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Reviews |  Can foreign policy elites survive Biden’s rejection?

Why is it important that so many foreign policy elites converged on Biden’s policy with such fury? It signals the official repudiation by the president of the Blob – Obama’s aide Ben Rhodes’ nickname for American internationalists who have been behind our foreign policy since World War II – in a scathing and seemingly irreversible way. In his speeches, Biden unanchored our foreign policy from its permanent war footing and relentless pursuit of anti-American jihadists everywhere and all the time. Biden’s new guiding principle, repeated over and over again in his August 31 speech, is that US intervention would be limited to where it contributes to our “vital national interest.” This can be seen as a repudiation of aggressive warfare everywhere, which would be a major course correction if implemented, or a loophole that would allow it to declare a vital national interest and intervene again at its first impulse. If he thinks what he said, that it was a mistake to attempt to build a nation in Afghanistan and that a more modest counterinsurgency mission should be adopted to protect the United States from terrorism, that makes shift capital from the foreign policy elite to a majority share. to a minority. “I will not repeat the mistakes we made in the past. The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling a civil war in a foreign country, ”Biden said. Presumably, Biden’s rhetoric leaves American positions on China and Russia intact, where the vitality of the national interest is gargantuan.

Sensing they had been routed by Biden and the Afghan beating, the foreign policy elite sought to get back into the good graces of the administration by arguing that foreign policy wizards like baseball pitchers of the Hall of Fame have some bad exits. “Even if they made the wrong calls,” Max Boot writes of the foreign policy elite, “how do we know other decisions would have worked better? Haass was playing the same game. “We were wrong in Libya, we were wrong in Vietnam,” he conceded. “But over the past 75 years, the foreign policy establishment has done most things right.” Writer Luppe B. Luppen (alias @nycsouhpaw) had a gas with that line, jokingly in false agreement with the A + Haass had just given the Blob. “Just look at how successful we have been in South America since 1946, in the Horn of Africa or in the Caribbean,” Luppen wrote.

Haass’s admission indicates that the foreign policy elite might not have deserved the reverence – or at least the respect – they have received from so many members of the press for so long. If the consensus opinion on foreign policy is only 30% or 40% right, as Haass suggests, why have journalists so faithfully sought their point of view when reporting on foreign affairs? ? It’s not that the dissenting voice on foreign policy goes completely unnoticed, but that the illusion of consensus that the Blob has formed is so great that dissenters are easily marginalized or ignored. The natural time for a thoroughly Blob defense of its policy in Afghanistan – or increased media coverage of a withdrawal – should have been during the Trump-Biden campaign, when the two candidates adopted withdrawal positions so similar that an October 2020 Council on Foreign Relations exhibit noted that they were “in the same area code, if not the same zip code, on the problem.” Even if you believe in the omnipotence of the Blob – I don’t believe it – the press could have covered the Trump-Biden break from consensus more closely. And if it’s not during the campaign, then why not in March, when Biden said the NATO pullout was continuing? It’s not as if the press has to seek out major sources claiming the war is doomed: the two presidential candidates have officially declared that they will end it. It’s almost as if the press believed that Eternal War was meant to last forever.

Now Whether we checked out of Afghanistan, the press might recognize it was a mistake to quote the elite so faithfully when a toss-up might have produced a better response. If the foreign policy elite failed us, surely journalists should have been more skeptical of their statements. At the very least, in the post-Afghanistan period, journalists would be wise to expand their call lists to include skeptics and opponents and other non-interventionists.

Haass deserves to be distinguished not because he is no longer responsible for Afghan politics, but because he is its most outspoken defender. In another tweet, Haass tried to justify the “unlimited presence” of the United States in Afghanistan because it was not an occupation but like the missions in South Korea, Germany and Japan where the United States had been “invited”. As far as the comparison was accurate, it described places where the United States had helped create governments that “invited” it in, not independent nations that had prepared the welcome mat. This reluctance to put Afghanistan in the US ‘casualties’ column along with Libya and Vietnam says more about the shrinking foreign policy elite than several special issues of Foreign Affairs never could.

Afghanistan’s surrender differs from Vietnam’s surrender in one important respect. Afghanistan’s surrender is accompanied by a presidential epilogue that says we won’t do it again. This national construction is a mistake. That the war was not vital to our national interest. In Vietnam, there had been no such spoken presidential epilogue and the Vietnamese mastermind of President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, continued to lead US foreign policy under Nixon’s successor, President Gerald Ford, without admitting a single times its mistakes. Some on the right lamented the “Vietnam syndrome” – a noticeable reluctance to enter foreign wars – but the foreign policy standards for intervention stuck. In the example of Vietnam, the Blob not only survived its failure, but thrived in its wake.

Whether or not Biden sticks to his new tenets, what we are currently seeing through the prism of Afghanistan is the breakdown of a 75-year-old foreign policy elite. You can rightly say that Trump weakened the foreign policy elite by setting his timetable for the withdrawal from Afghanistan and that Biden deserves credit for delivering the final blow to that policy. It may be too early to say that Biden has dethroned the foreign policy elite – his Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, is as Blob as they get. But Biden has set a new standard of intervention, and as long as it prevails, policy merchants will strive to embed it into their platforms. The Blob never disappears, it always adapts.


Who should be the new king of foreign policy? Send applications to [email protected]. My email alerts were about the war in Iraq before I was against it. My Twitter feed believes in multipolarity. My RSS feed is very busy at the moment with a foreign matter of its own.

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