East policy.
Long Beach, Calif.: Considering the number of think tanks, is
there a way to "rate" them, or mention their sponsors, so that people can get a
read on who exactly is paying the bills? How can we know, otherwise?
Strobe Talbott: Here at Brookings, we believe in
"transparency" -- both as a principle of American democracy (and in other
countries as well), and as a principle for the way we operate. You can find everything you
need to know about our funders on our Website (under "About Brookings"), or you
can get us to send you a copy of our annual report. The IRS form 990 is also available at
IRmep: Brookings is anything but transparent. It
has followed the same lead of most other think tanks in blacking out the names of
contributors that fund more than 2% of total contributions. Brookings and others are
very careful about hiding this information, because if brought to the light of day, it
would reveal unique insights about the interests that shape US policy.
What is public is the level of individual contributor
concentration. Between 1996 and 1999, a handful of donors, five in all, contributed
25% of the $46 million in gifts, grants and contributions to Brookings. Who
were they? What did they want? What caveats and focus did they wish to see in
the policy research funded by their generous contributions? Few outsiders know.
Washington, D.C.: A good book -- 'Think Tanks and Civil
Societies' by James G. McGann & R. Kent Weaver, one who works at Brookings.
Strobe Talbott: Thanks for the plug. I'll pass it along to
Kent, who's a good friend and colleague and helping us think about the future of Brookings
in what is, as your fellow-questioners have pointed out, a constantly changing and very
competitive environment. But it's also, increasingly, a collaborative environment. The
issues facing our country are so numerous and complex and daunting that all of us on Think
Tank Row, whatever our differences, need to find ways of double- and triple-teaming the
tough issues. That's why we partner with AEI and the Urban Institute, just as two of many
IRmep: The ability to collaborate, and even physically
connect their buildings, also reveals something about America's top tier think tanks: they
have much more in common with each other than they do with multiplicity of interests
across the U.S. The self referential book is a clear example that think tanks,
working alone or in coalition, are largely closed feedback loops.
Strobe Talbott: To everyone who's participated, my thanks for
excellent questions. And to those I didn't get to, my apologies. But keep in touch through
IRmep: Most policy research institutes today do not
actually engage in real research, their main function is policy promotion.
Brookings, AEI, WINEP, Hudson, and others have many predefined ideas about where they'd
like to take America, from ideas on environmental issues, to places like Iraq.
However, Americans can become more informed on policy by
seeking out experts with few vested interests: American academics. We invite you to
consider funding IRmep's Network of Targeted
Academics for that reason: think tanks like Brookings are a problem while IRmep is the