More and Better Think Tanks

Readers have no doubt noticed that I've gotten in the habit of throwing brickbats in the direction of the Brookings Institution's work on Iraq and the Middle East (it's a very big institution and I don't want to over-generalize since the dynamics of different programs seem very different to me) but as Ilan Goldenberg points out in a well-argued post, while this stuff makes for good blog-fodder it doesn't ultimate change anything. Rather, as he says:

Ultimately, the problem with the liberal VSP community has less to do with being “serious” and more to do with institutions On the right, groups such as AEI and Heritage act as a conservative VSP machine that systematically nurtures and promotes its experts. On the left, there are not enough mechanisms for picking out the best scholars, elevating their work and increasing their media profile. We all assume that because so many liberal experts sit inside CFR and Brookings, these institutions should play that role, but it’s not what they were set up to do. Heritage and AEI are there to push an agenda. Brookings and CFR are meant to be purely idea factories, without a coherent advocacy strategy.

Right. We now have a couple of institutions, most notably the Center for American Progress, but also the smaller National Security Network where Ilan works and some extent the things Steve Clemons has done at the New America Foundation that are capable of pushing a coherent progressive approach to national security issues (the newish Center for a New American Security is also potentially promising, though I'm a bit skeptical). What we need, in essence, are more institutions like that, and more capacity at the institutions we have. Meanwhile, there are plenty of good people lurking inside the corridors of Brookings and other shops and, in a world with a bigger and better progressive ideas infrastructure, those people might be situated inside places where they can work more effectively.

At any rate, there's been a great deal of progressive infrastructure building in Washington and around the country over the past five years or so, but considering that 9/11 and Iraq have been the defining political events of the current era, remarkably little of it has gone into national security issues.