New evidence confirms the Blob’s hawkishness
Proximity to Washington leads to more support for military intervention
Washington’s foreign policy circle is a famously tight network. Comprising government officials, academics, and think tanks, this group (known as the ‘Blob‘) has developed a reputation for hawkishness and support for high levels of military spending.
There are hundreds of think tanks based in Washington, making it difficult to tell where the policy comes from: the White House or unelected officials. During the Reagan era, for example, there were almost 200 employees at conservative think tanks who served as government officials or consultants for his administration. But what do they actually believe?
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New research by Richard Hanania and Max Abrahms has found that think tanks are much more hawkish than International Relations scholars, even controlling for ideology.
Taking a comprehensive survey of the most influential scholars and top 20 think tanks, the two researchers discovered that the closer a think tank employee was to power (both geographically and professionally), the more likely they were to be militarily interventionist. According to Hanania and Abrahms, for all the think tanks located within three miles of Capitol Hill, every mile further away is associated with a -0.48 deviation in militant internationalism:
The researchers posit that the reason for this is the increased likelihood of socialisation with government officials:
So why is the foreign policy community more hawkish generally? Hanania and Abrahms give three answers: self-selection, institution-selection and knowledge-based:
The Ukraine war has been something of a renaissance for the Blob. But this research should serve as an important reminder to Washington foreign policy officials that not everyone thinks alike — even if all think tank employees do.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Eisenhower.
The machinery now tells us what to think, and we think it.
To be fair, there is another way of looking at this data. It may be that proximity to power causes hawkishness because it makes people more aware of the real threats the country faces. In other words, un-blobby academic eggheads may just be ignorant of the actual state of the world and the threats America faces.
I’m not sure this is true. It fits my temperament to believe the blob is needlessly hawkish for self-serving reasons. But in all honesty, they could just have better data.
The fact that people are for military intervention isn’t anywhere near as much of a problem as the ways in which they wind up getting us to intervene. We use our armed forces to do things they are not trained or equipped to do, often without any clear idea of what we’re trying to accomplish. At some point during the past eight decades we’ve forgotten how to determine an achievable objective and then achieve it. We’ve lost the capacity for strategic thought and we’ve forgotten how to win.
Look at how we’re handling Ukraine. Avoiding direct confrontation with Russia makes sense, but a lot of what we’re doing, or not doing, does not. Putin spent several months positioning forces along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus, and long before that he’d tell anyone who would listen that Ukraine was really part of Russia and had no business acting like an independent nation. We knew what he was getting ready to do. Why didn’t we arm the Ukrainians before he did it? Why are we, to this day, letting them have a lot but not all that they need to win?
You are correct that we’ve lost the capacity for strategic thought
If you had proposed a massive armaments build up before Putin invaded every ‘moderate’ (left of centre?) politician and journalist would have been up in arms.
As soon as Putin invaded the cry ‘We must defend the Ukrainians’ was heard loudest from all the same actors.
His troops, both enlisted and officers, didn’t know they were going to invade. Had we armed Ukraine, Putin could have used this as a pretext to invade, whilst gaining additonal international support. Finally, both Putin and the CIA believed that Zelensky would fold and run away. I believe our response was entirely proportionate given the situation.
Britain and the US had been training the Ukrainians ever since Crimea was stolen. However I think most believed that Zelensky would flee and the Russians would coast to victory in Ukraine, so the west understandably didn’t want lots of advanced weapons to fall into Russian hands if that was the case. Now it appears a Ukrainian military collapse is much more unlikely the western nations have been much happier to give Ukraine much more firepower
But as much as we’re providing now it always manages to be too little too late. Example: We’re finally giving them Patriot missiles (a single battery apparently), but it will take months to properly train Ukrainian soldiers to operate and maintain it. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians keep getting blasted out of their homes. You have a point about what the consequences of arming them before the invasion might have been (though if they had been sufficiently armed they might not have been invaded in the first place). But the fact that we’re still quibbling over what does and does not constitute appropriate defensive weapons (any weapon you used to defend yourself is a defensive weapon) after all this time is hard for me to take – much harder for the Ukrainians, no doubt.
There’s a lot of truth in what you say, maybe if the Ukrainians had been able to repel the invasion of Crimea and control the Russians in Donbas we wouldn’t now be in this situation, unfortunately you can’t change the past.
Rather cynically I’d say NATO wasn’t particularly worried about Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, it’s only when a full scale occupation looked likely which would have pushed an aggressive Putin regime right up to NATOs borders that they decided to become involved
”Why are we, to this day, letting them have a lot but not all that they need to win?
Because this WWIII is nothing to do with freedom, democracy, or Ukraine. This – Biden’s War – is entirely politico/economic Neo-Con New World Order.
It is the Orwellian endless war – it is to make war effect outcomes elsewhere, it is an evil war and we should have stayed out of it – it never was in our vital interests, and now it is causing vast harms – and so obviously that is what the ones involved want, for some reason.
I’d throw a few more cliches into your responses in future if I were you, it really adds to whatever point you’re trying to make
Yes, he uses too many contemporary buzzwords, but otherwise he’s quite correct.
Globalist, Leftist, Neo-Cons run the world, and so they are in the heart of the beast.
Interesting, if not suprising. I guess we already know the regression line relating “closeness to Washington” and “love of money printing.”
This would be censored in the U.S. media of course.
I think the ‘blob’ stuff a failure in descriptive, clear writing. ‘I can’t properly describe my wacko theory so I’ll just call it a blob-thing and half the audience will nod without thought’ etc.
As regards geographical contention – bet we’d find the same pattern in just about every developed countries capital near the centre of Govt. No ‘sh*t sherlock’ type stuff.
And as regards being more hawkish – didn’t the US pull out of Afghanistan in a rush last year? Has the US intervened anywhere in the last 20yrs to the degree it did 2001-03?
From across the Atlantic it’s looks more measured and conservative. Better balanced than under Trump as you never quite knew what was going to happen. But if anything still a little reticent about more direct intervention esp Ukraine/Taiwan.
NATO/US are now fighting a war with Russia, they are planning a war with Iran, they are still involved in Syria. don’t be surprised if they remove MBS in Saudi Arabia
The neocons will never stop
NATO fighting a war with Russia? In an indirect way, yes, but v good too. Moment in history when essential. I v much hope we give Zelensky even more help to do the job.
Planning a war with Iran? No, but the Supreme Leader and Republican Guard will be, so that they have cover to slaughter their internal enemies who are rebelling since the murder of Mahsa Amini. So one would hope Central Command is preparing for this.
Syria? The involvement a fraction of that of Putin, but it is a desperately difficult and complex region with multiple players and enemies and allies. NATO/US have minimal boots on the ground and it’ll stay that way.
MBS removal – v unlikely although little time for the despot. Realpolitik means he has to be suffered, and any Iranian aggression will throw US and Saudi together.
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