Jeffrey LewisMore on Harvey & RRW

I am extremely pleased that our little shindig with John Harvey, Director of Policy Planning at NNSA, has resulted in a couple of stories in press, including wire reports by Agence France Presse and UPI.

The UPI story, however, has a couple of inaccuracies that I am honor-bound to point out. The first two are just house-keeping—the reporter attributed two of my comments to John.

  1. “Our new president must have something clever to say about [the role of our nuclear weapons] when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009,” [Harvey] said.
  2. “Harvey … spoke in a private capacity.”

I said both of those things, not John, and he corrected me on the latter. He spoke for DOE, which was a pleasant surprise.

The other two inaccuracies are substantive, relating to quotes attributed to John about the rationale for the RRW program.

  1. “The controversial Reliable Replacement Warhead, [Harvey said] remains “the only way to sustain our nuclear capacity.”
  2. “Harvey said the RRW would secure U.S. deterrent needs as long as required. ‘The long-term exploration is an impetus for RRW,’ he said.”

John denies saying them, I don’t recall him saying them and I don’t hear them on them on the audio.

In John’s discussion of the need for RRW to sustain the stockpile, he noted that the Stockpile Stewardship program is working today [19:20]; he cited “concerns [raised by laboratory directors] that our current path … may pose an unacceptable risk to maintaining the long-term reliability of the stockpile absent nuclear testing” [19:45]; and then:

It is only prudent to seek means to manage risk in seeking to ensure stockpile reliability over the long term. This is in part our impetus for the RRW program … to ensure the long-term sustainment of the military capabilities provided by the existing stockpile. [20:30]

I know how hard it is to work from notes. Moreover, John has a very nuanced, careful way of speaking that is difficult to follow. But the audio is posted online. Just in case anyone wants to double check, it is here.

New America is Nonpartisan, Dammit!

One last thing, an earlier version of the analysis described New America as a Democrat-leaning think tank.

That just isn’t true. Our board and our staff are all over the place. The American Strategy Program, where I hang my hat, tends to fall on the side of pragmatic realists in foreign policy—but that is a group that includes quite a few Republicans. As one can see from Steve’s Cuba project, our criticisms are policy-oriented, not partisan.

My project has a steering committee with former officials from the Administration of every president since Johnson, including three veterans of this Bush Administration.


  1. Maggie Leber (History)

    The American Strategy Program itself may indeed be middle-of-the-road, but if you want to know why the New America Foundation as a whole is perceived as “Democrat-leaning”, take a cruise around the their website.

    (Claiming to be “post-partisan” in the mission statement doesn’t make the content non-partisan, it just evidences a hope that no one will notice.)

    ALso notable is the stated belief that California is “the nation’s largest laboratory of democracy”. (So that’s what they’re doing out there…I trust they got informed consent from the test subjects.)

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I think that’s unfair.

    If you take another look around the website, spend some time with our health care program, which is very positive about programs launched by Republican governors Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well our climate program, which is led by Terry Tamminen—who headed California’s Environmental Protection Agency and was Cabinet Secretary and Chief Policy Advisor to the Governator.

    California has a record of innovative public policies. I am not the least bit ashamed that we have a strong presence there or a good relationship with the Republican governor.

  3. Maggie Leber (History)

    Sorry if you feel abused, but having one Republican and one RINO governor of very blue states embracing universal health care through mandatory health insurance doesn’t make everything (retroactively) “post-partisan”. The social and economic agendas still come off looking like liberal social engineering from here.

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    You are confusing partisanship with policy agendas.

    They are not the same, which is precisely why Texas Democrats may support tax cuts that Massachusetts Republicans might not.

    One might think, watching the Republican party fight over immigration reform, that you would notice the difference.

  5. J. (History)

    I hate to say that I had similar feelings as Maggie. Couldn’t help but to notice the extreme lack of defense experts on the American Foundation’s staff (counting you as arms control and not “defense” per say – if you can pardon me for saying so). If only you could convince the Board to get a few defense experts… hmmmm… certainly no end of interesting topics out there that need a progressive military viewpoint.

  6. Maggie Leber (History)

    If a policy agenda overall resembles that of the Democratic Party, I’d think “Democrat-leaning” is a fair description.

    That NAF has “Republican” poster children on hot-standby suggests they’re eager to distance themselves from what strikes me as a quite natural identification, especially in a domestic policy context.

    Maybe if WashTmes had referred to NAF as “liberal-leaning” it would have seemed more “post-partisan”.

