Some op-ed columnists at either end of the political spectrum are crass partisans who merely preach to the converted and whose conclusions can be predicted even before reading them. Paul Krugman comes to mind. Other columnists are consistently interesting and non-dogmatic; David Brooks and Fred Hiatt are exemplars of this (lamentably rare) category. But then there is a third type of columnist, comprising the ones who are frustratingly inconsistent, veering between original insights and ideological blinders. David Ignatius falls into this category, and his most recent column is a case in point.
It begins with the apt observation that the United States confronts a worrisome contradiction: growing security threats abroad and growing isolationist sentiment at home. In his words, "The crackup ahead lies in the mismatch between the challenges facing America and the public's willingness to support activist foreign policy to deal with them. Simply put: There is a splintering of the traditional consensus for global engagement at the very time that some big new problems are emerging."
Ignatius then suggests a sensible, though hardly profound, proposal: the creation of a bipartisan commission of emerging foreign-policy leaders to think creatively about new foreign-policy ideas and help mobilize public support for more robust American international engagement abroad. (Though as an aside, his invocation of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group as a model is a head-scratcher, given that if Baker-Hamilton's recommendations had been followed in 2007, Iraq would have very likely descended into complete state collapse. Instead, President George W. Bush largely ignored Baker-Hamilton and implemented the surge policy that put Iraq on a much better trajectory by the administration's end).
In Ignatius's words, "a new generation of thinkers could form the bipartisan group I'm imagining." He then lists an impressive collection of names, all of whom are plausible candidates and some of whom, such as Jared Cohen, I am happy to count as friends.
But Ignatius must have pressed "send" too quickly on his op-ed draft. Because the list of names he proposes for this allegedly "bipartisan" commission is composed entirely of Barack Obama supporters, Obama administration officials, and two people who served as advisors to both the Obama and Bush administrations. It is "bipartisan" without the "bi." And it is hard to imagine how such a commission could appeal to a broad swath of the American public if it represented only one end of the political spectrum.
Ignatius enjoys an enthusiastic readership at this White House, so if the Obama administration is considering his proposal to set up this commission, perhaps I can suggest some more center-right names to add to Ignatius's list. For starters, how about Meghan O'Sullivan, Mitchell Reiss, Walter Russell Mead, Juan Zarate, Kristen Silverberg, Jamie Fly, Mike Green, Bob Kagan, Dave McCormick, Kori Schake, Colin Dueck, Mike Singh, and Mike Gerson? That list is just a beginning, of course, and there are many other quality names that could be added.
Besides needing to expand his Rolodex, Ignatius also completely neglects one major factor behind the public's aversion to global engagement: Americans are just reflecting their president's inclinations. As many of us have commented here at Shadow Government, Obama has done very little to generate public support for internationalism and American leadership. This is, after all, the administration of "leading from behind," of "nation-building at home," of severe cuts to the defense budget, and of disillusioned allies and emboldened adversaries. And it is led by a president who has given remarkably few speeches on international security, who has made no effort to pass trade promotion authority, who has few if any close friends among global leaders, and who has spoken openly of his preference for domestic education policy over national security policy.
If the Ignatius Commission to strengthen American global engagement ever gets created, perhaps its first audience will need to be in the Oval Office.