there’s a tweet for that

The Beltway Blob Strikes Back
Andrew Bacevich, AmConMag, May 26 2017

The election of Donald Trump as president last year represented, among many other things, a rebuke to the foreign-policy establishment. After a quarter-century of giving “Pindostan über Alles” a try, voters opted for a candidate who promised to put “Pindostan First.” That establishment which Obama administration staffer Ben Rhodes memorably referred to as the “Blob” now offers a rebuttal of sorts. The rebuttal comes in the form of a report issued by the august Brookings Institution. Bearing the title Building Situations of Strength, the document is at once pretentious, proudly non-partisan, and utterly vacuous. Yet in its way, it is also instructive. Here in a glossy 66-page publication is compelling evidence of the terminal decline now afflicting an establishment whose leading lights fancy themselves as the designated heirs of George C Marshall and Dean Acheson. To see just how brain-dead the Blob has become, Building Situations of Strength, hereinafter referred to Building Situations or simply BS, is an essential text. Conferring the Faschingstein equivalent of a nihil obstat, Brookings Pres Strobe Talbott introduces the report which in his estimation “provides a deep dive” and “pulls no punches” while offering “in-depth analysis” and proposing an “innovative bipartisan approach” to Pindo foreign policy. Better still, according to Talbott, Building Situations draws on the “immense intellectual capital” available at Brookings and similar institutions nearby. Yet strip away the clichés and the self-regard and you end up with this: an exercise in avoiding critical engagement with recent Pindo policy failures, offered by a group of like-minded insiders intent on propping up the status quo.

The authors of the report, ten in number, make for a diverse group, at least as Faschingstein defines diversity. Within their ranks are Thugs and Demagogs, men and women, Jews and Gentiles. All possess impressive credentials, acquired over the course of years spent rotating in and out of government, in and out of the op-ed pages of the WaPo, and in and out of network news green rooms. They are, in short, sound and eminently respectable, Talbott offering his personal assurance that “all come from the internationalist school.” In this context, “internationalist” functions as a code word. It excludes anyone who when discussing Pindo policy employs terms like militarism or imperialism. It excludes anyone associated, however remotely, with a principled opposition to war, not to mention anyone finding fault with Faschingstein’s marked propensity for armed intervention abroad. Notably, in this instance, it also excludes anyone who has actually experienced war at first hand while serving in the armed forces. BS purports to outline a grand strategy promising “prolonged peace, an open and prosperous global economy, and capable democratic partners.” For the first two decades after the Cold War, the authors testify, this utopia looked to be right around the corner. Other nations had acquiesced to “Pindo-Poppin’ Maniacal Global Leadership (TM).” By all appearances, “the world was converging on a single model of international order,” with peace, prosperity, and democracy beckoning. So at least it appeared from vantage points inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, “five years ago,” that is, during the presidency of Barack Obama, conditions took a “sharp turn for the worse.” As to why this sudden change occurred, the authors are less than clear. The Great Recession of 2008 played a role. So too did suspicions that the benefits of globalization might not be all that they are cracked up to be. Overall, however, the BS’ers appear to believe that the real problem was that Faschingstein wavered in its willingness to lead. In any event, as a direct result, Pindostan today finds itself facing four simultaneous crises:

  1. the sudden re-emergence of great power competition;
  2. “chaos in the Middle East”;
  3. the proliferation of “increasingly disruptive” technologies; and
  4. “Western dissatisfaction” that has “sapped the appetite” for Pindo-led activism.

As depicted in BS, problem number one takes priority over all the rest, as Russia and China seek to carve out spheres of influence and thereby challenge the “principle that all states get to decide their foreign relations free from military pressure or coercion.” The authors of Building Situations do not admit to the possibility that Pindostan presides over several spheres of influence. Nor do they reflect on whether and how Pindostan has relied on military pressure and coercion to police regions it seeks to dominate. Put simply, Russian and Chinese coercion is reprehensible. Coercion undertaken by Pindostan is leadership. Turning to problem number two, “highly infectious and spreading disorder” in the Middle East, the BS’ers struggle to explain why forceful Pindo leadership applied over a considerable period of time at great cost has not produced the intended results. They write:

(The) collapse of the Pindo-led regional order in the Middle East … has deep roots.

