No matter how it turns out, the 2020 election will be a turning point for the United States’ position in the world.
President Trump has broken with decades of U.S. foreign policy based on multilateral alliances, free trade agreements, and military intervention. He has scorned the intelligence agencies and largely jettisoned the inter-agency process that has guided U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.
A key question for Democratic candidates is how would they deal with the national security policymaking elite in Washington, dubbed ‘The Blob’ by former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes. The Blob abhors Trump’s ad hoc, transactional approach to geopolitics and favors a return to the status quo of the Bush-Obama years.
The Blob is not a conspiracy theory. It is useful shorthand for a recognizable and powerful class of people in Washington: the former officials, analysts, diplomats, writers and military officers who develop and espouse U.S. foreign policy options.
They are the intelligentsia of the national security sector. They do not run the secret military and intelligence agencies that wage war around the world. Rather they write the policies for the leaders of those agencies and the president.
[Background: See The Blob, by David Klion in The Nation.]
They are an exclusive group, but they are not a secret cabal. They work at Washington think tanks (eg Atlantic Council, Center for New American Security or Brookings) and elite institutions (Harvard, Fletcher School, National Defense University) and consulting firms. They talk to each other and to reporters. They opine on cable TV talk shows. And until Trump came along they rotated in and out of government positions.
Politically, the membership in The Blob ranges from the center-left to the far right, from multilateral liberals to “realists” to hawkish neoconservatives. While they have had deep differences, they (and their sometimes secretive funders) have collectively promoted a consistent, if not wise, set of policies that have defined the United States in the world over the last 30 years. To the man and woman, they abhor Trump because he abhors the policy process that is their profession.
Trump has shown that a radical break with the national security elite is acceptable, or at least not disqualifying, to about 40 percent of voters.
His successor among the 2020 Democrats will face the choice of returning to status quo ante before Trump took office or charting a new direction.
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