  7. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    That’s a steaming pile of horse-shit, pardon my French.

    I don’t think our policy agenda “resembles that of the Democratic Party.” Last I checked, the Democratic Party didn’t have planks in its platform for asset building. And our health program doesn’t support a single-payer system, which was the basis for the much criticized “Hillarycare.” (I confess I don’t know what she and Gingrich agreed to lately.)

    Of course, if either party wants adopt our proposals, we’d be pleased to have them do so.

    The Republicans and independents on our staff aren’t “on hot standby” but rather run some of our best and longest-running programs.

    As for whether we are liberal-leaning, left-leaning, progressive-leaning … sure, on balance I would think that is a pretty reasonable guess about the average orientation of our senior staff and board. But that doesn’t capture the range of opinion any more than having Bill Gates walk into a bar and saying that, on average, the patrons are millionaires. And it certainly doesn’t describe the ethos of the organization, which is to try to focus on solutions to issues that defy partisan affiliation. (For example, tackling climate chance and health care issues with a mixtre of regulatory and market solutions at the state level).

    I have never before worked at an think tank where I felt more encouraged to think through issues, wherever that leads me.

    Take Richard Vague’s paper on terrorism. Richard is a straightforward conservative business executive who heavily supported Bush in 2000. His arguments about terrorism stem largely from a conservative perspective, with an emphasis on property and markets to stabilize societies that breed terrorism. I don’t want to oversimplify, but I think of Richard as a kind of sophisticated, conservative alternative to the simplistic vision of “democratizing” the Middle East. I don’t always agree with Richard, but I always love talking to him. He’s one of my favorite people. And I certainly wouldn’t get to meet someone like Richard at any other think tank.

    I cherish the freedom to think dearly, know how hard our leadership works to maintain that environment and don’t much like when people who don’t know what the hell they are talking about (to continue the bilingualism) try to pigeon-hole us.

  8. J. (History)

    So how do you really feel?

  9. Anon

    Rightly or wrongly, think-tanks often get pigeon-holed (or at least summarily described with a few adjectives lacking, shall we say, as much nuance as one might prefer).

    With respect, Dr. Lewis, and whether or not you like it, the New America Foundation will not be immune to this.

    My unsolicited advice is to thicken your skin a bit towards such pigeon-holers; keep doing what you do, and do it well; and realize, in the end, that unfairly critical comments are rarely worth responding “en Français.” You risk sometimes looking and sounding worse than the knuckle-heads.

  10. Mark Gubrud

    ”…our health program doesn’t support a single-payer system, which was the basis for the much criticized “Hillarycare.””

    Huh? Hillary Clinton has never proposed or supported single-payer, which would provide health care to all Americans, without increasing costs, by dumping private insurance with its ~30% overhead costs (marketing, paperwork, profits, inefficiency of multiple plans and forms) in favor of public insurance with ~3% overhead (e.g. Medicare). Note that single-payer is not socialized medicine. It is a market-based system which gives the power of choice to the consumers, who would be free to choose their own hospitals and doctors, instead of cost-shaving corporate bureaucrats.

    The only real problem with single-payer is that it would slaughter a cash cow, and the insurance industry is the single largest fiscal bovine in the barnyard. So it takes both intelligence and integrity to stand up and support single-payer. Hillary has the intelligence. In the current Dem lineup, only Kucinich has the integrity.

    The 1990s Clinton health care proposal, which I suppose is what you are referring to as “Hillarycare”, sought to somehow miraculously reconcile private for-profit insurance with universal coverage and no increased cost or taxation. It was a true boondoggle and collapsed of its own weight once let loose into the political fray.

  11. John Field (History)

    Funny, I get the impression that New America is rather conservative in a Milton Friedman-like way. I admit, though, that my perspective is pretty close to Galbraith.

    I have a concern that New America may be churning out ideas faster than they can be carefully vetted though. Perhaps this New Progressivism has a parallel to the progressives of the first decade of the 1900s. Excited, exuberant people out to use reason to save the world from conservative plutocracy. If so, I hope they have great success.

    Just speaking for myself, though, there appears to be something naive about New America and its brash-seeming approach. It seems to me that our problems are more complex than one hundred years ago, and reason alone is not likely to light the way out this time around. Probably, we have the choice of many different possible workable societies, and the selection of which one will require greater understanding of the human spirit – what makes us happy and defines “goodness.”

  12. Anon (History)

    I like that fact that your think tank gives you the freedom to “think dearly.” The world would be a better place if more governments thought dearly before doing things. Keep up the concerned thinking!