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Introducing the Universal, All-Purpose Task Force Title Generator

The quick and easy way to create a title for your next U.S. foreign-policy report, initiative, or plan for spreading democracy.

OSNABRUECK, GERMANY - 06 May: Lawyers arrive on the opening day of the trial of two engineers for their role in the crash of the Transrapid maglev train in September 2006 that killed 23 people on May 6, 2008 in Osnabrueck,  Germany. The two engineers are accused of negligence in causing the accident, which occurred at a testing facility when the train, carrying visitors, crashed into a maintenance vehicle on a curve of the track. (Poolphoto Stephan Schuetze/Bild Zeitung via Getty Images)
OSNABRUECK, GERMANY - 06 May: Lawyers arrive on the opening day of the trial of two engineers for their role in the crash of the Transrapid maglev train in September 2006 that killed 23 people on May 6, 2008 in Osnabrueck, Germany. The two engineers are accused of negligence in causing the accident, which occurred at a testing facility when the train, carrying visitors, crashed into a maintenance vehicle on a curve of the track. (Poolphoto Stephan Schuetze/Bild Zeitung via Getty Images)

On Thursday, I received an email informing me about the formation of the “National Security Leadership Alliance,” a group of familiar Democratic Party VIPs who appear sincerely committed to defending all of the clichés that have infused discussions of U.S. foreign policy for decades. You will no doubt be shocked that Madeleine Albright, Tom Donilon, Leon Panetta, and the other worthy individuals who engaged in this effort believe in “American leadership” and don’t want the country to “turn inward.” They also favor “engagement,” “liberty,” “resolve,” “strong alliances,” and just about every other concept in the Official Foreign-Policy Speechwriter’s Thesaurus. I can’t wait to read their provocative, outside-the-box take on the world scene and the next president’s foreign-policy to-do list.

I’ve come to accept the revolving doors in Washington that recycle former foreign-policy officials and their well-worn views. But lately it feels like every week brings a new task force or letterhead group offering up a shiny new blue-ribbon report on whatever national security or foreign-policy problem is bugging it. But the problem isn’t just what is in the reports; it’s their titles.

To be specific, I fear we may be running out of vocabulary to support the vast production of task force, think tank, and government reports on U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy that keep pouring out of different government agencies, think tanks, and policy advocacy groups.

You’ve got the White House’s National Security Strategy, the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review and National Military Strategy. The State Department has now followed suit and produced its own ponderous tome: Enduring Leadership in a Dynamic World: The 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Add to that outside studies like the Princeton Project’s Forging a World of Liberty Under Law (2004), the Project on National Security Reform’s Forging a New Shield (2008), the Project on Defense Alternatives’ Forceful Engagement: Rethinking the Role of Military Power in U.S. Global Policy (2008), the Project for a United and Strong America’s A New National Security Strategy for the United States (2013), the recent Center for a New American Security study Extending American Power (2016) which I dissected here — and its 2008 report Strategic Leadership, and, of course, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Commission on Smart Power: A Smarter, More Secure America (2007). What a nightmare for anyone hoping that their report will make a mark: It’s getting harder to find a title or subhead that hasn’t already been used. Repeatedly.

Plus, it’s summer, it’s hot and humid, and nobody wants to work that hard. As a public service, therefore, I have created the Universal, All-Purpose Task Force Title Generator. It’s simple: You start with a verb, add an adjective or qualifier, and then end with an appropriate noun. Like this:

http://Walt_Chart

You see how it works: just randomly pick a word from each column and presto, you have a new task force or report title. If you’re in the Beltway bubble and you stick to this basic list, the resulting title will probably be appropriate for any conclusions that you and your co-authors might reach.

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to just three words, and you can add others to spice things up even more. Tossing in words like “prevail” “interdependent,” “differentiated,” “dynamic,” “innovative,” “uncertain,” and “integrated” will make your work sound more sophisticated and cutting-edge. Not to mention that these days you’re likely to earn bonus points for using words like “network” or “disruptive.”

But there’s no need to be rigid about using the lists. Go crazy, like starting off with a verb or putting the terms together in different orders and combinations. For example, “Strategic Leadership: Building Robust Defense.” Or even: “Freedom and Power: Enhancing U.S. Primacy.” Now there’s a title just crying for a study to be written.

Of course, what this (mostly) tongue-in-cheek exercise really tells you is that the whole conversation about U.S. interests, strategies, power, and purpose hasn’t seen a lot of new ideas in the past couple of decades, and certainly hasn’t seen much in the way of new rhetoric. But until the foreign policy establishment starts thinking outside the box a bit more, the title generator I’ve provided above will, unfortunately, probably suffice.

Image credit: Stephan Schuetze/Bild Zeitung via Getty Images

About the Author

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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