Few entities have been more discombobulated by our madcap president than the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which former Obama foreign-policy adviser Ben Rhodes once dubbed “the blob.”
Donald Trump assaulted the blob with his “America First” posture and his explicit indictment of the “corrupt establishment.” In the campaign, he scorned NATO as “obsolete,” praised Putin, indicted the waste of $6 trillion in the Middle East, and denounced our failed trade deals.
As president, he’s continued the assault. He has indicated no preference for a two-state or one-state “solution” for Israel and the Palestinians. He undermined our “One China policy” before re-affirming it. He pulled the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. He alienated allies across the Middle East with his two Muslim bans. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is literally home alone at the State Department, as top posts remain unfilled across the national-security bureaucracy.
And it hasn’t even been two months. From the upholstered libraries and plush dining rooms of the foreign-policy establishment, Trump’s antics elicit gasps of alarm, murmurs of disbelief, complaints of indigestion and dyspepsia.
The blob struck back last month. The Brookings Institution released a report called “Building Situations of Strength: A National Security Strategy for the United States,” written by a bipartisan committee of the impeccably credentialed—eight men, two women, all white. They include George Bush’s former security advisor, Stephen Hadley; neoconservative guru Robert Kagan; Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff; and counter-insurgency enthusiast Michele Flournoy. The report offers a concise summary of the conventional wisdom of the beleaguered foreign policy elites—and it doesn’t appear they learned anything.
Trump’s shocking electoral victory over the establishment’s candidate, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, demonstrated the public’s disapproval of our current course. So what fundamental strategic adjustments do the foreign-policy nabobs recommend? In a word: nada.
Iraq has made them more timorous about another major land war, but otherwise the report’s authors want to stay the course because the United States is the indispensable nation: “No other nation or actor is capable of replacing the United States as the leader of the international order.”
Abandoning “traditional US support for the international order” would “encourage revisionist states to destabilize Europe, East Asia and the Middle East,” “reduce economic growth,” “leave us vulnerable to a new financial crisis,” and damage efforts to deal with “terrorism, nuclear proliferation and climate change.”