On Shadi, "them,"us," and the "Foreign Policy Community"
Posted by Moira Whelan
Apologies, up front Shadi, for using your piece as a bounding off point, but it got me fired up. From beginning to end, I have many problems with Shadi's last post. I am however, avoiding the DLC-Kos Sunday Show Strawman for now and stick to my ballywick.
Everyone should be stewards of sound national security policy. Pointing out bad policy is everyone's responsibility. (Imply criticisms of those who don't here.) The O'Hanlon/Pollack issue illuminated and many have done a great job digging into the problem we all need to confront. The "Foreign Policy Community" should not be something different and escape accountability or responsibility for Iraq or anything else. The fact is that unlike what some foreign policy specialists would like to believe, these issues have long been partisan because those in charge of the final execution of policy are always partisan.
Sitting back and expecting that everyone will walk towards the light that is the sound foreign policy as presented by whoever is writing the piece, simply ignores the political realities that exist. Ignoring political realities that exist in other countries is considered irresponsible in foreign policy wonk circles. (Take, for example, the arguments used against the administration ignoring political realities in Iraq.) Ignoring it here is standard fare.
More after the jump--
So criticizing others for engaging in strawmen debate about politics may be valid, but it ignores the fact that it goes on every day in the field those of us on this blog spend the most time exploring. The line between "foreign policy" and "politics" exists only in the minds of some in the Foreign Policy Community. That community (mostly self-selected and based loosely on affiliation with the Council on Foreign Relations) could not be larger than a few thousand throughout the country. Most are smarter than I, and have taught me a great deal over the years. I'm sure others would love to engage in some of the hallway conversations I've been privileged enough to have. I have learned some, although less, in the structured panel lectures I have been to over the years. I don't like to just listen. I like to learn and engage. Wonks, sometimes for selfish reasons of self promotion, other times for fear of exploitation of their ideas, avoid these more personal conversations with non-wonks, and have a tendency to deem "activists," "bloggers," and even "voters" as uniformed. Nothing could be further from the truth...but I'd rather wonks discover this for themselves than lecture them on this reality.
Back to partisan politics for a moment and the idea that foreign policy sits outside the system. Perhaps that's the desire, and what traditional "levels of analysis" concepts tell us. But the fact is, foreign policy has been used and exploited by the very people responsible for implementing the policies of this country for political gain. The goal of those in professional national security positions is to acknowledge and confront those realities while balancing the outward security imperatives of the nation. Let’s look at the situation currently:
On the conservative side, national security is part of the primary dialogue. "War on Terror" and all that goes with it is spouted by conservative leaders with "national security" credentials that range from preacher to exterminator...ideologues have substituted dialogue, and look where that has gotten us. This is not an environment in which national security specialists can prosper. This does not foster the best ideas, if it fosters any.
On the progressive side, those in the Foreign Policy Community often lament how "they" --meaning the progressive masses--don't get it. Well newsflash: "they" do get it. Those that didn't cut their professional teeth on these issues have done tremendous work in recent years to get educated by reading what a lot of wonks have written. Even those that didn't are entitled to an opinion and a legitimate airing of their ideas. Just think of how smart we'd be if wonks would actually TALK to individual activists who've turned themselves into amateur "scholars." Just think about how smart the wonks would be if they were challenged with these non-traditional approaches. The doors are wide open for us all to be one big happy family, so long as mutual intellectual respect is present. No one gets put on a pedestal in this community, as it should be.
National security issues are part of
the progressive dialogue. The problem is that leaders of the Foreign Policy
Community aren't often participating, and should.
I personally will have on-going beef with anyone that wants to pretend this is a non-issue and "progressives" should just listen and learn to their outstanding leaders. It's not only that this is contrary to progressive values; it is contrary to American values as well. The Foreign Policy Community should not think that this is a passing critique that will soon die down. Blogs are not a passing fancy and let’s face it; progressives built this country so we're not going anywhere. There is a movement in this country and it's amazing and exciting. Get on board and be part of it, and lead to the degree that merit and engagement entitles one to lead. It has everything wonks love--tough decisions, hard work, unity of effort, vigorous debate, loads of reading and all the rest.
For those that have taken the step
and want to engage, the "us" and "them" stuff has got to
stop. Subcultures exist everywhere, and it just so happens the Foreign Policy
Community works to have tremendous influence on leaders and is therefore
interested in staying as small of a subculture as possible. Separation and
avoiding accountability simply aren't going to work (think about a microcosm of
the traditional globalization arguments made by free traders and apply
here).Responsibility to a community is where the payoff can be found.
Interdependence not unitary action. Take advantage and learn from the vocal
progressive leaders, and who is blogging. You will find out that above all
else, they know how to get things done. You will also find out that the
"uninformed" argument is simply wrong. Frankly, I know more people
who consider themselves "progressives," than those who consider
themselves "scholars," who have the merits, professional background,
relationships with foreign leaders, and expertise to get published in Foreign
Affairs. The difference is that they want to talk to America
America, not to a few thousand self-designated leaders...why? Because that is their responsibility as stewards of sound foreign policy.