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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchIn Defense of the Blob: America’s Foreign Policy Establishment Is the Solution,...

In Defense of the Blob: America’s Foreign Policy Establishment Is the Solution, Not the Problem

Author: Hal Brands, Peter Feafer, and William Inboden

Affiliation: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Sanford School For Public Policy-Duke University, The LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: April 29, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Word Count: 2590

Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-04-29/defense-blob 

Keywords: Foreign Policy Establishment, Elites, liberal internationalism, Realism, and The US Supremacy 

Brief: 

The authors of this article are considered among the top advocates of the “liberal hegemony” (or the “liberal internationalists” as they call themselves) which is considered the most dominant current on US foreign policy since 1945, then strengthened more after the Cold War. Their article came in response to the harsh criticism against them and the foreign policy establishment, which criticism is coming mostly from their opponents, the Realists, then from Trump later. During the Obama administration, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes described the foreign policy establishment as a “Blob”, and since Trump came to power he has declared war on it, describing its elites as losers who are looking only for power monopoly; some  prominent scholars shared this view with him.  Brands and his colleagues try to respond to the criticism from their opponents (implicitly referring to realist scholars headed by Stephen Walt, whose last book was mainly devoted to them; find here a relevant brief, or here), who claim that US foreign policy was controlled by a privileged cabal bent on serving its interests rather than those of the nation, which protects its ideas by blocking alternative ideas and excluding dissenting voices. The result has been three decades of dismal failure with the US squandering its post–Cold War advantages. So, removing them is the key to getting things back on track. All this, according to the authors, is not correct. The foreign policy establishment was never the problem, but it was and still is the solution. In defense of the establishment and the liberal internationalist arguments, the authors argue with three basic points. First, the foreign policy establishment has never been a closed secret cabal, but rather an open, broad and heterogeneous community of experts in foreign policy and national security professionals, surrounded by a more diverse network that includes hundreds of think tanks and contracted research institutions to the government; it offers views ranging from right to left, hawk to dove, free trader to protectionist, technocratic to ideological, and provides diverse opinions on all global issues raised. The establishment is more pragmatic and less ideological. It values prudence and security over innovation and creativity in order to avoid being drawn into contemplative and unsecured options, additionally it has a system of accountability contrary to what opponents claim, which made the US correct many committed mistakes, refining the wisdom of its professionals and maintaining its global supremacy until now. Second, the story told by critics about the US wasting its power advantages after the Cold War because of its arrogance, aggressive military interventions, and its imposition of a global liberal order at the expense of the country’s economic and security interests is a story that doesn’t match what actually happened. The authors argue that the US grand strategy did not change radically after the Cold War, it was the same that Washington had designed since its exit from its international isolation. After World War II, American officials decided to maintain the leadership of the nation, frustrate dangerous aggressors, and build a secure and prosperous international liberal order. After the Cold War, they decided to keep this strategy ongoing, and strengthen it due to the absence of strong rivals that would hinder the shaping of an environment conducive to US interests and ideas. Although there are some disappointments along the way, crises are inevitable for any foreign policy, and the US’ previous crises were less dangerous compared to the crises that had been faced during the Cold War days (the end of the nuclear monopoly, the Berlin Crisis, the Cuba crisis, The Vietnam War, the oil embargo …), all of which were crises or mistakes that the establishment succeeded in overcoming and gaining more experience, which achieved the continuity of a US global supremacy. Also, critics deliberately focus on mistakes and failures but ignore the establishment’s major achievements. For instance, the bleak picture that John Mearsheimer drew in the early 1990s on the after-Cold War-world (the return of Japan and Germany as revisionist powers, the outbreak of nuclear proliferation, security voids in Central Europe and East Asia …) the “Blob” made it hard to occur. The peace lasted long, relations among great powers remained calm, Germany and Japan did not become hostile and revisionist powers thanks to the liberal proposals motivating greater US involvement in world affairs, with the US bearing more responsibility and leading a broader global liberal order. Therefore, if Washington followed the recommendations of the “Blob criticism” and retreated from its global commitments after 1989, things would have been worse now. Finally, the authors’ critics claim that turning away the influence of these elites will make US foreign policy more effective and the country safer. Here, the authors point to the catastrophic situation that the US reached when this measure was tested during Trump’s three years in office. The latter marginalized national security experts, and he even accused some of them of treason and purged the administration from anyone unwilling to follow the existing official line; everyone can notice the result on the global US leadership position today. Then the Coronavirus pandemic came to clarify the fate of national politics when it is governed by amateur improvisation instead of “Blob professionals” who suggested a playbook for dealing with such pandemics, but the Trump administration chose to look in another direction. It is true, the establishment has committed mistakes, but it learns from the past and changes its course. This is the reason behind the continuity of the international liberal order for generations and even becoming more deep and wide over time. After what happened with the Trump administration, the more that many will hope for the return of the Blob, as the authors predict.


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate

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