First there was the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then there was the chorus of disapproval. And then, as is so often the case in American foreign policy, there was the Blob.
“‘The Blob’ turns on Jake,” Alex Thompson and Tina Sfondeles wrote in Politico, referring to President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. And then: “I’ve got to say hats off to the Blob on this whole Afghanistan thing,” the commentator Matthew Yglesias said sarcastically on Twitter. “They couldn’t achieve any of their stated war aims, but they’ve proven they can absolutely wreck you politically.”
What is this Blob of which they speak? What does it have to do with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and whether they can actually govern? And why, like the nebulous malevolent organism in the 1958 horror film with which it shares a name, is it perpetually lurking around, sucking up everything in its path?
The term “Blob” is generally understood to describe members of the mainstream foreign-policy establishment — government officials, academics, Council on Foreign Relations panelists, television talking heads and the like — who share a collective belief in the obligation of the United States to pursue an aggressive, interventionist policy in the post-9/11 world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen in this context as Blob-approved.
term was coined in 2016 by Benjamin J. Rhodes, who was a deputy national security adviser for President Barack Obama at the time. It was not a compliment. Rather, it was a criticism directed at foreign-policy experts with an “unrealistic set of assumptions about what America could do in the world,” Mr. Rhodes, who is now a co-host of the “Pod Save The World” podcast, said in an interview.
“It’s not that people are issued a card with their name on it that identities them as part of the Blob,” he said. But back in 2016, he singled out “Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties,” who, he said, had an unpleasant tendency to “whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order.”
a title intended to tease: “In Defense of the Blob: America’s Foreign Policy Establishment Is the Solution, Not the Problem.”
“What I find troubling about the idea of the Blob is that it taps into this old conspiratorial mind-set about what produces American foreign policy,” Mr. Brands said. “It makes it seem that American foreign policy has been so disastrous and foolish that it must have been foisted on the American people by some elite that doesn’t have their best interests at heart.”
Even Mr. Rhodes realizes that, like the gelatinous alien mass in “The Blob” movie, his creature has grown out of control.
“Everybody since then has sought to define it for their own purposes, including those who want to make it a badge of honor, and those who want to hang it on their opponents,” Mr. Rhodes said.
Maybe, and maybe not.
“Ben Rhodes had a very precise definition, and his definition was ‘people who disagree with me,’ or ‘people who disagree with me and Obama,’” said Mr. Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University.
“And he added onto that a layer of faux populism, as in ‘Woe is me, I’m just a poor assistant to the president trying to speak truth to all these well-entrenched fat cats.’ That is nutty. No one could be more inside the system than the speechwriter for the president.”