Editor’s note: This will be Ellen Laipson’s final weekly column for World Politics Review. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Ellen for the thoughtful and lucid analysis she has offered WPR readers each week for the past three years. Ellen will continue writing regular briefings for WPR.
As my three years as a weekly columnist for World Politics Review come to an end, I’d like to reflect on the experience, from the practical challenges of being a columnist to the topics I’ve considered and returned to from time to time. Editor-in-Chief Judah Grunstein came up with the title for my column, Measured Response. (Until recently, WPR columns had their own standalone names). It was useful to have Judah figure out where my particular analytical voice fit, and I found the title well-suited to me. I had spent my 25 years of government service mainly in positions where the careful, objective treatment of issues was expected.
The Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service, where I worked for over a decade, has a proud tradition of training young analysts to be careful, fair and nonpartisan. Those lessons sunk in, or perhaps I was already predisposed to approach issues that way. Two positions in the National Intelligence Council, first as national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, and later as its vice chairman, reinforced that “measured” way of looking at the world: Strive for precision, check your facts, make clear what’s known and what is assumed or surmised. Of course, at the NIC we were charged with “strategic analysis,” so a larger portion of our work, as compared to most intelligence production, was in the realm of speculation—trying to understand the different ways crises or larger slow-moving trends might play out, to reduce the uncertainties for policy readers struggling to come to grips with hard problems.