Probably not many people know that ISI helped win the Cold War. Maybe that is because, “As Ronald Reagan said, there is no limit to accomplishments if you don’t worry who gets the credit,” says John F. Lehman Jr.
Before becoming secretary of the navy under President Reagan, Lehman was a recipient of ISI’s Richard M. Weaver Fellowship, and he credits ISI with being “invaluable intellectually in raising the right questions” during his college years.
Lehman first encountered ISI as a freshman at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he was studying two of his passions: international affairs and political philosophy. He found ISI to be an attractive organization because it “provided a source of genuine intellectual support to students and faculty who were really interested in conservative issues, in debating, and in pursuing the policy aspects of the social, international, and political issues that were swirling at the time.” Lehman wanted something more than “pep-rally conservatism,” and he found it. “ISI was the only group that was really supportive of a truly intellectual approach to the analysis and the advocacy of the value-based kinds of policy issues and debates that were of so much interest to me at the time,” he says.
After college, Lehman applied for and was awarded ISI’s Weaver Fellowship, which gave him the funding he needed to pursue his political dreams. He first studied at Cambridge University, where he earned both a BA and an MA in international law and diplomacy, and then he earned a second master’s degree as well as a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. “Graduate study gave me the credentials that helped me get a career that allowed me to change things,” Lehman recalls.
Lehman also served in the Air Force Reserve until the Naval Reserve integrated a flight program, with which he flew three missions in Lebanon and four in Vietnam. His passion for flying kept him serving for twenty-five years.
When starting his career, Lehman went to Washington, D.C. Richard V. Allen, now an ISI board member, hired him as a research assistant on the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger. “I was indeed hired [by Allen] because of the views and the intellectual background that I had with ISI.” He went on to work as deputy director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, went into business during the first four years of the Carter era, and returned to government work as the secretary of the navy for six years under Ronald Reagan.
“I found in the Reagan administration a very congenial group of colleagues, many of whom had gotten into public policy because of their involvement, support, and encouragement from ISI during their student years,” Lehman says. “There were dozens of high officials throughout the Reagan years—and also the Bush senior years—who were ISI alums. . . . It is fair to say there could not have been a Reagan administration without ISI.” Lehman went on to serve on the 9/11 Commission and to start his own company.
Although Lehman did not take the academic path, he says of his Weaver Fellowship, “I think donors got their money’s worth.” He adds, “That’s part of ISI’s mission: not knowledge for its own sake, but knowledge to reform the world.”