I’m pleased to announce that The National Interest has just published my latest article for an outside publication: an essay on why recent defenses of America’s bipartisan globalist foreign policy establishment (AKA, “The Blob”) wouldn’t hold any water even if this powerful, durable in-crowd hadn’t botched practically everything about Afghanistan. Here’s the link.
Also, a new twist today: Unfortunately, I thought some of the edits undermined the flow of the piece. I’m going to try to get at least some of them corrected. But in the meantime, to show careful readers what they were, I’m presenting below the draft as I sent it off. Let me know if you think I have some grounds for grousing. (P.S. I’m just fine with their title and love the subhead’s reference to the “poisoned well”!)
And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.
Why the Blob Really Has Been Unimpressive
by Alan Tonelson
So the Blob is starting to fight back. The bipartisan globalist national foreign policy establishment is being blamed both for President Biden’s hellaciously botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, and (including by the Blob-y Mr. Biden himself), for pushing the transformation of a necessary anti-terrorist operation into a naively grandiose nation-building project.
It’s time, the argument goes, to marginalize – or at least view more skeptically – this hodgepodge of former diplomats and Congressional aides, retired military officers, genuine academics, and think tank hacks that has shaped American diplomacy in two critical ways: by being used as the main personnel pool for staffing presidential administrations and House and Senate offices on rotating bases, and for serving up informal advisers for these politicians; and by dominating the list of sources used by overwhelmingly sympatico Mainstream Media journalists to report and interpret the news, and thus define for the public which foreign policy ideas are and aren’t legitimate to discuss.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” Blob-ers are responding.
“The foreign policy establishment did get it wrong in Iraq, where the U.S. overreached,” allowed Richard Haass, who as President of the Council on Foreign Relations would arguably win a contest for Blob-er-in-Chief. “We got it wrong in Libya, we got it wrong in Vietnam. But over the last 75 years, the foreign policy establishment has gotten most things right.”
Washington Post pundit (and neoconservative apostate) Max Boot similarly has declared that “we can confidently say that, overall, the foreign policy establishment has served America well over the past 76 years.”
In other words, look past not only Afghanistan and Libya and Iraq and Vietnam but also the failure to anticipate the September 11 terrorist attack; and the long-time cluelessness about the emergence of security and economic threats from China (following the stubborn, decades-long determination to antagonize China after 1949); and a peacekeeping debacle in Somalia; and the Bay of Pigs fiasco; and the blind loyalty to an Iranian Shah hated by nearly all his subjects. Focus instead on all the – presumably more important – successes. (I’m excluding the numerous Blob-y decisions to back all manner of dictators, primarily in the developing world, and ignore human rights considerations because whatever their ethical flaws, only the Vietnam and Iran policies undermined American interests significantly.)
Paramount among them: victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War; the protectorate-alliances, foreign aid, and open trading system that keyed this triumph – in the process pacifying and democratizing Germany and Japan – fostering recovery in these former enemy dictatorships as well as the rest of Western Europe; and ushering in decades of record prosperity in these regions.
One obvious rejoinder: Today’s Blob and its most recent forerunners merit zero credit for those achievements because almost none of its members simply weren’t around or in power then. Meaning maybe America simply needs a more competent Blob?
At the same time, there’s inevitably been personnel continuity in the Blob’s ranks over time (think of recently deceased centenarian George Shultz, and the 98-year old Henry Kissinger, both still influential well into their golden years). Moreover, today’s establishment was largely groomed in Blob-y institutions, claims to be acting in that original Blob-y tradition, and has clearly remained stalwart in its advocacy of tireless international activism, and support for what it calls the liberal global order and its constituent institutions created by the older Blob generation. As a result, including those decades-old developments in judgements of today’s Blob is eminently defensible.
And in retrospect, what’s particularly revealing but neglected about these achievements is the extent to which they stemmed from circumstances almost ideally suited for foreign policy success, rather than from Blob-er genius. Globalists of the first post-World War II decades unquestionably faced serious domestic political obstacles to breaking with the country’s historic aloofness to most non-Western Hemispheric developments.
But they also enjoyed enviable advantages. Especially important was global economic predominance, which blunted much criticism on the home front by permitting subsidization of both the security and well-being of enormous foreign populations without apparent cost to American living standards or national finances.
It’s no coincidence, therefore, that as this advantage eroded, and the core Blob tactic of handling problems literally by throwing money at them and refusing to choose meaningfully between guns and butter became more problematic, the Blob’s record worsened – and undercut the intertwined domestic political and economic bases of active and passive public support for its strategies.
In fact, post-Vietnam, it’s difficult to identify any important foreign policy decision that Blob-y leaders have gotten right, or even handled reasonably well, with the exception of the first Persian Gulf War. (Ronald Reagan’s dramatic military buildup certainly helped spend and innovate the Soviets into collapse, but it was opposed by much and possibly most of the Blob, which favored continued containment and the simultaneous pursuit of arms control and detente.)
Just as important, this Blob’s very profligacy meant that many of its biggest post-Vietnam failures were economic in nature. Two leading examples – the messy collapse of the early World War II international monetary system and structural inflation and long sluggish growth that followed; and the 2007-09 global financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession.
Both crises were brought on fundamentally by global financial imbalances stemming from the Blob-ers’ stubborn refusal to support even minimal budget discipline on the foreign policy side; and from their failure to require reciprocal market access for traded goods either in the early post-World War II Bretton Woods monetary system or into its patchwork successors. And both revealed the Blob’s obliviousness to the intertwined imperatives of maintaining the national economic power needed to pay for their preferred policies responsibly; and of defining U.S. interests realistically enough to avoid needless costs and addiction to debt, inflation, or both.
Do today’s attacks, then, mean that the Blob’s demise is in sight? Not nearly likely enough. After all, it’s survived its decades-long string of blunders with its status pretty much intact. It’s bound to be keep being replenished by the same elite universities whose relevant faculty members are overwhelmingly Blob-y themselves. There’s no sign that their corporate funders are backing away from the think tanks that keep its many of its members employed when they’re out of public office. And its record will surely keep being reported principally by a news media that’s thoroughly Blob-y itself. That – frighteningly – leaves a foreign policy catastrophe inflicting lasting damage on the nation as America’s best hope for replacing the Blob even with simply a more genuinely diverse source of experience and expertise.