The rigid pro-war ideology of the foreign policy community

Responding to various commentaries concerning the foreign policy establishment's war advocacy.

Published August 20, 2007 12:25PM (EDT)

(updated below - updated again)

Gideon Rose is the Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs, one of the most serious positions in the foreign policy establishment, and on Friday he wrote that "the lefty blogosphere . . . has gotten itself all in a tizzy over the failings of the 'foreign policy community.'" Rose -- citing posts by Matt Yglesias, Atrios and myself -- then proceeded to "respond" largely through classic ad hominem fallacy, with his principal "argument" being that "the charges the bloggers are making now are very similar to those that the neocons made a few years ago" (and thus, presumably, the bloggers' criticisms are therefore wrong).

Rose's post has prompted much additional discussion of the criticisms expressed here and elsewhere of the Foreign Policy Community, and that is, at least in theory, a good thing. It really is striking how little disagreement there is in mainstream political discourse concerning the basic questions governing America's actions in the world (as but one example, compare how obviously consequential is this decision to how little debate and attention it received and how little debate would be permitted over it). Thus, more discussion of these questions -- and the role the Community plays in keeping the debate extremely narrow -- is inherently good.

But most of the defenses of the Foreign Policy Community miss the central point. Both Yglesias and Atrios have responded directly to Rose, though there are several points I want to add regarding what Rose wrote, as well as reply to what others have said, including Daniel Drezner, Kevin Drum, and Robert Farley.

* * * * *

Just initially, equating bloggers with the most extremist elements of the right-wing noise machine has become the standard cliche for anyone who is criticized by bloggers and wants to discredit them without doing the work of engaging the criticism. That bloggers are the new Rush Limbaugh, that their tactics are identical to neocons, that they follow the Bush White House in tolerating no dissent, etc. etc., is a substance-free slur that has become an almost inevitable part of the standard response to blogger criticisms.

Jonathan Chait made that comparison the centerpiece of his TNR cover story on the "netroots." Kevin Drum -- who has been heartily criticized over the years by bloggers for his stream of comments like this one in February, 2003 ("my sense from reading the anti-war left is that they don't really take the danger of terrorism and unstable states seriously"), as well as for his predictable fretting about any aggressive opposition to the Bush agenda -- echoed this slur the other day in hailing the good points made by his "friend Gideon Rose": "In an echo chamber like the blogosphere, however, skepticism can sometimes morph into yahooism, and that frankly reminds me a little too much of the current crew in the White House for comfort."

And now Rose devotes at least half of his post -- as well its title ("How the netroots are like the neocons") -- not to the substance of the critique of his Foreign Policy Community, but instead to petulantly equating bloggers and neocons, as though subjective name-calling of that sort proves anything. It's pure ad hominem (bloggers sound like neocons; therefore bloggers are wrong) and, if anything, redolent of that most vapid and fallacious self-defense typically recited by journalists: "hey - we're criticized by the left and the right, so we must be doing something right!"

This "bloggers = talk-radio/neocon" platitude is really nothing more than a slight variant on the Unserious label. If bloggers are basically nothing other than the Left's version of talk radio, then that -- by itself -- proves that their criticisms can be dismissed because they are basically just loudmouth partisan rabble, and, hence, they don't make arguments or advance critiques that merit any real response; they just "work themselves all in a tizzy." Most of Rose's post is pure self-caricature, as it amounts to nothing more than the claim that these are unserious people making unserious accusations about our foreign policy establishment.

* * * * *

Much more importantly, the dichotomy Rose attempts to depict between neoconservatives and the Foreign Policy Community is pure fiction. Unlike "lefty bloggers" and anyone who thinks like they do, neoconservatives are not only full-fledged members in Good Standing of the Foreign Policy Community, but are situated at its core. That is the principal point, the one which Rose -- as well as Drum and Drezner -- miss completely.

The Foreign Policy Community -- a term which excludes those in primarily academic positions -- is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any "good result," and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.

