For those that may have missed it over the holiday weekend, I wanted to point out a masterful takedown of the DC foreign policy community by Justin Logan in The American Conservative entitled “How Washington Makes Love for War“. Logan uses the recent Petraeus scandal as a vehicle to highlight the persistent affirmation of conventional thinking amongst an insular Washington DC foreign policy elite. For those not familiar with Beltway politics, this article may not interest you. But for those familiar with DC politics, I believe you’ll find Logan’s article a fantastically accurate portrayal of a town where consensus is king and it pays to affirm rather than challenge conventional thinking. (I learned my lesson on this in late 2007) I highly recommend reading the article and here are some of my favorite quotes:
The Washington foreign-policy elite is an insular, cosseted clique that obsesses over minutiae and discourages strategic thought.
So why is it that this sort of person looks to be a rising star, someone destined for greatness? Simple: She was an effective self-promoter and networker and, most important, she never stopped to question the conventional wisdom. Broadwell’s ascent to prominence was a stepwise progression. The essential first step for Broadwell was allying herself with the emerging conventional wisdom that population-centric counterinsurgency was the missing tool in America’s defense arsenal and that General Petraeus could use it to fix America’s wars. But the crucial step Broadwell took was to use her status as a promoter of the conventional wisdom to attain access to power: in this case, General Petraeus. It was this proximity to power that made her a boldfaced name and won gushing blurbs for her mash-note book about Petraeus from an array of pundits and think tankers, whose imprimatur then signaled that Broadwell was a part of the establishment with wisdom to be heard.
On the lack of debate in DC on foreign policy strategy:
In the Beltway foreign-policy community, strategy debate is inherently unfriendly and to be avoided. Part of the reason so much attention is spent on process and operational details and so little time on strategy is that everyone can get together in a room and complain about the inter-agency process without disagreeing with another person in particular. The same isn’t true about choices over strategy. If one strategy is appropriate, the other possibilities are wrong.
An excellent analysis of a foreign policy community that thrives on consensus. And for those that wonder why this blog isn’t called “Conventional Wisdom”, well, here you go – Justin Logan explains it even better than I could.