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Every night before the president of the United States retires for the evening, he receives a bit of bedtime reading: an up-to-the-minute briefing about the world’s flashpoints and the challenges the leader of the country is likely to face the following day. In a recent edition of this classified digest, the president learned of the latest activities of Al-Qaeda operatives in the southern Philippines, a mysterious case of the deadly Ebola virus in Newark, New Jersey, and a failed suicide bombing attack on the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.
The president had no sooner started his staff meeting the next morning than he was handed an emergency cable from his national security adviser. Overnight, 14 more cases of Ebola had surfaced in Newark. New York governor Pataki was moving to call out the National Guard to quarantine his neighboring state. On the Al Jezeera network, a figure claiming to be a Bin Laden associate declared that the developing epidemic was “the will of Allah,” and rumors about bioterrorism were spreading rapidly through the media. The president and his colleagues had to come up with a plan. Fast.
Fortunately, New Jersey would survive. So would the administration.
And so would two dozen University students who took part in what was, after all, a crisis simulation game. This intense and well-choreographed exercise served as a kind of final exam for an unusual course whose purpose harkens back to the reason Yale was founded in 1701. “We’re deliberately trying to train the next generation of world leaders,” says John Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History.
The vehicle for accomplishing this feat is “Studies in Grand Strategy,” a course that Gaddis, along with Paul Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, and Charles Hill, a lecturer in international affairs and a veteran diplomat, developed several years ago under the aegis of the International Security Studies program. History 985 is a demanding, year-long seminar that acquaints two dozen students (both undergraduates and graduate students) with the principles by which leaders calibrate means towards achieving large ends.
“Grand strategy is a very holistic concept,” says Kennedy. “It means that even in the middle of war, the true grand strategists are thinking about the kind of world they want to achieve during the subsequent peace.”
And post-September 11, being able to take “a 360-degree perspective” is, says Hill, an invaluable skill. “Your approach can’t be just military and diplomatic, it also has to involve such things as economics, personnel, rhetoric, and morale,” he notes. “And you can’t just look outward, because somewhere in some basement or in the Holland Tunnel, something is going wrong. You can’t neglect anything.”
But what makes History 985 more than simply an in-depth examination of grand strategic thinkers and doers is the course’s insistence on linking scholarship and practical experience. “We believe that the principles of grand strategy that come out of the classical tradition are transferrable to the real world, whether this means being a military officer, a corporate executive, a journalist, or a university professor,” says Gaddis. “This isn’t just a course for future diplomats.”
Nathan Littlefield, a senior planning a career in business, agrees. “There are plenty of quantitative jocks out there who can break down a quarterly earnings report in five seconds, but there are very few people who can analyze where a company might be in five years,” says Littlefield. “Grand strategy gives you the tools to think about problems in a big way.”
But this “big picture” way of looking at the world, which had been so much a part of policy and education, “has been lost in the last half of the 20th century,” says Hill, who worked in the State Department on China and the Middle East, as well as for the U.N. and several other universities. The course, its creators hope, will eventually restore grand strategy’s primacy.
First offered three years ago, History 985 had been percolating as an idea since the mid-1970s, says Gaddis. At the time, he was a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. “The Vietnam War had ended, and most of my students were career military officers who'd just participated in that failure of grand strategy, which was then too hot to handle,” he says. “So we had them study Thucydides, whose account of the Sicilian Expedition detailed a military disaster nearly 2,500 years ago. After they read that, the officers' experiences came tumbling out, and we could talk about Vietnam.”
The “Thucydides curriculum,” as the War College course was dubbed, “has become very important in the restructuring of the American military over the past quarter-century,” says Gaddis. “Many people have said the course changed their lives. It certainly had a powerful impact on me.”
Gaddis, who had been primarily a scholar of diplomatic history, turned his attention to studying the issue of containing what was then the Soviet Union and to using interdisciplinary approaches to investigating Cold War policies. When he joined the faculty in 1997, Gaddis carried the War College epiphany with him, and after teaching here and talking to Kennedy and Hill, both of whom also had experience with that curriculum, a plan took shape. “Looking out at our students, we all had the feeling that in 25 years, they'd be coming into their own as leaders,” says Gaddis. “But were we giving them enough?”
