Note from Dick Young: I’m proud to be posting this piece from Justin Logan, a friend of mine. I met Justin during his time at the Cato Institute where he was the director of foreign policy studies. Since he left Cato to start his own restaurant, Ruta Del Vino, in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Justin has written many great pieces here on Richardcyoung.com. This is one of my favorites. Here he discusses what noninterventionists can do to win the foreign policy argument going forward.
Originally posted on January 24, 2018.
One of the running themes of this column has been how lonely it is for foreign policy realists and noninterventionists in Washington. Wall Street Journal opinion honcho Paul Gigot once referred to libertarian foreign policy scholars as “four or five people in a phone booth.” Take it from me: the truth hurt.
So against my general disposition, it’s time to concede: things have gotten better for realists and restraint types in D.C. To tick off a few notable developments:
- The United States isn’t more deeply involved in Syria because enough people could see that doing so would have been foolish;
- Human icebreaker Donald Trump went to military-heavy South Carolina to campaign as a Republican presidential candidate, baldly stating that the Bush administration lied the country into war and failed to keep the nation safe since 9/11 happened on its watch, subsequently winning that primary in a landslide;
- Trump clearly relishes upsetting people by promising to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and in rhetorically ripping up the Iran deal, but there has been little material movement on these fronts as yet.
- The Koch brothers have become more involved in funding realist-inclined foreign policy work, including Defense Priorities, and millions of dollars in grants to universities with solid realist-leaning international security programs.
So while things aren’t good, they’re better–which is the occasion for the below wish list. As the old saw goes, personnel are policy. So are the institutions where you can develop those personnel. And if there is one thing that the neoconservatives got very, very right, it is that the building of a counter-establishment takes decades, tons of money, doggedness, and patience. So here is what I’d spend a rich guy’s money on:
The Accountability Project
Washington foreign policy types say an enormous number of dumb, dangerous things that are unsupported by facts, theories, or either. They have labored for decades in a world in which they could issue crazy promises like feathers in the wind. I dabbled in keeping score at Cato: in 2014, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Barack Obama’s director of policy planning at State, wrote a howler entitled “Why Libya Skeptics Were Proved Badly Wrong,” for example. Others have continued trying to hold scholars’ feet to the fire on issues like Syria.
Somebody needs to be keeping track of this stuff. Scholars might find the idea of doing so icky, or too reminiscent of opposition research, and therefore politics. But unless realists get interested in the politics of national security, national security is not going to be interested in them.
The downside here is that you won’t get invited to the proverbial Georgetown cocktail parties for doing this, because on foreign policy, those parties are populated by Democrats and Republicans who largely agree with one another. And even beyond social opprobrium, breaking through to get this information in front of voters, or television-watchers, or whoever, would be difficult because the media’s interest is in producing good media, not necessarily producing truth. And most of these scholars, if asked to come on for a segment where they can answer for their dumb predictions, would pass. Still, an additional dollop of fear could help restrain the D.C. intervention crowd.
The Slime Project
The Washington Free Beacon, and the Weekly Standard before it, are neoconservative agitprop rags with the ability to turn out very entertaining copy. In both cases, rich guys sunk a lot of money into high quality editorial staffs that beat the war drums while producing terrific pieces like Andrew Ferguson’s…umm…appreciation of John McLaughlin. Heterodox on every issue except for foreign policy, these publications have punched way above their weight in GOP circles.
Though it failed, the Free Beacon’s campaign against Chuck Hagel showed what a monomaniacal staff with few scruples can do in Washington. The fight over Hagel became a power struggle with low stakes beyond proving what a motivated hatchet team can (or, in this case, can’t) produce in Washington.
Remember Chuck Hagel? The Nebraska Republican Senator whom Barack Obama made defense secretary for almost two years? The boring milquetoast guy? The Free Beacon made him out to be the second coming of Ahmed Yassin. The Free Beacon shows 634 entries for Hagel, a person whom you can be forgiven for having forgotten.
Foolishly, as it would turn out, the neocons wanted to make a point that they viewed Hagel as
- insufficiently supportive of Israel;
- a Republican apostate on foreign policy, generally; and
- a threat to their control over the GOP on foreign policy.
Understandably, then, they decided to mount a full-spectrum assault on Hagel, in part to stop him from becoming defense secretary, but perhaps more importantly, to show that they could do so.
Nobody wins every fight they pick, of course, and the Obama people fought back harder than Bill Kristol and company seem to have expected, but there is a lesson here: A group of highly motivated knuckleheads created a controversy from whole cloth and delayed his nomination for weeks.
If the Accountability Project makes lots of people squirm, the Slime Project should make us all squirm. But the evidence is there: hatchet men like Eli Lake have moved from calling David Duke for his opinion of a book so as to tar its authors as anti-Semites to becoming a Journalist in Good Standing–and good pay!–at legitimate publications.
All of which is to say that in the modern era, if we care about winning, Tom Cotton shouldn’t be able to so much as stink up a Senate bathroom without God and everyone hearing all about it.
The Youth Project
Here’s the sunshine and rainbows (and the thing you could raise money on). The people counting John Bolton’s war proposals and Tom Cotton’s flushes will have to be motivated, ideological young people. Or maybe they aren’t that ideological–yet.
Realists don’t have much trouble developing serious scholars to be international relations professors at top schools, or write serious books, but what they’ve had trouble producing in the past are go-getters who can help move politics.
My proverbial rich guy would do well to stand up a youth program, probably over a summer, at one of the venerable but cash-hungry D.C. institutions. There, the kids could hear from leading lights, learn about the ins and outs of Washington, and demonstrate whether they have what it takes to move up to become a small cog in what will hopefully become a much larger, and more formidable machine.