The FPC And The War

THE FPC AND THE WAR....A few days ago I quoted Steve Clemons saying that, in fact, a lot of foreign policy experts during 2002-03 did oppose the Iraq war but just weren't willing to speak up. James Joyner, who at the time "was working as the foreign affairs acquisitions editor for a D.C. area publishing house and reading the literature and attending conferences and think tank presentations on a constant basis," decided to test out that hypothesis and found....an eerie silence. His verdict? Guilty on both counts:
What is most striking is that the basic premise [i.e., the netroots critique of the foreign policy community] — that most foreign policy public intellectuals supported the Iraq War — didn't comport at all with my recollection of the contemporaneous debate....I recalled a security policy community dominated by Realists [who] were almost universally opposed to the war.

[Long review of articles in various foreign policy journals follows.]

It appears that the leftist critique, especially Benen's, is right: Despite the overwhelming view of security scholars I encountered in academic conferences and at think tank presentations, the foreign policy Establishment treated the war with dispassion, seemingly afraid to take a strong stand. More importantly, it treated the march to war as a mere curiosity no more worthy of attention than presidential elections in Brazil, whether World Trade Organization judges had too much power, or economic reform in Japan.

That, more than being wrong in their predictions about the future, is the real failure of the foreign policy community. None of us has a crystal ball and our analyses of prospective events are frequently going to fall short. Public policy experts merely owe the public their best reasoning and to engage in a vigorous debate when no consensus exists.
The more I think about this the more I'm inclined to agree with James. There were plenty of conservative hawks and liberal hawks advocating war back in 2002, but there were also plenty of dissenters. The problem is that most of them stayed silent for one reason or another. I suppose you can argue that this was because of pressure from the mainstream of the foreign policy community, but I'm just not sure I buy it. If you don't have the guts to speak up, the most likely problem isn't some kind of foreign policy code of omerta, it's just good old-fashioned gutlessness.

Of course, there's also the fact that the foreign policy community has only limited access to the public discourse in the first place. On op-ed pages and TV chat shows, the main voices are regular columnists and hosts and their regular guests. If the regulars mostly range from Bill Kristol to Tom Friedman, and the most popular guests range from John McCain to Joe Biden, then the vast bulk of popular commentary is going to be pretty hawkish no matter what the experts think. Even a more boistrous community of dissenters would have had a hard time making itself heard with gatekeeping like this.

Still, although liberal hawks and the editors and TV hosts who enabled them deserve their lumps, there's more to it than just that. It's worth some soul searching to figure out why the doubters mostly stayed so quiet.

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