The answer, the scholars decided, was no. So in early 1999, Gaddis, Kennedy, and Hill, despite their different political leanings—center, left, and right, respectively—went on a retreat with New York Times foreign affairs writer Thomas Friedman to piece together a course, for graduate students only, that would help them develop the critical thinking skills required to question authority and wield power effectively.
Kennedy sketched the mechanics of History 985, with its unusual spring semester beginning and the internship requirement, literally on the back of an envelope. The plan was to spend the first term studying the classic works, from Sun Tze, Thucydides, and Machiavelli to Clausewitz, Churchill, and Kissinger. Thus primed, the students interned for organizations as varied as the National Security Agency, the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies, and Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project. Two even went to Marine boot camp.
Senior history major Schuyler Schouten took on perhaps the most unusual summer project. “I set out for China alone to test myself, and to see what I could find,” Schouten wrote in a paper that synthesized his travels into a policy strategy. “China offered me what Thucydides called ‘that experience which is learnt in the school of danger.’”
Upon returning to Yale, the students discussed their internships and how reading and reality interconnected. In addition, they tackled modern writers, from Francis Fukayama to Paul Kennedy. Lastly, there was more real-world practice through preparing and delivering strategy briefings and, in this year’s course, by taking part in the crisis simulation exercise.
The comprehensive approach to leadership training has already attracted considerable attention around the country. “We now offer workshops in grand strategy at the war colleges and service academies, recreating a connection with the highest levels of the military,” says Gaddis. “And Washington has taken notice.”
In fact, when the Bush administration released its national security strategy last September, the professors had no trouble convincing Philip Zelikow, University of Virginia history professor and one of the document’s authors, to come to the class to discuss the policy. Zelikow joined a lengthy list of speakers who, as part of the course, offered weekly lectures. These ranged from School of Management dean Jeffrey Garten, who discussed the need for “grand strategic thinking” among business leaders, to outside experts, including scholars, generals, corporate executives, diplomats, journalists, and scientists. In addition, there were dinners at Mory’s with many of the speakers, as well as special events, such as a program last November at the Yale Club in New York during which Thomas Friedman spoke to the class and a group of “friends”—a network of alumni supporters—about the challenges of leadership in the modern world.
“It’s a lot of work,” admits Carolyne Davidson, a Mellon Fellow from Scotland who is studying for a master’s in law, “but the returns are immense. Grand strategy teaches you how, when everything around you is going mad, to see the big picture and think about the longer term.”
The appeal of this approach was not lost on undergraduates. When the first class of 24, which was culled from 40 applicants, assembled in January 2000, “two undergrads managed to wangle their way in,” says Gaddis.
They also survived reading assignments that at times reached 700 pages a week and in fact did so well that when the next class was assembled in January 2002—the original plan was to offer the course every other year—it was open to everyone. Roughly two-thirds of the 90 applicants were undergrads, and they claimed about the same percentage of the 24 spots on the roster. “They really took to the long sweep of history and the great comparisons we make in time and space,” says Gaddis.
In both editions of the course, as well as in the one just started—given the volatile world situation, the professors decided that they couldn’t wait a year to offer it again—the roster has been eclectic, attracting students in disciplines ranging from history to electrical engineering. Two members of last year’s class are training to be officers in the Marine Corps, and two are active-duty officers who study international relations as part of a U.S. Army-Yale cooperative program.
Major Ken Miller, chief of the Army’s special forces foreign operations and advisory group in Bolivia, brought an exceedingly rare viewpoint to a Yale course: a real-world military perspective. In fact, Miller’s experience proved more “real world” than he or his classmates had bargained for; after one semester, he was called back to active duty as a counterdrug officer charged with helping the country both plan and conduct interdiction operations. In an e-mail from an undisclosed location, Miller apologized for the delay in finishing a paper that traced how narcotics policy developed in Washington and internationally was translated to local cocaine-producing areas and how, as a result, “I ended up blowing up a drug lab in the Chapare jungle in Bolivia on my 40th birthday.”
