Michael Tomasky, writing in the UK's Guardian today, hits the nail on the head:
This is another one of those very "serious" weeks in Washington, when we put aside matters like senators skulking about in men's rooms and turn our attention to the life-and-death questions as General David Petraeus testifies to Congress on the progress of the surge in Iraq. Our concern here is not the testimony itself, since it's been obvious for some time that Petraeus will say that the surge is showing sufficient signs of success for Congress to continue funding the war.Great stuff.
Cynosure though he will be today, Petraeus in fact has only a limited role to play in seeing to it that the US continue its mad engagement. The stars of that dispiriting drama will be the phalanx of foreign policy experts based in Washington, who will, in the wake of the general's testimony, fan out across the cable channels and op-ed pages, arguing that giving the surge one more chance is the only "serious" option.
These, you see, are the "serious" foreign policy people. It's good work if you can get it. You may be thinking that you become a serious foreign policy person by often being right about foreign policy. But this just shows how little you know about how these things work.
No - you become a serious foreign-policy person in Washington by dint of meeting two criteria. First, you should adopt the most hawkish position you can plausibly adopt, so that you come across as appropriately "tough-minded". Second, you must note what all the other serious foreign policy people are saying and take care to ensure that your position is sufficiently indistinguishable from theirs for you to be lumped in with them when the time comes for the Washington Post to write a group profile of Washington's serious tough-minded foreign policy people.
...A friend immersed in the foreign policy world once described to me the enormous pressure that people in that orbit felt to support the war in 2002-03. The status quo then: back military force, especially when a president is advocating it, and don't take a position that could remotely be construed as soft-headed, post-Vietnam liberalism. The status quo today? Not much different, really. The American people desperately want the war to end as soon as possible. But it isn't up to them. It's up to the experts. Seriously.