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Foreign Policy

Thinking out of the Box

Thinking out of the Box

Think tanks, tasked with providing impetus and direction for policymakers, have consistently led policymakers down precarious roads concerning policy towards Iraq and now Iran.

Colin Powell with Members of the Iraqi Governing Council including Paul Bremer and Dr. Ahmed Chalabi

The influence-peddling think tank phenomenon has no doubt become an integral part of our political landscape. On paper, it’s not hard to see why. They direct public life in a way that is seen as people-centric with the intention of increasing government support for common causes by making legislators more susceptible to popular demand. Global warming, the plight of the poor, and laws protecting us from greedy banks and corporations are the think-tank issues that lead us to believe that they represent the common man.

But in the realm of international relations, particularly in the volatile Middle East, the policies that have long been espoused by leading think-tanks have led into a quagmire with no accountability. And you don’t need to look beyond London or Washington to understand why. Many of the incumbent researchers at think tanks are people with an agenda that they wish to promote in order to influence British and American foreign policy. They colour our view of the world, draw us into foreign adventures and exacerbate already existing problems. This could not be highlighted more than by the homesick Iranian diaspora who yearn for the Iran of their dreams and vie to fill positions in our think tanks and academic institutions on the premise of having great expertise of their native country.

But in truth, these disgruntled exiles almost invariably promote their own personal interests and agendas, often advocating nothing short of violent regime change in Tehran. As a result, there have been thirty years of antagonistic relations, proxy wars, kamikaze attacks, arms-for-hostages, insurgencies and now nuclear brinkmanship. Machiavelli long ago warned us about those who want us to help them return home. The diaspora also influenced pre and post-Saddam Iraqi policy. The debacle of propping up Ahmed Chalabi is a notorious example. Beating the air with fists, scolding and reproaching almost everyone who disagreed with him, he prodded us (with the help of numerous think-tanks) into invading his homeland. He was championed as the Iraqi leader in exile, our guy to rule Iraq.

After successfully sucking the U.S. and the U.K. into a conflict they could neither afford nor sustain, he refused to support any real initiative for peace and transition following the removal of Saddam Hussein unless he was included in any new Iraqi government. After Chalabi failed to consolidate a support base in Iraq and was exposed as corrupt and even wanted in neighbouring Jordan, we then awaited the outcome of a democratic election. What followed was the total collapse of state institutions, the continuation of brutal sectarian atrocities, the rise of Al Qaeda, Iraqis killing Iraqis and the deaths of American and British forces – the very people who had liberated them from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.

It was clear that those who championed peace and prosperity in a post-invasion Iraq did so from a position which betrayed reality. We’ve remained stuck in the Iraqi quagmire of death and destruction ever since. The soon to be completed American pull-out from the country is likely to bring nearly ten years of hard work and sacrifice to a horrible end. The era of traitors getting their salaries from, or at the behest of foreign governments and multimillionaires for whom they lobby, is likely to be perpetuated. They will continue to cunningly play on our ignorance, reciting a few facts that are sugared with rich clichés. Even if they lose the gamble, they bet with some else’s money. Our money!

What is needed is a more informed vision for recruitment and the development of policy. If they wish to refute claims of bias, they need to do a lot more than simply disclose their sources of funding. Think tanks need to be filled with people who wish to contribute to the betterment of world peace and development. They cannot be filled with those who seek self-aggrandizement and/or selfish agendas.

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