Planning for alternative futures would speed crisis response, says Fuerth

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The federal government must get ahead of world events by adopting anticipatory practices or it risks being overtaken by them, says Leon Fuerth, former national security advisor to Vice President Al Gore and is the founder and director of The Project on Forward Engagement.

Speaking at a Wilson Center event on Nov. 13, Fuerth said that surprises, such as the Arab Spring and the Sept. 11 attacks, had warning signs but America was largely playing a reactionary role at the time. "A defensive game is a losing game," said Fuerth, and the United States should have a governance goal of strongly influencing "how that game is going to be played and preferably force it to be played on your terms."

An anticipatory style of governing, said Fuerth, is adaptable to events that happen but also plans for multiple future possibilities. "It's not about point source statements about what is absolutely going to happen," but more about understanding how different options will impact global and domestic events.

Part of Fuerth's suggestions for injecting foresight into the system is changing the role of intelligence systems and the intelligence community so they can present multiple alternatives and focus on their domestic implications, instead of needing to back a specific course and avoiding debating domestic policy.

Fuerth also said budgets that address different costs in alternative future scenarios should be developed.

The final piece in Fuerth's suggestions is to develop a feedback system that informs the president of performance assumptions over time for a policy that he is being asked to sign off on. Currently it's a system of assumptions without a mechanism for testing results against those expectations, says Fuerth.

For more:
- watch the Wilson Center event
- read Fuerth's statement
- download a larger report from Fuerth and Evan Faber (.pdf)

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