Had Miller been able to deliver his paper in class, he would have presented it in two ways: the succinct form developed by General George C. Marshall during World War II and its descendent, the “Power Point” presentation. Most likely the major wouldn’t have been rattled by Gaddis, who played the role of an impatient U.S. president as students briefed him on topics ranging from the environment to the military.
And in all likelihood, Miller would have maintained his composure during a Saturday in December when the students wrote their own grand strategy policy on weapons of mass destruction. The following Saturday morning, the class, now transformed into a presidential administration, put theory into practice as Ebola gripped Newark, the press—actually a team of Daily News reporters—confronted the politicians, and Charles Hill, posing as an obstreperous Syrian ambassador, drove the national security adviser to near distraction.
Justin Zaremby, a senior who designed the game, was pleased with its realism. “Many of us were shocked at how we made decisions based on too little information,” says Zaremby. “This experience and the entire course offer the strongest form of leadership training available.”
Fellowship for Leaders
During the last half of the 1980s, the world underwent a cataclysmic set of changes. The Cold War thawed as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed a treaty limiting their nuclear arsenals. Soviet Bloc states started to open their borders. And on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down.
In this dramatic sweep of history, it would have been easy to miss a relatively modest event that took place earlier in the year. On March 1, 1989, Michael David-Fox, a graduate student in history, began an exchange program at Moscow State University, a sprawling campus in the capital of what had been dubbed the “evil empire.” In so doing, David-Fox, who earned his doctorate in 1993 and is now a history professor at the University of Maryland, became the premier Yale alumnus of the Fox International Fellowship Program.
The Fellowship, which continues to grow and thrive at Yale in partnership with seven other universities around the world, is the brainchild of Joseph Carrere Fox '38. A retired international investment banker and partner with Kidder, Peabody, Fox proposed this program as a personal way to further détente. “The heart of the endeavor is to select outstanding young men and women who have the potential to become leaders in the fields of international relations,” says Fox. “Our goal is to help nurture and train people who’ll eventually contribute to peace and stability in the world.”
The Fellowship is administered by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and revolves around a two-way, academic-year exchange of graduate students from Yale, Moscow State, Cambridge, the Free University of Berlin, Fudan University in China, the University of Tokyo, El Colegio de Mexico, and the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. This year, there were 25 Fellows: 11 of them were Yale students who went abroad to enroll in one of the foreign schools, while 14 came to New Haven from a partner university. Their interests include such fields as law, economics, finance, business, political science, international relations, and modern history, and while in the program, they pursue relevant coursework and conduct independent research.
Fox recently provided the program with a $10 million endowment, and while he can’t vouch personally for the experience the Fellows have abroad, he and his wife Alison make sure that the foreign students come away with more that just an intellectual taste of the United States. At least three times a year, the Fellows visit the country home of the Foxes in Norfolk, Connecticut. There, they’ve viewed the autumn colors, celebrated the holidays, and enjoyed swimming and sailing. “I want to give them exposure to the American countryside and show them our customs and what life is like here,” says Fox, an 87-year-old who gave his young guests sledding lessons and, at age 80, decided to learn Russian so he could communicate better with his Moscow colleagues.
The Fellowship actually began in 1988 when Soviet literary scholar Vyacheslav Ivanov came to Yale for three weeks, and it started off small. There were only a handful of Fellows in the early years, but that number, which now stands at 143, has mushroomed in past few years. Fox hopes the number of students admitted each year will double—the goal is 50—and that the Fellowship will add new university partners in Russia, China, and perhaps India, Israel, and somewhere in the Muslim world.
“I wanted to know the real America,” says Hanyin Lu, a Fox Fellow from Fudan University, where she is pursuing a doctorate in economics.
Thornike Gordadze, a doctoral candidate at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, had similar reasons to join the program, but he also noted a benefit to citizens of this country. “Americans need to know what other countries think,” Gordadze says. “This provides a useful way to exchange opinions,”
While it’s too early to know how much of an impact the Fellowship will have, “some of our first Fellows are beginning to prove themselves,” says Fox, noting that participants have already moved into important positions in government, academia, business, and even journalism. And he’s certain that more Fellowship alumni will in time follow suit.
“This approach will probably not help much immediately,” Fox notes, “but I’m very optimistic about the impact we can have in the long term.”
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