I've been dipping into this 1986 book which aims to outline for policy makers a series of steps that, if they'd only use them, would help them make better informed and more feasible decisions. The authors' examples jump about through presidencies from FDR through Ronald Reagan and through policy conundrums from the initiation of Social Security to arms control efforts with the Soviet Union. Some of these events, like the swine flu that wasn't under Gerald Ford, look minuscule in retrospect; others, like the Cuban missile crisis still yield lessons.
There's a lot in this little book. I'm only going to discuss a small sample that I enjoyed and which gives the flavor of these authors. One of Neustadt and May's concepts is what they call "placement." By this they mean that you are likely to have a better understanding of the people you are working with (and sometimes against) if you know something of the personal histories that may have shaped their policy instincts. They talk about assigning interns to chase down biographies via such sources as Who's Who. In the age the NSA dragnet and Google, this seems quaint.
But of course the concept holds, perhaps especially in international relations. Their description of Jimmy Carter's inept approach to German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt -- and Schmidt's corresponding incomprehension of Carter -- still probably catches too much of what passes for U.S. international interactions.
I suspect that most U.S. policy makers still tromp about the world this oblivious to others. On the other hand, I suspect that improved international communications may well inform foreign leaders who have to deal with us rather better than in Neustadt and May's time. That's what happens when you are an empire that doesn't always know its own strengths and limitations. Others have to suss you out for self-preservation and are likely to become good at it.
The recent antics of the Israeli Prime Minister bringing his election campaign to the Republican Congress would have been fit subject matter for these authors, if they had dared. They seem daring -- though it is noticeable that this Reagan era book does not much delve into that administration's foolishness. We could still use Neustadt and May's candid and acerbic commentary on U.S. policy failures.