Why FPRI Matters

Why FPRI Matters

  • May 16, 2019

Why FPRI Matters

  • May 16, 2019

A Note from Alan Luxenberg, President, FPRI

In January 2019, we hired Dr. Aaron Stein as director of our Middle East Program, a prominent expert on the Turkey-Syria-Iraq nexus and experienced “think-tanker.” From time to time, I give him background on some of the distinguished people that have traversed the world of FPRI, and I often found myself saying “Oh, yes, he (or she) got his/her start at FPRI.”  I’ve now said it so many times that he quipped “FPRI must be the center of the universe.” That’s only a mild exaggeration.

Take Shirin Tahir-Kheli. She came to the United States from India and Pakistan as a teenager, and entered the MA program in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 18, thanks to a critical intervention by Robert Strausz-Hupe, the founder both of FPRI and of Penn’s International Relations program. She went on to become a Junior Fellow, then a Senior Fellow of FPRI, and then served in key positions in the White House and the State Department under three presidents, including as Alternate US Representative to the UN, a post that carries the rank of Ambassador.  At the 2018 book launch in Philadelphia for her memoir, she stated quite bluntly: “I am an FPRI creation.”  I had the opportunity to work with her in the 1990s, when she was out of government and conducting a backchannel project at FPRI that brought prominent Indians and Pakistanis together to find ways to reduce tensions between the two countries. She titled her memoir Before the Age of Prejudice because, despite being a Muslim immigrant, she encountered few problems rising through the national security establishment under three presidents; today’s political climate is another question, however.

As it turned out, two of her classmates at Penn, the late Harvey Sicherman and the Hon. John Lehman, both went on to illustrious careers: Harvey became president of FPRI and served as an aide to three U.S. secretaries of state; John served as Secretary of the Navy and a commissioner on the 9/11 Commission. In 2018, we celebrated the publication of John’s book Oceans Ventured, a riveting account drawing on previously classified documents explaining the Navy’s role in winning the Cold War at sea. Both of them could legitimately be described as “creations” of FPRI.

Another FPRI “creation” is Adam Garfinkle, who started working at FPRI when he was an undergraduate at Penn and stayed for many years until he joined the staff of the Commission on National Security/21st Century (the “Hart-Rudman Commission), where he drafted their report on the vulnerabilities to our homeland – released just months before 9/11.  He went on to become editor of The National Interest magazine, then speechwriter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, then founding editor of The American Interest magazine.  Adam is still actively writing under the FPRI name, epitomizing the geopolitical cast of mind embedded in FPRI by Strausz-Hupe. In 2018, he penned several essays under FPRI auspices on the Middle East and other topics, including one for the Philadelphia Inquirer on “How Afraid Should Americans Be Right Now?”

In 1976, just months after I started working at FPRI, I met John Maurer, who was then an FPRI intern. Even then he had a phenomenal historical background: each day he could tell you what important event happened on this day hundreds of years ago — and describe precisely the event’s significance. He went on to become a pre-doctoral fellow at FPRI, then a Senior Fellow, and then a professor of strategy at the Naval War College, where he earned medals from the Navy for meritorious service.  He is still a part of FPRI and regularly lectures our audiences in Philadelphia, the Main Line, Princeton, and New York City.

The stories above are all about people who joined FPRI at a young age – there are many more I could tell – and then rose to positions of stature and influence in the public sector, where they made a difference. This is one of the reasons FPRI matters.

The recruitment and development of young scholars continues to this day. 

Just a few years ago, a young man by the name of Chris Miller walked into my office.  His specialty was Russian history and the Russian economy.  At the outset of 2018, Chris was named Director of our Eurasia Program, which has launched an incredible number of initiatives in the span of a couple of years. Chris won a year-long grant for a book on Putinomics, and, breaking all Institute records, wrote the book in under a year (published in 2018). The Eurasia Program’s projects include the Baltic Initiative, the Black Sea Initiative, the Russian Political Economy Project, and BMB Russia (our daily newsletter on the Russian economy). Under development is an initiative on Central Asia, where China is projected to play a larger role and where a new generation  can be expected to make a difference. 

Not all of our Fellows hail from academia. One such Fellow is Clint Watts, a military veteran, former Executive Officer of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, and a former FBI agent who served on a Joint Terrorism Task Force.  He has been affiliated with us for some 10 years, often called up to testify on Capitol Hill and consult with US government agencies on such issues as the fracturing of Al Qaeda, the rise of ISIS and its use of social media as a tool of recruitment, and, most recently, Russian influence operations designed to sow distrust in America’s democratic institutions. The story of his work is well explained in his 2018 book Messing with the Enemy. In recognition of his accomplishments as a researcher (and now an NBC analyst), we named him our first Distinguished Research Fellow in 2018, and he’s now exploring how new technologies are reshaping the global landscape. Relatedly, Paul Bracken began a project in 2018 on how new technologies are making mobile missiles more vulnerable. 

Another reason FPRI matters is that apart from the scholarship and policy analysis that we have conducted since our founding in 1955, we have offered a range of educational programming for students, teachers, and the general public for some 30 years, including animated video primers for students, history institutes for teachers, and lectures for the general public. But what really excites me going forward is an innovative concept developed by our colleague Agnieszka Marczyk, a historian of Eastern Europe with extensive experience in pedagogy.  Her idea is to use the comparative assessment of alternative interpretations of selected historical issues to teach critical thinking skills at the high school level.  If successful, this approach can bring students from impoverished areas up to the level of their more privileged peers, and help all students to become better thinkers and better citizens, able to distinguish fake news from real news.  Could anything be more important for the future of our country than that? 


Alan Luxenberg, President


This note is from the introduction to FPRI’s 2018 Annual Report which you can access here.

Also see Luxenberg’s “Brief Reflections on My Time at FPRI” here.