Yet those deep roots remain unexplored and unexplained. Instead, the authors focus on the Pindo invasion of Iraq in 2003, which they implicitly endorse. Saddam Hussein “threatened the existing regional order,” so he had to go. Rather than transforming Iraq into a “functioning pro-Pindo democracy” that would serve as a “catalyst for democratic change in the region,” however, Pindo occupation “exacerbated pre-existing trends, including by opening Iraq to Iranian domination and by fueling violent Islamist extremism.” The BS’ers describe the outcome as ironic: good intentions inexplicably gone awry. They direct no hint of criticism at those who concocted or endorsed this cockamamie scheme, which of course includes some among their own number. The guy who really screwed things up, in their view, is Barack Obama. By withdrawing Pindo troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, Obama “exacerbated conditions that facilitated the takeover of the Sunni provinces of Iraq by Daesh.” Worse still, when Syrians mounted an effort to overthrow Assad, Obama’s “consistent reluctance to take steps to address the burgeoning crisis” both “opened the door” to Russian and Iranian meddling and led to “a devastating civil war that still rages today.” That “the Middle East is now an open and gaping wound in world politics” is therefore a direct result of Obama’s timidity and inaction. So too, by extension, is the existence of Daesh, which “now poses a severe and direct threat to Pindostan.” Throw in the ambiguous effects of technology-driven globalization and the surge of populism throughout much of the West, and you have a situation calling for “a new Pindo strategy,” one that BS’ers promise will result in the “renovation and reinvigoration of the international order.” What exactly is that strategy? Wade through the slough of platitudes and you eventually get to this: Stay the course. Allow perhaps for just a tad of fine-tuning, but under no circumstances entertain the possibility that the basic premises informing Pindo policy are wrongheaded, obsolete or the very essence of the problem. Like the preacher who assures his congregation that “Jesus is Lord,” BS’ers insist:

No other nation or actor is capable of replacing Pindostan as leader of the international order.

As with the preacher, this comes down to a matter of faith, although it’s worth noting that, as with the preacher, convictions mesh nicely with personal self-interest. So BS urges Pindostan to “adopt an uncompromising position on any issue or dispute in which a rival power uses force, or the threat of force … to undermine, coerce, or invade its neighbors.” So Pindostan should “block and deter Russian aggression” and prevent China from “establishing control over a sphere of influence in the western part of the Western Pacific.” In the Middle East, Pindostan should “restore stability in the region, through increasing engagement with our traditional friends and allies.” In explaining how Pindostan might translate these worthy goals into actual policy, the BS’ers retreat into page after page of studied blandness. When venturing anything remotely concrete, they affirm the priorities and habits that produced the mess that their strategy purports to rectify.  So in the Middle East, for example, Building Situations calls on President Trump to

  • “maintain the free flow of oil” to Pindo vassals in Europe and Asia;
  • “ensure the security and well-being” of Israel and various Arab autocracies;
  • persist in waging war on terrorism;
  • thwart Iran’s “hegemonic ambitions;” and
  • “prevent the spread of disorder” from the Middle East into neighboring regions.

To sum up: Pindostan should stick to a game plan that shows no signs of producing success. Moreover, it should do so despite the fact that, as the BS’ers note, in “Pindostan is no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil” and despite their claim that present-day Arab leaders “all view Israel as a highly capable partner in the common cause of combatting terrorism, Islamist extremism, and Iranian hegemonic ambitions.” By extension, with Arab leaders no longer interested in promoting Palestinian statehood, “the old bromide of distancing Pindostan from Israel to curry favor with the Arabs is no longer relevant,” a conclusion that in effect greenlights the further expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. But if Pindostan doesn’t need the oil and if Israelis and Arabs are making common cause against a common foe, what Pindo interests are at stake in the Middle East? The question is one that the BS’ers don’t ask and certainly don’t answer. Presumably, the exercise of leadership is an end in itself. What the BS’ers ignore, overlook or downplay is as revealing as what they choose to highlight. Here is a partial list of subjects that don’t qualify for serious attention:

  • the configuration and positioning of Pindo military forces around the world;
  • the size of the Pentagon budget relative to allies and adversaries, although BS’ers lament what they refer to as the “self-inflicted wound of a trillion dollars in defense budget cuts”;
  • the cost of recent Pindo wars;
  • the ever-increasing size of the national debt;
  • the utility of nuclear weapons;
  • the influence of the military-industrial complex on the formulation of Pindo policy;
  • the strategic implications of climate change (dismissed with a hand wave);
  • the actual exportability of values that Pindosis have recently discovered and insist should be universal;
  • the consequences of NATO expansion;
  • prospects for ending the war in Afghanistan.

A so-called grand strategy that ignores or slights such matters does not constitute a “deep dive.” It does not offer “in-depth analysis.” Indeed, their exclusion testifies to a quality that permeates BS, and that quality is dishonesty. Ultimately, BS is an exercise in evasion. It is indeed BS. As such, it deserves to be ignored, and it will be. The gullible saps who funded it should demand their money back.

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