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October 03, 2007

Foreign Policy Wonks and the Presidential Election
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum point us towards the Washington Post's listing of foreign policy advisors affiliated with different campaigns.  A couple of observations:

First of all, I agree with Kevin.  This list is pretty shoddy.  There are people on that list who are working for the campaigns and there are people on that list who might provide insight every once in a long while.  It's sort of silly to lump them all in together because it doesn't really distinguish between who has the candidate's ear and who is sitting on the outside.    The reality is that all the candidates have long lists of hundreds of experts who are affiliated in one way or another with the campaign.  So basically, what I'm trying to say is that this list tells you very little and I wouldn't try to draw any major conclusions from it.

For example, you might look at this list and think that Surge architect General Jack Keane is one of Clinton's key advisors.  I doubt that is the case.  Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright.  Yes.  But Keane has probably just met with Clinton a couple of times and somehow he ends up on that list.  I bet he is supporting a Republican. 

Then again, what is one of the architects of the surge doing on the Democratic front runner's advisory list? 


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"Then again, what is one of the architects of the surge doing on the Democratic front runner's advisory list?"

Indicating that she thinks people who thought the surge was a good idea are worth listening to for foreign policy advice. He's a VSP, just like the rest of you, so he must be worth listening to.

But why should this be surprising? Didn't she say over the summer that the surge was working?

How much more evidence do you credulous fools need before you realize that this woman is a hawk?

Foreign policy advisers don't have a lot to do in election campaigns. There just isn't a lot of overlap between the things they are good at and the things a campaign organization needs.

Every now and then a foreign policy expert can be usefully consulted on a major new statement by the candidate, and fact-checkers who help prevent the candidate from saying things that are egregiously wrong are always useful. But no candidate has time to listen to more than a small number of such experts, and fact-checkers don't need to be many to do their job. That makes most foreign policy advisers ornaments.

"So basically, what I'm trying to say is that this list tells you very little and I wouldn't try to draw any major conclusions from it."

Except that it identifies a good number of the major players in the race. Not too long ago O'Hanlon had an op-ed in the FT--arguing a very well reasoned position, but one that seemed to support Obama's position while attacking Clinton (that was portrayed in the media at the time). But it didn't identify him as an Obama adviser. Arkin's list lets readers evaluate future op-eds and other attempts at public opinion shaping pieces with the knowledge that there may be a hidden agenda--you may agree with the policy position, but should know that the author is supporting a specific candidate at the time.

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