You Might Be a Blobster If...

If you find yourself defining anything other than military action as “inaction” or “doing nothing,” you might be a Blobster.

Bob Wright does a good job of working out a detailed definition of what critics of the foreign policy “Blob” mean when they talk about it. His list of the “inclinations exhibited by blobsters” covers most of what I would include: threat inflation, Manichaeism, American exceptionalism, meddling, naïve do-goodism, and hypocrisy when it comes to international laws and norms. I would add four more related assumptions that the typical member of the “Blob” takes for granted.

1) If you think that the U.S. is the “indispensable nation” and therefore must involve itself in virtually every quarrel all around the world, you might be a Blobster.

2) If you find yourself defining anything other than military action as “inaction” or “doing nothing,” you might be a Blobster. See the debate over U.S. Syria policy for the most obvious examples.

3) If you tend to characterize any military withdrawal anywhere as evidence of America’s “turning inward” or “isolationist streak,” you are definitely a Blobster. Just think back to the arguments over withdrawing from Afghanistan to get an idea of what I mean.

4) If you believe that the U.S. only acts defensively in the world and that it is never responsible for provoking hostility from other states and peoples, you are a Blobster.

These assumptions make it very difficult to set realistic goals and to devise appropriate policies to reach them. The belief in American indispensability makes it difficult if not impossible for the U.S. to set priorities and stick with them, because it is constantly flitting off in different directions in an attempt to “put out” (i.e., fuel) the latest brushfire somewhere. The faulty definition of action means that the U.S. tends to rely on military options far too often and entangle itself in too many armed conflicts. The resistance to withdrawal under any circumstances makes it difficult to cut losses and admit failure no matter how obvious that failure may be. The absurd belief that ending a given war has something to do with embracing “isolationism” or “turning inward” keeps the U.S. at war in too many places for far too long when a smart strategy would have liquidated that commitment much earlier.

The false belief that the U.S. never commits aggression makes our leaders too quick to endorse military intervention and it blinds our policymakers to the harmful effects of our interventions. The unwillingness to acknowledge our policies’ role in stoking anti-American hostility leads to mistaken conclusions that other nations are opposed to us because of who we are rather than because of what we have done to them, and that usually creates impediments to diplomatic engagement and normal relations.

As Wright says, the “Blob” “is a grave threat to America’s and the world’s future,” and the reason why it is such a threat is that it encourages and reinforces these destructive habits in policymaking that produce horrific results in many countries. That brings us to one more characteristic of the “Blob” that is the most dangerous because it is the hardest to change: an ingrained aversion to admitting error and learning from it.

Any group of policymakers and analysts is bound to get things wrong, sometimes badly wrong. When you have an unaccountable class that never pays any professional price for plunging the country into disasters, the incentive to learn from past errors is weak. This practically guarantees that they will keep making the same errors based on the same faulty assumptions. When core assumptions are treated as if they were articles of faith rather than something that can be tested and improved, learning from past errors becomes a danger to be avoided.

When members of the “Blob” defend their record, they usually do so by bracketing their biggest, most destructive errors as “mistakes” that supposedly don’t tell us anything about the merits of their core assumptions. What we need to remember is that those “mistakes” are really crimes and those crimes stem from the hubris, groupthink, and militarism of the people that advocated for them. It is not enough for them to acknowledge the “mistake” and then go back to business as usual, because they will simply apply the same hubris, groupthink, and militarism to the next country on the list of places to be “shaped” by our “leadership.”