A Capitol Idea: Think Tanks and US Foreign Policy


367 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-3115-7
DDC 327.73




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


Such Washington think tanks as the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) and the right-wing Heritage Foundation
frequently make news. A Capitol Idea tells us who their members are, how
they gather their information, and what they do with it.

Think tanks, says Abelson, are not necessarily scholarly non-partisan
bodies; often they’re groups of people who try to influence public
opinion. They also advise the White House, Congress, bureaucrats, and
the media on the issues of the day. In fiscal year 2003, the Heritage
Foundation had a budget of $50 million, but the Rand Corporation, which
specializes in defence and security matters, had a budget four times
that size. Many think tanks are located in Washington, but Rand operates
from California. Given the staff turnover when a new president assumes
office, many think-tank members become high-level presidential advisers.
Governors who become presidential candidates turn to think tanks for
ideas and advice. Once elected, they often appoint such advisors to
official positions. Lesser politicians who have busy schedules and
limited knowledge on many issues often turn to think tanks for

One think tank founded early in 1997 was the Project for the New
American Century (PNAC). PNAC members included Dick Cheney, Donald
Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. In September 2000, PNAC recommended that
the United States should “fight and win multiple, simultaneous major
theater wars [and] ... develop and deploy global missile defences to
defend the American homeland and America’s allies.” Four months
later, Cheney became vice president of the United States; Rumsfeld,
secretary of defense; and Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense. Of
course, it is possible that Bush thought of those ideas himself, and
PNAC simply reinforced them.

Not all think tanks are Republican, and some try to be non-partisan and
academic. However, when the CBC or some other media outlet reports what
a think tank has said, let the listener beware.


Abelson, Donald E., “A Capitol Idea: Think Tanks and US Foreign Policy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14916.