What is Policy Research For? Reflections on the United States’ Failures in Syria

in Middle East Law and Governance
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Debates over the Syrian civil war and the role of u.s. policy have brought into sharp relief the dilemmas of policy research. When the basic thrust of policy seems immovable irrespective of events on the ground, how should researchers respond? Should influencing policy be the animating objective of policy research? Who exactly should our work be directed to? This article considers the evolution of the Obama administration’s u.s.-Syria policy and what it has meant for those of us in the policy community who (apparently futilely) wrote in favor of a fundamentally different course of action. Two approaches to policy research are discussed in detail as they relate to Syria. The first is to accept the narrow constraints of policymaking and tailor one’s recommendations accordingly. The second is to not accept “reality” as a given and to write about what should happen, however unlikely it might be. In the second approach, the priority is on shaping public debate as well as influencing internal dynamics within government, rather than on tangible policy outcomes.

What is Policy Research For? Reflections on the United States’ Failures in Syria

in Middle East Law and Governance

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  • 1

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