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.
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.