Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Impeachment Is Redeeming the Blob

| Nov. 14, 2019

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment is responsible for countless woes—but the impeachment proceedings prove parts of it are better than others.

The congressional hearings investigating whether U.S. President Donald Trump should be impeached have riveted onlookers' attention on a group of government officials who have thus far provided abundant evidence of presidential misconduct. As is often the case with Trump, some of the most damning evidence comes from his own lips—read the transcript!—or from the mouth of his truth-challenged attorney Rudy Giuliani. The whole sordid business came to light when an intelligence professional assigned to the National Security Council blew the whistle on Trump's efforts to extort personal political favors from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Since then, the whistleblower's account has been confirmed by a widening circle of civil servants, foreign service officers, decorated military officers, and a couple of Trump's own appointees.

For Trump's defenders, of course, all this testimony is evidence not of the president's guilt, but of a nefarious deep state conspiracy intended to thwart and oust a visionary president. You might think I'd be sympathetic to this otherwise improbable line of defense, insofar as my book The Hell of Good Intentions highlights the negative impact the foreign policy elite (aka "the Blob") has had on U.S. foreign policy. In particular, Chapter 6 of the book argues that the Blob has gone to some lengths to keep Trump from implementing the full "America First" program he advocated in 2016, aided in no small part by Trump's character deficiencies and general incompetence. So is the Blob now trying to stage a coup?

Nope. But together with my experiences talking about the book in public over the past year and teaching it to my students at the Harvard Kennedy School, this episode has led me to rethink some of what I wrote in my book. Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't change any of the book's core arguments, conclusions, or recommendations. But no piece of scholarship is perfect, and honest scholars ought to admit it when their thinking evolves over time. That's how the scholarly enterprise is supposed to work: We do our research, write it up, and publish it, and then it gets praised, challenged, criticized (and worse of all, sometimes ignored). Ideas and arguments that other scholars deem worthy get incorporated into the literature; arguments that do not stand up to scrutiny get rejected or revised. In theory at least, the field advances over time, and we all get collectively smarter or at least better informed....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Impeachment Is Redeeming the Blob.” Foreign Policy, November 14, 2019.

The Author

Stephen Walt