Thursday, August 30, 2007

Membership Hath Its Privileges

More on the foreign policy thing: if you haven't already read my long piece on what the hell the "community" is, feel free.

Max Sawicky, horrible quitting bastard that he is, complained that there is no "foreign policy community"; that it's all about a pro-war lobby, whether that lobby be (ineffectively and counterproductively) attempting to forward Israeli security or not. He pointed out that lots of IR types opposed the war.

He's kind of right, and kind of not. Yes, there were--and are--a lot of IR experts that opposed the war. By and large, though, they weren't attacked for being "outsiders", just not even really addressed at all. In fact, the rare occasions where they were addressed were the ones where the general public got to find out about the divisions over IR and foreign policy, as the neo-conservatives would attack the neo-realists, the neo-realists would attack the neo-conservatives, and the neo-liberals would...well...mostly try to staunch the wounds they received from being turfed out of South America, but that's neither here nor there.

Where the "community" element tended to play the greatest role is when members addressed "outsiders", by bluffing about just how universally held their opinions were. It was a rather nice scam: insist that everybody "serious" agrees with you to those who have neither the ability nor the time to check, and you'll probably get away with making them feel ignorant and out-of-touch.

(Economists are BRILLIANT at this.)

Also, one should be careful to draw a distinction between "international relations" experts and area experts. They're not quite the same. The former specializes in understanding those things which are, supposedly, common across all regions and all states. Area experts look at what makes each region special, and go from there. Juan Cole, for example, is by and large an area expert, so he knows what makes the Middle East tick, but he isn't exactly the go-to guy for, say, Asia. He may know the principal debates and theory in IR, but that isn't quite his "beat".

The problem is that the former group has had this tendency to ignore the latter group of late. Chalmers Johnston has been decrying this for ages; "International Relations" types have sort of looked down upon those who focus on the differences between regions and countries for a while, preferring a less culturalist, more "rational" way of looking at statecraft that characterizes the "neos".

Regional experts who weren't neoconservatives wearing sheeps' clothing (and thus members of the "community" through their interchangeable AEI/Heritage posts) were almost universally against this war: they recognized that the whole thing was a load that would almost certainly blow up in the Americans' faces. But they were "outsiders" as well, so they were neither listened to, nor referenced in those "everybody thought" assertions that form the backbone of the "community's" self-defense mechanism.

So, yeah, there is a community. Matt Yglesias doesn't get to be a part of it, because he's just a journalist/columnist, and not one who gets the AEI bye. Juan Cole doesn't get to be a part of it, because he's one of those irrational area experts. Max doesn't get to be a part of it, because he's a heterodox economist. And *I* certainly don't get to be a part of it, because I'm a pseudonym.

So when all of us said "er, this ain't gonna end well" (except maybe Matt), we aren't listened to. Not because of the "lobby", but because of the community.

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