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Dipping My Toe…


I’ll have a couple of longer comments on the “foreign policy community” scrum later this week, but right now I wanted to highlight this from Drezner, on Greenwald:

During the latest contretemps, Greenwald wrote:

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.

Let’s excise some of the adjectives and rephrase the wording a bit:

The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.

I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would. And I also suspect that Greenwald would not accept this formulation — it would contradict both his pacifism and his very strange definition of imperialism. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure that Greenwald would accept the concept of “national interest,” period.

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. It’s also true, as Dan notes, that the people who debate interventions have to accept, at the very minimum, that intervention is a subject worth debate. Pacifists have one answer to this question, and this is why pacifists don’t get invited to the debate. I’m less certain that Dan about what Greenwald thinks about some of these questions, and I’d add that it’s entirely reasonable to question whether there is such a thing as the national interest, while allowing that it’s not surprising that those who think there is a national interest get privileged in debates about maximizing it.

Something else Glenn wrote made me uncomfortable:

Not only, according to this Democratic foreign policy expert, were there “good arguments” for attacking and invading Iraq (a country which neither attacked nor threatened to attack us), there are also now what Cohen calls “good arguments” for starting wars against two more countries (at least) that have also not attacked us (or anyone else for that matter).

Call me crazy, but I think there were good arguments for invading Iraq; they were simply outweighed by a series of much, much more compelling arguments for not invading Iraq. Indeed, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that there were no good arguments for invading Iraq (or Iran, or North Korea); this strikes me as only an argument that a pacifist would make, and Dan’s characterization aside, I really don’t think that Glenn Greenwald is a pacifist. Indeed, the whole point of a critique on the foreign policy community is that, in the case of Iraq and perhaps in a number of other cases, bad arguments have won out over the good. I read Glenn here as saying that there are no legitimate arguments for intervention, which I suspect isn’t quite what he was meaning to say, but I’ll leave it to him to clarify. The “attacked us or anyone else” portion is quite troubling, in my view, because it poses far more questions that it answers. More on that in another post.

Finally, I’m quite troubled by this:

But, more to the point, yes “a foreign-policy clerisy is unjustified, anti-democratic, and pernicious.” Does this point even need to be argued? There isn’t actually an “economic policy clerisy” or an “environmental policy clerisy” or a “housing policy clerisy.” Instead we recognize that, expertise aside, there are people with competing agendas on all of these topics. Some are more honest “experts” than others, but even if we all have the same facts at our disposal we can come to widely different conclusions about what policies should be implemented. This is because we disagree about stuff.

The “foreign policy clerisy” apparently exists to close off public scrutiny of or wider debate about America’s appropriate role in the world, to limit the range of options which are “on or off the table” and which are open to public debate or discussion.

First things first, there is are an economic policy clerisy, an environmental policy clerisy, and a housing policy clerisy; I rely quite strongly on the second, for example, because I can’t be bothered to become up-to-date on the latest global warming science. I rely on experts about health care policy who are far more aware than I of the validity of comparative health care schemes. Indeed, I suspect that for every major policy discussion there are a series of experts who take each others arguments more seriously than they do those of outsiders; part of this is “insiderism” and part of it is the recognition that these people know more about their policy foci than others, and that their knowledge has been vetted in a series of non-trivial ways.

The “foreign policy community” it seems to me, should really be called the “military intervention” community, because they don’t really debate foreign policy. It’s Michael O’Hanlon’s job to think about military policy, not foreign aid or the value of the International Whaling Commission or what not. People who become part of this community tend to have expertise and military affairs, and people who develop such an expertise tend to think that the details of military affairs are relevant and important. I would say that there are two major problems with the “military intervention community”. The first is that its status has been raised by the media and by a set of bad political trends well above what it deserves to be. Whatever their other qualifications, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack are poorly suited by training to discuss questions of international law, international organizations, and theories of democratization. Unfortunately, when George W. Bush first raised the idea of invading Iraq, it was the intervention community (already inclined to think about the world in military terms) that was allowed to respond, but this seems to be evocative of a number of problems associated with American political discourse that go well beyond the characteristics of the community itself. The second is that this intervention community did a very poor job in its own right; it failed utterly to sensibly weigh even the practical difficulties of intervention, which is what it should have been qualified to do. Questions of justice are fine and good, but in this case they were pointless, as the practical arguments weighed very, very heavily against the intervention. And here is where I disagree again with Atrios; I’ll detail my views more in the future, but I think that the ineptitude of the Democratic military intervention community has less to do with an intentional effort to forestall debate and create amity than with trends in academia (particularly in political science) in the 1990s that left us with what amounted to a very weak intervention community.

Anyway, this post is already far too long; more thoughts later.

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