In the Arena

The Dangerous Imperialist Monomania of the Foreign Policy Priesthood…

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…is a topic that has been obsessing Glenn Greenwald and others lately, but it hardly seems the case–especially the intimations of half-crazed hawkishness–given this survey conducted by Foreign Policy. The Priesthood seems deeply anti-surge and anti-Bush. Yes, there were liberals who favored the war way back in 2002–and a few lonely Democratic hawks, Pollack and O’Hanlon, for example–who still do.

But there are many more, like Jessica Matthews, who opposed the war and continue to provide excellent commentary on the delusional quality of Bush Administration. And then there’s Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former hawk, who was a dove on Iraq from the start (and also the entire Bush 41 foreign policy team and enough others to make the case that there really was no consensus at all within the Priesthood about going to war in 2003).

In fact, neoconservatives have long derided the foreign policy priesthood as a bunch of weenies, far more interested in talking things out than in punching things up. The State Department’s Arabists have been a particular target, and rightly so: They produced a report in 2002 called “The Perfect Storm” (Ryan Crocker was among the authors) arguing that an invasion could create the very effects we’re seeing now.

As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations for about 15 years now, I can guarantee you that “hawkish” would come way down my list of adjectives to describe the Priesthood, well behind “geriatric,” “bland,” “somnolent” and “willing to talk anything to death, especially things like the coming economic slowdown in Uruguay.”
I remember one dinner in early 2003, during which Council elders–including me, inexplicably–met with then-deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley and just raked him over the coals about the inadvisability of and general lack of post-invasion planning for the war that was obviously coming. Next day, I received a phone call from Karl Rove who called me an “Eastern Establishment, Council on Foreign Relations [rump of mule].”

I asked him if he’d call my mother and convey that thought because she would be so pleased that I’d finally made it.

Greenwald’s basic point is quite correct: the foreign policy/think tank Priesthood is as smug and hidebound as any that exists. But it is too…diplomatic…to be anything but painfully judicious–and it has, more often than not, been a brake on the foaming mouth militarism favored by the neocons.

OOOps: Greenwald link.
Also readers should make the distinction between full-time TV talking heads like Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes, and members of the Priesthood, like Jessica Matthews or even Ken Pollack, who appear on TV infrequently unless they are under contract as Tony Cordesman is to ABC (I think). If you want to make the argument that the networks ignored anti-war voices, fine. I agree. But that’s a different argument from saying that the Priesthood was overwhelmingly in favor of the war, or anything else (except comity and “a free and frank exchange of ideas.”)