That is why, contrary to Rose's misleading depiction of "necons v. the Community," neocons not only fit comfortably within the Community, but have come to dominate it. Rose's own Foreign Affairs was a virtual pro-Iraq-war Bible, and continuously publishes tracts by the most extremist neoconservatives, including Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, and all the various Kagans. When Fred Kagan, the the think tank version of Bill Kristol, wanted to unveil his AEI Surge plan in December, he did so at the Brookings Institution, where he was feted beforehand by Ken Pollack and praised afterwards by Michael O'Hanlon, who on that day gave Kagan's Surge his official blessing. Pollack began his reverent introduction of Kagan this way:

We are delighted that Fred Kagan of AEI was willing to come over here today and be the lead speaker in this series . . . It [the Surge Plan] is obviously a very important contribution to the debate because it is the first time that a group of serious people have sat down, worked out a plan by which they believe that both of these things. . . .

Just the other day, warmonger Michael Rubin of AEI explained to Matt Yglesias how important it is for "everyone in the policy community [to] assess[] which journalists" are serious enough to talk to. Neoconservatives are upstanding and highly respected members of the Community and form its backbone.

And that all makes sense, in light of the dominant ideology of the Community, which believes in the use of war not merely in self-defense or to safeguard national security, but in a wide range of other circumstances. The dominant ideology of the Community is, in fact, so enamored of war that there is no such thing as placing oneself outside of the mainstream of the Community through excessive warmongering.

As I said the other day, there is no such thing in the Community as "unserious war advocacy"; that term is an oxymoron. That is why you can travel as far along the spectrum as possible, arrive at the most extremist neoconservative point, and still be comfortably within the acceptable range of Serious Community Views. Kristol's partner, Fred Kagan, is a revered member of the Community. Rudy Giuliani knows that he can hire as his top foreign policy advisor an outright psychopath like Norman Podhoretz and not be deemed unserious because the Community takes Seriously all war advocacy. That is its nature, its ideology, its identity. Argue for the U.S. to start a war now with Iran and you are Serious; but argue that we should take off the table nuclear weapons when attacking a terrorist camp or that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegitimate, and you are an unserious leftist.

* * * * *

This is not some generic populist argument that experts are per se bad, or that establishments are intrinsically corrupt. Rather, it is an argument about this specific community, this specific establishment, this specific pool of "experts," and the proof of its harmfulness and complete lack of judgment is in the results it has produced, in the policies it has sanctioned.

Whatever else is true, the U.S. -- over the last six years -- commenced and continues to wage the most disastrous (and possibly most unjust) war in its history and has adopted policies that have fundamentally eroded our national character and violated everything we claimed to have stood for. As a matter of undeniable, empirical fact, our standing in the world has completely collapsed. Our vaunted Foreign Policy establishment has voiced little resistance to any of this and offered much support, indispensable support, and continues to do so. It has learned nothing. Its orthodoxies are the same, its leaders unchanged, and virtually nothing has been re-evaluated.

Worse, the same people who led us onto this path are the same ones who are held up as its shining lights, and criticisms of the Community are snidely dismissed by its Guardians as "tizzies" by benighted outsiders. Just look at how Community elders respond to criticisms of its ongoing support for the war and its prevailing strictures.

Last week, when O'Hanlon was on a radio program, he dismissed a caller's questions about the true evidentiary value of the trip he took to Iraq as "not serious," and O'Hanlon's trip mate, Anthony Cordesman -- during a surreal "interview" I conducted with him before he hung up -- angrily roared that questions about the trip he took were so unserious that he would refuse to waste his time on such trivial matters. That such questions are beneath consideration would come as news to Washington Post reporter Jonathan Finer, who documented in a superb Op-Ed this weekend how worthless and politically exploitative are these quick, engineered trips to Iraq -- the exact type of trip which O'Hanlon, Pollack and Cordesman cited as the basis for their considered "expert" opinions.

