Ridenbaugh on Merkley's Foreign Policy Experience

Randy Stapilus over at Ridenbaugh Press writes at length about Jeff Merkley's background in foreign policy and defense issues that has not previously been widely discussed. The post details Merkley's experiences traveling and working abroad, as well as his time in Washington DC working for the Congressional Budget Office long before he was elected to the State Legislature:

Merkley was in high school in 1972 when he signed up with the student exchange program run by the American Field Service (the organization founded in 1919), which exchanges students, thousands at a time, between the United States and other countries globally. (Its website says more than 30,000 are active in more than 50 counties, and there are 350,000 alumni.) Only a few then went from the United States to Africa; Merkley was one of six sent to Ghana, to a town with a population possibly between five and ten thousand. “I went to a humble family in a very small town, or a modestly small town,” he recalled. “We were surrounded by families struggling to earn enough money to feed their kids the next day.” His host family’s house had been constructed as part of a government program, and so had limited running water in the courtyard and one electric outlet, and one electrical appliance, an iron. “It and the bicycle (which he occasionally borrowed to visit nearby communities) were the two most valuable possessions of the family,” he said. “For me to go walking into a place like that as a young Caucasian 6-3 kid in villages where probably very few Caucasians had set foot in, it was quite an interesting engagement.” That summer he also visited Uganda, not long after Idi Amin had taken power there, and had begun his crackdowns - throwing out many of the British residents there at the time.

Merkley continued to work and travel abroad:

In the summer of 1976, when he was 19 and a student at Stanford University in California (his major and eventual degree was in international relations), Merkley interned for Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield, getting some exposure to the way the federal government worked. A year later, with the Carter Administration in place, he returned to the Beltway for another internship, with a nonprofit organization working on negotiations concerning the law of the sea.

There were more internships and work projects on international relations in the late 70s and early 80s, an extensive list. He worked at one point for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York City. He worked for a Quaker organization in a village in Mexico building and operating a camp involved with environmental issues. (While there, in 1980, he and a friend toured much of Central America as well, traveling cheaply; this was a violent period in the region, and Merkley recalls how on one occasion in Guatemala he spotted a man lying in the street to help him up before realizing he’d been gunned to death only moments before.) He was an editorial intern with Foreign Affairs magazine. After graduation at Stanford in 1979 he attended graduate school at the nationally-known Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. One of those Stanford semesters was spent at Florence, Italy, which he effectively used as a base for hitchiking through Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean, to and around the West Bank. Sandwiched in between the Stanford stretches in 1981 he was an intern for the Foreign Service New Delhi, India, and travels in that area. He was graduated from Princeton in 1982.

He went on to work as a Presidential Management Fellow in the Department of Defense, and then was hired as a nuclear arms analyst for the Congressional Budget Office:

There, Merkley was involved in a variety of defense-related studies, briefings and at least two major papers. (which he indicated are still available electronically). One concerned the potential enhancements to the B1B bomber, and another other on trident missiles, “which I wrote an extensive appendix to, to give people the tools to understand something that wasn’t much discussed . . . There was concern among some of us that that kind of ability was potentially destabilizing and needed to be paid attention to. . .”

“My next major project was going to be the B2 stealth bomber,” he said. “The Reagan Administration was keeping that in compartmentalized that is beyond top secret, and the impression was that they were were keeping it out of sight until it could be largely into production, contracts could be into so many congressional districts that it would be hard for Congress to have an objective conversation about it. I as an analyst couldn’t get all the details, and Congress couldn’t get all the details. But, you could go to the library and read books on stealth technology. I checked them all out, and read them. So if [for example] you wanted to know about how the layers of paint would absorb radar energy, you could go to the library and read about it. . . . But nobody could talk about the details of the stealth bomber at any level other than a very broad level.”

In the late 80s, he said, “I was waiting for the Reagan Administration and then the [first] Bush Administration to allow there to be this substantive conversation on the B2, and so I took a leave of absence from the Congressional Budget Office, while I was waiting for that. And six months later, it still wasn’t possible to write that study, and so then I resigned from the Congressional Budget Office. It was unusual to have such a major, major investment not vetted through a congressional examination.”

There's a lot more over at Ridenbaugh Press.


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