Watch Out for ‘Blobaganda’

Schwartz’s account gets at some important aspects of what critics mean when we talk about the “Blob.”

Posted on

Ross Douthat suggests that defeat in Afghanistan will have adverse consequences for the U.S. elsewhere in the world:

Mattathias Schwartz has written an interesting account of his experience in the foreign policy “Blob” and how “blobaganda” gets produced:

To understand how blobaganda works, you have to look for what isn’t there. Not much airtime is given to dissent from what’s often called “the rules-based order” or “the liberal international order.” These terms sound technical and boring and unobjectionable; perhaps that is by design. In plain English, “rules-based order” has effectively come to mean “war is good.” The foreign-policy establishment is ideologically committed to the faith-based proposition that America can use force against a country thousands of miles away and, if not remake it in our own image, then at least leave it better than we found it. “Liberal” and “rules” are strange words to apply to campaigns that rely so heavily on drone strikes and covert CIA operations. At one event hosted by the Blobosphere, I remember one of my peers raising his hand to ask how we could convince the American public that it was worth going to war to defend Montenegro, as we are obliged to under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. The room turned and looked at him as if he’d gone insane.

Schwartz’s account gets at some important aspects of what critics mean when we talk about the “Blob.” He stresses the role of social pressure and conformism. Control over who gets to participate in the conversation is an essential part of that. If you are an aspiring analyst and would-be policymaker, you learn quickly not to stray outside the lines of acceptable opinion, and those lines are drawn very narrowly. If you happen to go outside of them, you can expect to be denounced and marginalized.

The clubbishness and groupthink that critics deplore as flaws are features to those that are members in good standing. Holding all the same main assumptions about the US role in the world is the way to gain entry and it serves as a marker of status for those that belong. Schwartz writes:

But as I learned from the five years I spent inside the bubble of the foreign-policy establishment – all the off-the-record gatherings and the cozy meet-and-greets I attended –  the neutral deliberations that take place behind closed doors occur within carefully managed boundaries. You can’t work in Washington and not cross paths with smart, influential people who have been paid substantial amounts of money from a foreign-policy think tank, or the powerful dons who sit on one of their boards. If you have control over who’s in the room, and who gets to sit onstage, there’s no need to script the action. The ideologically correct opinion will organically percolate through the network. This is known as social contagion, and it goes a long way to explaining why America’s leading foreign-policy experts keep producing disasters like Afghanistan.

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.