Sunday, April 21, 2024

Biden defers to the Blob

Author: Andrew J. Bacevich 

Affiliation: The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft 

Organization/Publisher: The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft 

Date/Place: March 14, 2021/ USA

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 2490


Keywords: Biden, the Blob, the Narrative of the 20th Century, the History of the Present, and US Foreign Policy




Despite the changes Biden has made at the levels of the foreign policy establishment and national security institutions, the author asserts that they are merely deceptive changes of a team that includes old personalities loyal to an old idea that has dominated the country’s foreign policy for a century, (Before Trump showed up to spoil the party), that is, the liberal hegemony mainstream. Thus, Biden’s foreign policy will not bring the US to a fundamental change in the foreseeable future. At the beginning of this article, the author shows how Biden defers to the Foreign policy establishment (the Blob) in his first dealings with one of the issues in which he was most enthusiastic about democratic values and support for human rights, that is, the Khashoggi case and Bin Salman’s involvement. During his election campaign, Biden described Saudi Arabia as a “pariah state” and pledged that Washington would not sideline its principles regarding Bin Salman’s behavior just because it was buying oil from Saudi Arabia or selling weapons to it; Biden also was fighting many battles against Saudi Arabia while he was a member of the Senate or even Vice President. However, after his inauguration, he found himself deferring to the Blob’s will and its dominant current, as he had only modified Washington’s relationship with Saudi Arabia while preserving its essence, or what was called “recalibrate”, according to which Washington imposes sanctions on some of the Saudi employees involved in the Khashoggi assassination, while giving a pass to Bin Salman. Also, it means “stopping” (not ending) the sale of more weapons to Saudi Arabia. The author describes this step as American hypocrisy, which is nothing new to the State Department, citing some statements by Dennis Ross (one of the Blob’s icons). Ross approves of what Biden did, considering this step as “the classic example of where you have to balance your values and your interests” and that the US still “needs” Saudi Arabia to play some role in checking Iran or competing with China. According to Bacevich, Ross’s words reflect a classical unquestionable perception within the Blob, which has persisted for a long time since the “Carter doctrine”, and indicates that the US will continue to follow the same traditional logic in its foreign policy, that is, the need to stay in NATO, support allies, maintain Military bases sprawling across the world, exporting billions of dollars of arms annually, engaging in endless wars under the pretext of “national security”, and claiming that the world is unable to do without the US leadership. In another part, the author cites the historian Martin Conway and his article, “History as Illuminated by Trump” to present a scathing critique of the historical narrative that the Blob’s mainstream highlights about America and which makes any opponent of the mainstream as an extremist dangerous to the image of the country and its major interests as they did with Trump. The author supports Conway’s call to his fellow historians to “bury their narrative of the twentieth century” as a preliminary step to understanding the current crisis that is leading the West and the United States to an uncharted landscape, and calls for attention to what he calls “the history of the present,” identifying three highlights of this uncharted territory awaiting the country. First, politicians’ monopoly over channels of communication with the masses and influencing them has ended, as politicians today compete with artists, footballers, and TV celebrities in shaping public opinion. Today, people may trust Oprah Winfrey’s views in politics more than Nancy Pelosi’s, for example. Second, the bond between citizens and the state is declining, as the old contract (individual duties performed in exchange for collective benefits) is no longer valid, and the “new politics of the bazaar” deceived many while a few of the wealthy benefitted. Third, the old political boundaries of the left and the right have disappeared. In “the history of the present”, politics emphasizes identity, grievances, emotions and aspirations. Today, people do not care much about old notions of class and the party. Thus, the author argues that the implications are likely to be striking and persistent, and that Biden and his team are ignorant of what Conway predicts about the “history of the present,” because the Blob still maintains reassuring, familiar narratives of the twentieth century. “They obviate the need to think.” The author concludes that burying the narratives of the twentieth century may be a condition for our survival. The “history of the present”, which dates a different world in which the US faces new challenges, calls Washington for the need to realize that it does not need Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia, or a sprawling costly national security apparatus to police the Persian Gulf. What this country needs is an acknowledgment that the twentieth century is forever gone. Finally, Bacevich is convinced that Joe Biden and his team are clearly incapable of replacing the history they know for a history on which our future may depend. As a result, they will cling to an irrelevant past. “Under the guise of correcting Trump’s failures, they will perpetuate their own.”


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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