I appreciate Matt's extended reflection on careerist motivations in the foreign policy community; I've often felt that he's very quick to leap to the "professional incentives" explanation for some argument or another, and it's interesting to see his thoughts laid out at length on the subject. I think that his argument is strongest when he writes:

People aren't bribed into changing their views. But people know that if they have a view on some topic that's impolitic to express, the smart thing to do is find some different issue to talk about. So you wind up with Michael O'Hanlon and Kurt Campbell writing a book which says we've over-militarized our foreign policy, but that nonetheless concludes that there's no case for cuts in overall defense expenditure and no planned weapons systems that should be eliminated. Similarly, if you take the view that the view that there's neither a strong national interest case, nor a strong case from universal morality, for making Israel the largest recipient of US foreign aid spending, you find a topic other than US aid to Israel to write and speak about.



In other words, careerism doesn't shape what people write so much as it shapes what they don't write. I certainly notice this in my own writing: I can't think of any opinions I've expressed that I didn't wholeheartedly believe (at least at the moment I expressed them), but I can certainly think of opinions that have gone unexpressed because I'm more circumspect about what lines I cross (and what people I risk offending) than perhaps I should be. And I'm a wannabe pundit, with a much weaker set of "don't break ranks" career incentives than someone who's angling for a government job.

But this is a complicated issue, of course, because sometimes a kind of careerism is the better part of valor: If you have an opinion that will push you beyond the pale of whatever circle you hope to influence, then it's not always obvious that expressing that opinion is the right way to go. This is more true for politicians than for policy wonks, and more true for wonks than pundits, and for pundits in the age of the blogosphere, which has widened the spectrum of "acceptable" debate a bit, it's less true than it used to be. And of course, it depends on how important the issue in question happens to be, and how settled the debate on the question is. I wouldn't think less of a conservative think-tanker hoping for a job that requires Senate confirmation for keeping his views on, say, the gold standard or the constitutionality of Brown vs. Board of Education to himself; on the other hand, if you were a left-of-center foreign policy analyst who thought the Iraq War was an awfully bad idea and didn't say so, I think it's fair to say that your "discretion" erred too much on the side of careerism.

This goes, in a way, to a point I stuttered through in my conversation with Jon Chait, about whether Bill Kristol's arguments about the surge should be taken as examples of bad-faith punditry. As I said to Jon, certainly Kristol's writings of late are intended to serve a political purpose - to build support for the current military strategy in Iraq at a time when it finds few defenders - as well as an analytic one, and so they aren't the right place to turn if you're looking for a fair and balanced take on Petraeus's progress in Iraq, or the activities of war critics at home. But I don't see any reason to think that Kristol doesn't believe, fiercely, in the course he's arguing for; I don't think there's some double or triple game going on when he attacks the Democrats as defeatist and insists that the surge is making progress. (The same goes, incidentally, for his much-discussed praise for Hillary: As Matt says, the simplest explanation - that as a hawk, he naturally gravitates toward the most hawkish Dem - is almost certainly the right one.)

Whereas I do think that there's something slightly more bad faith-ish involved in how TNR is approaching the surge these days. Magazines as well as individuals keep quiet in some spheres in the hopes of building their influence in others, and that seems to be what TNR is doing; supporting the surge sotto voce (in an editorial that praises the gridlock that's allowing it to go forward more than it praises the strategy itself), while focusing most of their journalistic energies on other topics. Which would be fine, if the debate over the surge were like the debate over, say, campaign finance reform - important and worth-having but hardly a matter of life and death. But it is a matter of life and death. If TNR no longer supports the current military strategy, they should say so publicly and loudly; if they do support it, but don't like Bill Kristol's arguments in favor of it (I'm sure they don't like this one), they should start making their own.

Update: And yes, in a way this is hypocritical of me, since I couldn't tell you exactly what my position on the surge is. But I'm a person, not a political magazine.

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