Honors students explore challenges of policy implementation, assessment in Washington, D.C.

In mid-September, honors students from the Interschool Honors Programs convened by FSI's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and the Center for International Security and Cooperation traveled to Washington, D.C., with their faculty advisors for senior-level meetings and policy briefings. They met with senior U.S. government officials from the White House, State Department, Homeland Security, and the intelligence community, with representatives of international organizations such as the World Bank, and NGOs, think tanks and other policy forums engaged in international affairs.

CDDRL Policy Briefings

Led by CDDRL Director and FSI Senior Fellow Larry Diamond, Deputy Director and FSI Senior Fellow Kathryn Stoner, and FSI's %people5%, CDDRL students engaged in policy discussions with the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, the World Bank, the National Security Council, the Center for International Private Enterprise, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  Sessions were held at the Open Society Institute founded by George Soros and the Community of Democracies.  Students met at the U.S. State Department with Policy Planning staff and the Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs for frank discussions of U.S. policy priorities, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and the transformative effects that emerging economic powers, such as China, India and Brazil are exerting on trade, credit, investment, innovation and governance of major and political and economic institutions.

During these sessions, CDDRL students delved into efforts to advance and secure democracy, economic development, good governance, rule of law, corruption control, civil society, and a free media. In the current environment, marked by repression in many countries, multi-pronged efforts to help ensure that the pluralistic institutions of a vibrant civil society are allowed to prosper took on  particular importance.  Another key issue was the role of information technologies, in building and supporting democracy, by creating a robust network of activists and promoting collective action.

“It was eye-opening to see the diverse mechanisms through which one can effect positive social change. I learned that it is possible to successfully bridge the two worlds of policy and academe. The meetings made me think about the many different routes to a possible career in the dynamic world of Washington politics.”
 Kamil Dada ’11, CDDRL

"A key objective of the Washington trip is to expose these talented students to the challenges of policy formulation, implementation, and assessment, as they prepare to write their honors theses this academic year," said Kathryn Stoner-Weiss. For some students, it was a first exposure to the policy process in Washington. Others had interned in policy positions in the nation's capital and overseas, and used their opportunities in September to report back on findings of their previous work, renew contacts and glean new insight and information on evolving issues.

"The discussions we held with senior officials were full, frank, and often, off-the-record to give the students a firsthand opportunity to engage in candid exchange on major issues and to pose probing questions," said Larry Diamond, CDDRL Director. "The players, issues, and dilemmas that arise in the policy process are not always evident from the outside."

CISAC: Focus on Security Issues

The students in CISAC's Interschool Honors Program in International Security Studies-led in Washington by Martha Crenshaw, FSI Senior Fellow and professor (by courtesy) in the Political Science Department; Lynn Eden, Senior Research Scholar and CISAC Associate Director for Research; and teaching assistant Michael Sulmeyer, a CISAC pre-doctoral fellow and third-year Stanford law student-focused on major national and international security issues, including nuclear weapons policy like the new START Treaty to reduce nuclear arms and the Nuclear Posture Review, and counter-terrorism issues such as intelligence gathering and regional analysis. CISAC students first met with four veteran national security reporters at The New York Times, and later with members of the intelligence community, including the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, and the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Christopher Kojm.

“This was my first visit to Washington, and I could not have asked for a more comprehensive or enjoyable introduction to the nation’s capital. The broad array of institutions and people we experienced was a salient reminder of just how diverse this country truly is.” Devin Banerjee ’11, CISAC

Students also met with Paul Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs. Prior to his government service, Stockton had been a scholar at CISAC and had taught CISAC honors students for three years. CISAC students met with Antony Blinken, who serves as National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden. The students also were exposed to research and publication think-tanks like the Brookings Institution, RAND Corporation, the Center for a New American Security and the New America Foundation. At the end of CISAC's first week in the capital, the students met a dozen Washington-based alumni of the program over dinner, where alumni provided valuable research resources and job advice to their younger counterparts.

"The Washington component of CISAC's honors program provides an invaluable opportunity for our students to learn how the policy-making process works, explore the complexities of international security, and test their preliminary ideas about the topic they have chosen for their honors thesis," said Martha Crenshaw. "In turn, the officials we meet invariably wish to spend longer with our students, some even rearranging their schedules (or trying!) to continue a fascinating and candid conversation."

Highlight: The National Security Council

A major highlight of this year's trip, for both the CISAC and the CDDRL students, was a policy discussion at the National Security Council with two leading Stanford political scientists and foreign policy experts serving in the Obama administration. Political Science Professor Michael A. McFaul, former director of CDDRL and deputy director of FSI, is now Senior Director for Russia on the National Security Council and the president's top advisor on Russia, and Assistant Professor Jeremy M. Weinstein, an affiliated CISAC and CDDRL faculty member, serves as Director for Democracy on the National Security Staff.  Students engaged in a lively discussion of U.S. foreign policy priorities, U.S.-Russian relations, democracy, human rights and economic development.

"Our honors students are fortunate to have the chance to engage in high-level policy discussions, especially with Stanford faculty members serving in Washington," said Coit D. Blacker, Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, who directs the CISAC honors program with Martha Crenshaw and who, under President Clinton, served as special assistant to the President and  Senior Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council. "Direct exposure to the policymaking process, with all its promise and pitfalls, will make them better scholars and future thought leaders."

"I was struck by the innovative ways in which certain agencies approach democracy promotion," said CDDRL honors student Ayeesha Lalji '11. "I think the struggle is often in packaging programs in the right way so that an impervious nation becomes more open to a vital component of social, political, or economic development."

"The discussions with prominent policy thinkers and current and former senior officials made a deep impression on our students," said Larry Diamond, CDDRL Director.  "These young people--who will go on themselves to be leaders in these fields-- got a vivid sense of how the policy process really works, and why service in government and public affairs is, despite the frequent frustrations, an exciting and noble mission."

"CISAC's ten days in Washington provide our students exceptional access to practitioners of various types and at all levels of the policy world, as well as inside knowledge of today's critical issues," said Martha Crenshaw. "The experience also establishes a solid foundation for a year-long intellectual experience in a weekly research seminar devoted to producing a thesis that makes an original contribution to the field of international security."