The importance of the foreign-policy elite

By Laurie Bennett

October 20, 2016 at 6:00am

Surprisingly, in a debate addressing international affairs, the word “elite” was never uttered Wednesday night.

Yet the foreign policy elite is at the heart of how differently Trump and Clinton approach global relationships. As a former secretary of State, Clinton embraces the intertwined network of diplomats, security experts and think tank wonks. Trump rejects them as having made the world a more dangerous place.

The interactive Muckety map above shows part of the foreign-relations aristocracy - former State officials from both parties, and prominent organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council.

It’s a group that has been outspoken in its worries about a Trump White House - worries that were borne out in Trump’s comments and demeanor during the debate.

Trump repeated his financial concerns about NATO: “We’re protecting people, they have to pay up. And I’m a big fan of NATO. But they have to pay up.”

He failed to denounce Russia and denied any knowledge that it was behind the Wikileaks hacks: “I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.”

And then came the puppet exchange, which we don’t want to relive. (You are! No, you are!)

He ascribed the current Mosul offensive as an attempt to bolster Clinton’s chances in the election: “The only reason they did it is because she’s running for the office of president and they want to look tough.”

It was a performance that echoed the warnings in a letter penned in August by 50 former Republican national security officials, who declared that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history.”

Trump responded by saying that the signers of the letter were just “the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power.”

The existence of this aristocracy is a good thing, argues James Traub, who wrote a provocatively titled piece for Foreign Policy called “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses.”

Trump, he writes, has set a new standard for appealing to voters’ anger and fear about globalization:

The Republican Party, already rife with science-deniers and economic reality-deniers, has thrown itself into the embrace of a man who fabricates realities that ignorant people like to inhabit.

Did I say “ignorant”? Yes, I did. It is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them. Is that “elitist”? Maybe it is; maybe we have become so inclined to celebrate the authenticity of all personal conviction that it is now elitist to believe in reason, expertise, and the lessons of history. If so, the party of accepting reality must be prepared to take on the party of denying reality, and its enablers among those who know better.

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