Identically, O'Hanlon argued that the only "serious" posture was to accept as fact that military progress was being made and then proceed to debate whether we ought to remain in light of that progress, a decree identical to the one issued by Bill Kristol last week when he spoke with Jon Stewart ("Things are getting better; there is no question"). That every Serious person accepts that there is military progress in Iraq would come as a surprise to the seven American soldiers who have been in Iraq for somewhat longer than 8 days and said the opposite yesterday in the single best Op-Ed written about the war since it began.

This is what they do; it is how they operate. The only "serious" debates are ones that assume their fundamental beliefs to be true. Questions about the validity of their expertise, doubts about the reliability of the information they obtain from their friends in the government and military, challenges to the "consensus" views they create together are all strictly off limits. That is why the Community is unchanged and its disgraced "experts" unscathed. "Seriousness" is still defined strictly by who unquestioningly accepts their hawkish, imperialistic orthodoxies and shows reverence for their structures of "expertise."

* * * * *

The most significant "off limits" topic is whether the U.S. has the right to run around using military force against other countries whenever we perceive that our vaguely defined "national interests" are served by doing so. In defending the Community, Drezner specifically identifies that belief as the common, defining principle to which all members subscribe. In a different way, Farley argued the same thing:

First things first, I don't think that Greenwald is quite right about the "foreign policy community," because I suspect that members of the community don't think about such questions in the way that Glenn frames them. As Drezner hints at, experts and scholars in this area don't really think in terms of the "right to intervene", or whether US policy is "inherently good". They sometimes think about the greater good, but they more often think about US interests.

This is true. There are no debates in the Community about whether the U.S. has the right to start wars even when our national security is not threatened. And to Drezner, anyone who rejects that notion -- anyone who, for instance, believes that the U.S. should not start wars unless necessary for our self-defense -- can be dismissed as a "pacifist."

But the notion that the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security is not really extraordinary. Quite the contrary, that is how virtually every country in the world conducts itself, and it is a founding principle of our country. Starting wars against countries that have not attacked you, and especially against those who cannot attack you, is abnormal. Drezner refers to my "very strange definition of imperialism," but the belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined "national interests" would be served by such a war is the hallmark of an imperial power.

It may very well serve our "national interests" to start a war because we want to control someone else's resources, or because we think it would be good if they had a different government, or because we want the world to fear us, or because we want to change the type of political system they have, or because they aren't complying with our dictates, or because we want to use their land as military bases, or because they are going to acquire weapons we tell them they are not allowed to have. But those who believe that war is justifiable and desirable under those circumstances are, by definition, espousing an imperial ideology.

Ruling the world that way through superior military force -- starting wars even when our national security is not directly at risk -- is the definitional behavior of an empire. And, without even realizing that he is doing so, Drezner defends the Foreign Policy Community by describing, accurately, its central, unquestioned orthodoxy as embracing precisely this view of America's role in the world. That is the whole point here.

In the Foreign Policy Community, these propositions are virtually never debated and anyone who contests them is almost certain to have their Seriousness credentials questioned, if not revoked. The only real "debate" that takes place within the Community are tactical and implementation questions, all within the assumed belief that the U.S. should act as a hegemonic power and can and should use military force at will.

That is why war opponents on the "left" -- including bloggers -- were and still are deemed Unserious even though they proved to be correct. Their opposition was not based (at least principally) on the belief that we were using the wrong "force deployment packages," that the timing was wrong, that we should have waited a little longer (that type of "opposition" was the only permitted type). Rather, it was largely based on the notion that the war itself was illegitimate because Iraq had not attacked us and could not threaten our national security, and that going around bombing, invading and occupying other countries which haven't attacked us is both immoral and/or self-destructive.

Yet these days, expressing that rather ordinary belief -- that it is wrong to start a war against a country except where they attack you, are about to, or directly threaten your national security (such as by harboring terrorist groups waging attacks on your country) -- will subject you to the accusation that you are a "pacifist," a term Daniel Drezer incoherently (though revealingly) applies to me.

That is how far we have come, how low we have fallen, how recklessly and extraordinarily pro-war we are as a country as a result of our Foreign Policy Community. Now, if you believe that we should wage war only when a country actually attacks us or threatens our national security, then you are a "pacifist," an unserious leftist who is removed from mainstream discourse.

