Self-Projection and Foreign Policy “Scholars”

Glenn Greenwald had a great post Wednesday about establishment foreign policy scholars, and how they delimit the ‘acceptable’ foreign policy debate:

The Foreign Policy Community is more secretive than the Fight Club. They believe that all foreign policy should be formulated only by our secret “scholar”-geniuses in the think tanks and institutes comprising the Foreign Policy Community and that the American people should not and need not know anything about any of it short of the most meaningless platitudes. They are the Guardians of Seriousness. “Serious” really means the extent to which one adheres to their rules and pays homage to their decrees.
It is hard to overstate how self-important and impressed with itself is the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community. When I was attempting this week through a series of e-mail exchanges to convince a reluctant Michael O’Hanlon to agree to an interview with me about his field trip to Iraq, he explained his reluctance this way:

I have gone light on what people say about your work. I have not slammed you the way various people have told me you’ve slammed me. I have simply said that people tell me you go after scholars very very hard.

People in the Foreign Policy Community refer to themselves and each other as “scholars,” and they have a long list of Byzantine rules with which one must comply in order to be permitted to participate in our country’s foreign policy discussions.

One of the interesting comments about the most recent Democratic debate was made by Scarecrow at FireDogLake:

And it just makes me smile to wonder what Chris Matthews must think when his post-debate “experts” all agree that Kucinich did great.

I’ve always thought that a successful politician is one who can act as a foil onto which voters project what they want the candidate to say (whether or not he or she actually stands for that position at all) [link]. One of the reasons I think the foreign policy establishmentarians are blowing their gaskets is because we hoi polloi are forcing them to justify their position and status based on the consequences of their ideas, not on their standing among the Very Serious People. Certainly, foreign policy is a complex issue, but like Katrina, somethings just cut right through the complexities [discourse link]. Invading the wrong fucking country is one of those things.
As Greenwald put it:

…the Foreign Policy Community has proven itself to be reckless, irresponsible and deeply unserious. These “scholars” have lost the right to judge anyone or to declare anyone else unserious. It is long past time to aggressively challenge their most precious orthodoxies.
Leave aside whatever views you may have about the wisdom of attacking Osama bin Laden or other Al Qaeda elements inside Pakistan because that is a separate question entirely. There are few issues more vitally important than destroying the supremacy and monopoly of our Foreign Policy Community and forcing a re-examination of our most fundamental assumptions about America’s role in the world.

Matt Yglesias examines another motive–careerism:

But insinuate that leading foreign policy analysts are driven in part by careerism and not just determined pursuit of the truth, and people get the vapors.
This is curious, in part, because the institutions that comprise “the Community” exist, in essence, to provide employment for job seekers. There are plenty of positions for people interested in foreign policy and national security issues that aren’t like that — there are career jobs in the foreign service, the intelligence agencies, and the military. There’s also academia. But if you aren’t as interested in serving your country or pursuing disinterested scholarship as you are in trying to get a political appointment, it might be a great idea to secure a post as a Brookings or CSIS fellow. Which is fine on one level, obviously, those jobs need to be filled.
But what I didn’t understand years ago, and that many people still don’t understand today, is that this means these people are, in fact, politicians rather than scholars or analysts. Just as a politician thinking of running for president might shy away from the idea that we ought to reduce defense expenditures for fear of offending defense contractors, a person hoping to be made assistant secretary of defense may also want to stay away from such ideas. At that point, though, politicians get even more frightened, since now when rival politicians attack the candidate who wants to cut defense expenditures, they can probably get an army of “experts” from throughout the Community to back them up.

But at least they’re not Dirty Fucking Hippies who were ‘right for the wrong reasons.’

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.