While his point his way off that the “U.S. faces no serious security threats,” former Senator Dodd staffer Michael Cohen’s observation that “the push for bipartisan consensus in foreign policy is a dumb idea” is spot on.
Comity may make for good foreign affairs, but it makes for bad national politics. At times of great national or international emergency, political leaders from opposing parties close ranks and speak with one voice on these matters, such as after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But there should always be a robust diversity of views between and within the political parties about America’s role in the world.
For many years the foreign policy establishment, and there is such a thing that I’ll leave for another post, has lobbied in the shadows to dull the differences between the political parties on matters such as foreign policy and defense. The result is an empowered bureaucratic class at the State Department, as well as other agencies, that has learned to work around political appointees for the “greater good of the country,” whatever that means.
Many political appointees just give up trying robustly defend the President’s agenda once in office. Those that do not, prepare to face the consequences. Folks such as former UN Secretary John Bolton come to mind as does the former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Otto Reich.
It is also big business. There is an entire foreign policy industry in Washington, DC and New York that feeds into this system in order to make a lot of money from consulting by self-appointed foreign policy and national security experts. If your a political appointee that makes a lot of enemies while in office, you may not be invited to that special club after your stint. Academics and think tanks also live off this “greater good” mindset because their donors demand it because it is good for business. Attend any D.C.-based conference from this group and you’ll soon understand what mind-numbing feels like.
The taxpayers are on the losing side of this. Diversity of opinions and robust oversight is not only for domestic issues such as ObamaCare, but should forcefully extend to all matters including foreign policy, national security, and defense. The Congress, especially the Senate, bears a large amount of the blame for some of this.
For example, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ceased doing oversight in after the venerable Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) retired in 2001. The Committee has become a debate club for aspiring and arm chair Secretaries of State. One of the most effective SFRC Chairmen in modern times, Helms understood the the “greater good” was usually not in the U.S. national interest. And he freququentely wielded his power to remind the establishment of it.
There is a lot more to say on this. But you get the general picture, things need to change in this policy arena.
Be sure to read Cohen’s “Can’t Well All Just Not Get Along?” post.