Principles for the Met Society - Iconoclasm and The Establishment

By Peter Marino

I started the Met Society because I wanted to create a place where a new generation of thoughtful Americans could define and lay out a new vision of the US in the world, free from the assumptions and restrictions on thinking that are bound up in the way things are done now

Does the US - or the WORLD - really need American global military primacy the way we have it now? Is it really not possible to imagine a world without it, or in some different form?

Are we really so foundationally confident that there’s no other viable way to ensure the security of the country or the globe without this massive, and staggeringly expensive apparatus?

Is it really not possible to imagine any other way to organize global political order than the way we have it now? Are the institutions we have now really working so well that we’re willing to leave them untouched except for around the margins?

Is there really no viable institutional or intellectual alternative at any level? Or is it simply that the existing ones have worked well enough for long enough that we haven’t gone looking?

I don’t think it would surprise you to hear that I think there are better answers out there. But at the very least, I think this all deserves a debate.

The problem is that these questions are so far on the fringe that you risk ostracism from the club of Very Serious People for even raising them. This is a big part of why there’s no Plan B for the global order right now.

This was a big challenge in starting this group. I wanted a think tank that was innovative enough to pose the radical questions, but organized internally in a way that was comfortingly familiar, so as not to alienate the gatekeepers whose influence we would need to be taken seriously.

That was the plan, anyway

However, it’s now becoming apparent to me that this is creating a tension that I didn’t think would be so intense or so difficult to resolve.

And while it has been building for a few months, it was really the events of this past weekend that put it, to me, beyond dispute, and in need of resolution.

Simply put, it has become obvious that the scope of the serious debate is so stultifyingly narrow that it’s just not possible to do what it was that set out to do in the beginning.

Why?

 

During the campaign last year, Trump (whom I emphatically and unapologetically did not support), challenged the underlying wisdom of more or less every tenet of US global policy leadership

NATO? Obsolete! Russia? Should be a friend! Humanitarian intervention? Waste of time! Nuclear nonproliferation? Who needs it?! Japanese alliance? Eh.

I disagreed not only with the inflection of the questions, and with the answers he offered, but was pleased that the questions were at least being raised.

Having to articulate new, meaningful answers to them would bolster the strength of the system

I thought it would also give the Met Society a great structured opening to participate in coming up with new ideas while still maintaining the respect of the influential people within it - silly me

At the time, though, my expectation was that he would lose. And so, the problem I was preparing for was that the mere act of raising these questions would end up becoming tarred by association with a neophyte megalomaniac presidential loser for another generation

Instead, he won

 

And it has struck me that in the months since both the election and the inauguration, the foreign policy establishment has worked overtime to try to achieve exactly what I worried was going to happen if he lost - to devalue the questions themselves

But over the past ten days, a few things have come to pass that suggest that this is exactly what is happening.

First, a forward-deployed US Destroyer launched a missile strike against Syria, a strikingly familiar sight, done in a very familiar way, emphatically supported by men and women who had spent much of the last year excoriating him for his foreign policy. All it took was one missile strike to change their tone, including - yes - Hillary Clinton

It’s hard to imagine a better indicator of just how acceptable to the establishment a Trump policy has become than seeing Hillary Clinton endorse it

This was quickly followed up with a swath of standard-issue bellicose rhetoric on North Korea, continuing the American oscillation between the diplomatic containment and disarmament approaches of the Democratic presidents with the more aggressive, force-centric positioning of the Republican presidents.

And while Trump may have gone mildly beyond the norm in his insinuation of imminent war, the overall approach remains deeply familiar.

The election of Trump to the Presidency should have been a chastening experience for the Foreign Policy establishment, an opportunity for those same Very Serious People to re-examine some of their assumptions and take a long hard look in the mirror

I don’t see it. In fact, I see the reverse. To the Very Serious People of the Foreign Affairs world, the boundaries of the acceptable are what they are and that’s that.

To go any further is to mark yourself as unsuitable to participate, even if you happen to be the President

 

Therefore, we here at The Met Society will stop concerning ourselves with the opinions of the Very Serious People. If they cannot endure the most public, potent and influential criticism of their assumptions and incorporate it into their debate, then we will create a new debate

We will say what we think, and encourage those who write with us to do likewise. We will criticize not simply individual policy decisions, but the thinking that drives them.

We will endeavor to suggest not minor tweaks, but full shifts in thinking. We will work to examine assumptions, provide alternatives and share potent critiques

The intensity of the moment demands more of us than simply more of the same. It demands a willingness to speak boldly enough that it risks derision from those who say they know better

The world we have is not the only one that is possible. The interests we have are not the only ones that must be had in perpetuity.

 

The options we have are more abundant than we think. Let us explore them.