Urge all the wars you want for any reason -- be a wild-eyed disciple of Bill Kristol and Norm Podhoretz and Newt Gingrich -- and you will be deemed Very Serious. But question the fundamental premises of America's right to rule the world through the use of military force, challenge whether we ought to be starting one war after the next and constantly intervening even when our national security is not even arguably at risk, and be dismissed away by our war hungry Foreign Policy Establishment as an unserious pacifist.

There is nothing wrong per se with our foreign policy establishment embracing rigid ideological views. But it ought not pretend to be something other than that. And the ideology it has embraced, and the ideologues who exert the greatest influence and command the most respect within it, have engendered disasters of unparalleled magnitude. At the very least, that ought to lead to exactly what the Foreign Policy Community hates most -- namely, an examination of whether our "experts" really still deserve to have their opinions treated with respect and their judgments assumed to be reliable, apolitical and, most of all, serious.

UPDATE: Anthony Cordesman, in a recent NYT Op-Ed arguing in favor of both the $20 billion arms sales package to Saudi Arabia and the unconditional $30 billion aid package to Israel, disclosed that "the nonprofit organization [he] work[s] for receives financing from many sources, including the United States government, Saudi Arabia and Israel" (h/t Jonathan Schwarz). And, as previously noted, Ken Pollack's Saban Institute -- home to (and employer of) the most prominent "liberal foreign policy expert" -- is funded primarily by Haim Saban, who described his ideology this way: "On the issues of security and terrorism I am a total hawk."

Much of the Foreign Policy Community is funded by heavily politicized and pro-war sources, and the Community, in turn, promotes the agenda of its funders. That does not, of course, prove causation (i.e., our leading "scholars" may just coincidentally espouse the pro-war views of those who lavishly fund them), but certainly such facts are relevant in assessing whether the FPC is truly the apolitical and disinterested group of experts it claims to be.

UPDATE II: Drezner, who has now renounced his completely ludicrous application of the term "pacifist" to me, seems to have employed several terms that he did not really understand. While defending Rose, for instance, Drezner claims that I have a "very strange definition of imperialism," yet Rose himself has explicitly argued that the U.S. is now an empire and that we ought to be. In an April, 2003 Slate article entitled "How to Run an Empire," Rose wrote:

So unless the Bush administration changes its mind and decides to hand off responsibility to the United Nations and the rest of the international community, it will have to do much of the work of postwar nation-building itself. Interestingly, one result of going it alone might be to force the United States to finally develop the institutions required to run what is now a de facto empire (albeit one designed to be temporary and managed on behalf of the dominions rather than the metropolis). . . .

As Andrew Bacevich of Boston University notes, "imperial governance is a politico-military function," so the State Department has to be a critical player in the game. That means the absurdly low funding of State should be increased, as should policy integration between State and Defense both at home and in the field. "The empire may need proconsuls," Bacevich says, "but it will need them to take a perspective that looks beyond military concerns" . . .

The United States has been acquiring its 21st-century empire of liberty in a fit of absent-mindedness. Now it is time to acknowledge the responsibilities that come with it and do the job right.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, explaining that he always opposed the term "imperialistic" in the past to describe U.S. foriegn policy, recently reached the same conclusion when discussing permanent U.S. bases in Iraq:

These are the imperial aims of an empire. During the cold war, charges of U.S. imperialism in Korea and Vietnam were false. Those wars were about superpower struggles. This time, the "I word" is not a left-wing epithet but a straightforward description of policy aims . . .

For those who actually understand what the term means, there is no reasonable ground for objecting to the term "imperial" to describe America's role in the world. Even our Foreign Policy Community elites have begun acknowledging that we are acting as an empire and are openly debating the best forms of imperial management. And the seemingly endless string of military interventions over the last several decades under a whole slew of "justifications" leaves no doubt that we see ourselves as world rulers who violate sovereignty and use military force at will, whenever -- as Drezner himself said -- we perceive that it promotes our interests to do so. That is what an empire does, by definition.

By Glenn Greenwald

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