Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Welcome to the New Shadow Government

A little over six years ago, at Foreign Policy’s 40th anniversary celebration at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, Richard Holbrooke, one of the magazine’s first editors, took the stage to reflect on the publication’s founding. He recalled the tension at home and abroad in the winter of 1970, when the world order seemed to be ...

Former President Barack Obama waves as boards a helicopter to depart the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. / AFP / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Former President Barack Obama waves as boards a helicopter to depart the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Former President Barack Obama waves as boards a helicopter to depart the US Capitol after inauguration ceremonies at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A little over six years ago, at Foreign Policy’s 40th anniversary celebration at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, Richard Holbrooke, one of the magazine’s first editors, took the stage to reflect on the publication’s founding. He recalled the tension at home and abroad in the winter of 1970, when the world order seemed to be buckling, American power waning, and domestic stability teetering. The debate about U.S. foreign policy and politics had become embittered. “Families didn’t talk to each other, friendships were destroyed. This city was seething in a way that is unimaginable today,” Holbrooke recounted. Amid all this turmoil was the hope that, in its own modest way, a new publication like FP could help shape the debate, offer new ideas, and introduce a new generation of national security leaders.

The election of Donald Trump has been as unsettling a moment as any since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some fear that today may be even more perilous — with rising powers, resurgent foes, global threats metastasizing, profound economic disparities, deep government dysfunction, distrust of public institutions, and a president who is erratic, impulsive, and often vindictive. After eight years in which Barack Obama worked to reposition America to lead in the 21st century, the coming years could witness not simply an unwinding of his policies but the breakdown of the broad bipartisan commitment to internationalism that has underpinned American foreign policy — and the liberal international order — since World War II. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why when the editors of FP asked us to help lead the new chapter of this blog, during the Trump era, we leapt at the opportunity. During our time in the Obama administration, we benefitted from (and, at times, cringed at) the insights offered by the Republican contributors to Shadow Government, led ably since 2009 by two scholar-practitioners we greatly respect, Peter Feaver and Will Inboden. Although we come from different political viewpoints, we aim to assess the Trump era from the perspective of the same loyal opposition that Peter and Will exemplified: offering our insights and analysis with open minds but without pulling punches, always remaining respectful and prescriptive.

A little over six years ago, at Foreign Policy’s 40th anniversary celebration at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, Richard Holbrooke, one of the magazine’s first editors, took the stage to reflect on the publication’s founding. He recalled the tension at home and abroad in the winter of 1970, when the world order seemed to be buckling, American power waning, and domestic stability teetering. The debate about U.S. foreign policy and politics had become embittered. “Families didn’t talk to each other, friendships were destroyed. This city was seething in a way that is unimaginable today,” Holbrooke recounted. Amid all this turmoil was the hope that, in its own modest way, a new publication like FP could help shape the debate, offer new ideas, and introduce a new generation of national security leaders.

The election of Donald Trump has been as unsettling a moment as any since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some fear that today may be even more perilous — with rising powers, resurgent foes, global threats metastasizing, profound economic disparities, deep government dysfunction, distrust of public institutions, and a president who is erratic, impulsive, and often vindictive. After eight years in which Barack Obama worked to reposition America to lead in the 21st century, the coming years could witness not simply an unwinding of his policies but the breakdown of the broad bipartisan commitment to internationalism that has underpinned American foreign policy — and the liberal international order — since World War II. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why when the editors of FP asked us to help lead the new chapter of this blog, during the Trump era, we leapt at the opportunity. During our time in the Obama administration, we benefitted from (and, at times, cringed at) the insights offered by the Republican contributors to Shadow Government, led ably since 2009 by two scholar-practitioners we greatly respect, Peter Feaver and Will Inboden. Although we come from different political viewpoints, we aim to assess the Trump era from the perspective of the same loyal opposition that Peter and Will exemplified: offering our insights and analysis with open minds but without pulling punches, always remaining respectful and prescriptive.

To do so, we have enlisted an extraordinary group of talented contributors who bring decades of government experience and played key roles in shaping the Obama administration’s foreign policy. They have been at the epicenter of every major global issue the United States has faced recently — and that the Trump team now inherits. All of us have spent time together in the White House Situation Room, the State Department’s seventh floor, and the Pentagon’s E-ring — so we’ll be writing plenty about big ideas, but we also aim to give readers a sense of how these issues are hashed out on the inside of government, where few have access. At the very least, we can help explain the consequences of Trump’s policies; but hopefully, we will provide some advice that the Trump team may actually decide to take. And more contributors may join as the blog takes shape.

We plan to get creative both in terms of substance and style. On the issues, we’ll do more than just react to the Trump administration’s policy decisions. Having served in government before, we will be highlighting trends to watch, the signposts that tell us if things are on track or off course, and insights from abroad as we travel as part of our new jobs outside of government. In terms of style, we will look beyond the written word and rely on new mediums such as podcasts, short video clips, and infographics. In short, we want our ideas to be innovative both in what we say and how we say it, doing as much as possible to reach an audience beyond Washington. In short, we hope Shadow Government will provide an insider view with outsider appeal.

Although we approach this task with profound concern about what the Trump years will bring, we are not default pessimists. A key part of being the loyal opposition is to be confident enough to say when the new team is getting it right — something we found lacking on the part of many critics during the Obama years. And despite our worries about the new president’s temperament and policies, we maintain a fundamental optimism about the possibilities of American leadership — and the belief that the future can be better.

In this way, the first days of FP are instructive for us today. During an era defined by Vietnam and Watergate — when the world seemed to be falling apart, when America’s democratic habits and institutions were eroding, and when the Democratic Party faced an existential crisis — there was very little reason to hope for the future. Yet time and time again, the United States has demonstrated a remarkable ability to overcome obstacles and reinvent itself. That was true then; it remains true today. None of the darkest worries about the next four years are inevitable.

It is possible to fight for the future that America — and the world — deserves, remaining confident that our best days lie ahead. It is in that spirit that we relaunch Shadow Government.

Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Derek Chollet served in the Obama administration for six years in senior positions at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon, most recently as the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Currently the executive vice president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, his books include The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11 (co-written with James Goldgeier), and The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World (co-edited with Samantha Power). A native Nebraskan, he lives in Washington, D.C., with his family. Chollet is a co-editor of Shadow Government. Twitter: @derekchollet
Colin H. Kahl is the inaugural Steven C. Hazy senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies' Center for International Security and Cooperation and a strategic consultant at the Penn-Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. From 2014 to 2017, he was deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. From 2009 to 2011, he served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. In 2011, he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service by Secretary Robert Gates. He lives in Redwood City, CA. with his wife and two children. Kahl is a co-editor of Shadow Government. Twitter: @ColinKahl

Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a Weizsäcker fellow at the Bosch Academy in Berlin. She served as the deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden from 2012 to 2013. Before going to the White House, she served as the principal director for European/NATO policy at the Pentagon. Smith lives in Washington with her husband and two children. Smith is a co-editor of Shadow Government. Twitter: @Julie_C_Smith

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