A ‘Blob’ By Any Other Name

Last week, The New York Times published an article about Afghanistan and the foreign policy “Blob,” and it was written in a way that mocked the term and the critics that use it. The funny thing is that the article reproduced exactly the sort of groupthink and hostility to outside criticism implied by the “Blob” label. There is probably nothing more blobbish than an article that quotes several high-profile pundits and analysts as they dismiss their detractors as ignorant and lazy without giving the other side a chance to be heard.

Judging from the finished product, one might think that the author didn’t even talk to any critics of foreign policy establishment groupthink and conformism, but that was not the case. Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea, was one of the critics contacted for comment, but nothing that he said made it into the final article. He sent me the comments he made, some of which I include here with his permission. Asked about the “Blob,” Kelly replied:

I do think there is: 1) an interventionist consensus, 2) a tendency to exaggerate threats to the US and its allies, and 3) support a forward-in-the-world foreign policy which is not necessarily in America’s interest, especially in the Middle East, where I think it is pretty clear that we are over-extended.

When defenders of the foreign policy establishment deride the “Blob” label, they usually argue that the establishment is not monolithic and contains a wide range of views. The critics’ response to this is that the differences that do exist are usually fairly small, and almost everyone shares consensus assumptions about the U.S. role in the world and the desirability and necessity of US “leadership. Take Kelly’s three points and ask if his observations are supported by the evidence. Is there an interventionist consensus among foreign policy scholars and policymakers? Yes, there clearly is. The main and sometimes only disagreements about how the US should respond to a foreign crisis or conflict are not over whether the US should involve itself, but only over how it does so and to what extent. Intervention of one kind or another is practically taken as a given.

Is there a tendency to exaggerate threats to the US and its allies? Of course. Threat inflation is the foreign policy establishment’s bread and butter. Without constant threat inflation, it would be difficult to garner sufficient political support for most of what the US does in the world. Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall explore this at length in their new book, Manufacturing Militarism. Is there broad support within the foreign policy establishment for a “forward-in-the-world foreign policy”? Obviously, yes. That is practically the definition of what the establishment believes.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Conflicts of Interest: Matthew Hoh Names the Reps. Most Responsible for the Afghan War Disaster

On COI #163, Matthew Hoh joins Kyle Anzalone to discuss the villains of the Afghan War. Hundreds of members of Congress helped to keep the conflict going, but Matt names some of the worst offenders. He shares personal stories about reps who used their support for the war to build political capital needed to pass Obamacare. Several representatives agreed in private that the war was a lost cause that wasted hundreds of thousands of lives, Matt said, but for political reasons continued to support it publicly.   

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House Votes This Week on Selective Service

Key votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on proposals to repeal (unlikely), expand to women (most likely), or eliminate some of the penalties for violations of the Military Selective Service Act will take place this week as part of the debate on this year’s annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act (NDAA).

Here’s a calendar of the Congressional and Presidential actions that are leading up to women being required to register and report address changes to the Selective Service System starting when women born in 2005 turn 18 in 2023.

Calls to members of the House are needed now, especially to members of the House Rules Committee who will decide this Monday whether the full House will debate or vote on whether to expand draft registration to women (or will enact this as part of a larger bill with no line-item debate or vote on Selective Service).

The version of the NDAA as reported to the House floor by the House Armed Services Committee, which will be enacted unless amended, includes a section that would would expand Selective Service registration to young women as well as young men.

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Why We Oppose the National Defense Authorization Act

The moment of ending a war widely viewed as a 20-year catastrophe, having spent $21 trillion on militarism during those 20 years, and the moment when the biggest Congressional question in the media is whether the United States can afford $3.5 trillion over 10 years for things other than wars, is hardly the moment to increase military spending, or even to maintain it at remotely its current level.

Tiny fractions of U.S. military spending could do a world of good in the United States and around the world, and the most serious dangers facing us are exacerbated, not ameliorated, by it. These include environmental collapse, nuclear disaster, disease pandemics, and poverty. Even in morally dubious economic terms alone, military spending is a drain, not a boost.

Militarism is often tied to “democracy,” with the US government currently planning an international conference on democracy even while arming the majority of the world’s most oppressive governments. But applying democracy to the US government would reduce military spending according to poll after poll after poll after poll. Last year 93 members of the US Congress voted to reduce the Pentagon’s portion of US military spending by 10%. Of the 85 of those 93 who stood for re-election, 85 were re-elected.

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Why Should We Be Celebrating a Year of Abraham Accords?

Reprinted with permission from Responsible Statecraft:

A year into the Abraham Accords, it is clear that the agreement has only delivered arms sales, but no peace.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to deteriorate, de facto annexation of Palestinian territory proceeds all the while the U.S. embrace of the agreement signals American endorsement of this negative status quo. Rather than advancing American interests by promoting peace in the region, the US is helping cement conflict under the guise of forging reconciliation between three countries that never have been at war. 

Yet things can get even worse. At a time when the US should be reducing its military footprint in the region, the accord could bring America back into war in the Middle East by lowering the bar for Israeli military action against Iran. Any military confrontation between Israel and Iran will likely suck in the US as well. As the Quincy Institute’s Steven Simon wrote in his June brief on the subject, the risk of the accord playing this destabilizing role is particularly acute if talks to revive the Iran nuclear agreement collapse. 

Moreover, the accord undermines prospects of finding true peace in the region between Israelis and Palestinians. Recognition of Israel was always a means to an end – not an end in and of itself. The accord flipped this on its head and offered recognition without any movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front, further reducing Israel’s incentives to compromise with the Palestinians. Not surprisingly, all the countries who have signed onto the accord have either done this under duress or due to American – not Israeli – concessions on other matters.

Sudan was coerced into signing on lest it wouldn’t get off the US terror list. Morocco was offered a major shift on the US position on West Sahara. The UAE was offered F35 fighter jets – advanced American weaponry the Emiratis want in order to bind Washington to the security of their authoritarian state. None of these tradeoffs do anything to bring peace to the Middle East, nor do they, in the final analysis, advance US national security.

Trita Parsi is the Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute. He is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order and an award-winning author. He is the president of the National Iranian American Council and teaches at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His latest book is Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

We Need a National Rite of Passage That Doesn’t Include War

A recent New York Timesop-ed was perhaps the strangest, most awkward and tentative defense of the military-industrial complex – excuse me, the experiment in democracy called America – I’ve ever encountered, and begs to be addressed.

The writer, Andrew Exum, was an Army Ranger who had deployments in the early 2000s to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and a decade later served for several years as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy.

The point he is making amounts to this: The last twenty years of war have been a disaster, with our pullout from Afghanistan sealing history’s final judgment: We lost. And we deserved to lose. But what a crushing blow to the men and women who served with courage, indeed, who sacrificed their lives for their country.

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