False Sourcing. The Unfortunate Ubiquity of Think Tanks.

Israeli F-15s
Israeli F-15s



NPR featured an article that exposes a supposed Israeli plan to attack Iran before the United States elections. What shocked me about Tom Gjelten’ s story was that the meat of it was anecdotal information feeds from think tanks and policy wonks, “friends in the Israeli government…” the typical false sourcing that has become truth. Perhaps this is giving them too much credit. But wars have been ginned up by think tanks and policy wonks before. Consider the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Now Mearsheimer and Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy describe WINEP this way: “Although WINEP plays down its links to Israel and claims that it provides a ‘balanced and realistic’ perspective on Middle East issues, this is not the case. In fact, WINEP is funded and run by individuals who are deeply committed to advancing Israel’s agenda … Many of its personnel are genuine scholars or experienced former officials, but they are hardly neutral observers on most Middle East issues and there is little diversity of views within WINEP’s ranks.”


I suppose one of the things I have notice over the past twenty years in the influence of think tanks, and the fact that most of them are little more than organizations funded for and by people with a very narrow agenda. They are never really about “studies”. They are about creating a sort of pitch theater for policy, many of these policy papers have laser focused agenda that typically dovetails nicely with a profit center. Let’s convince people that fossil fuels are not hurting the environment in return for funding from fossil fuel providers. This is called scholarly. Instead of just forwarding informed opinions, they are disguised as university like venues where information and insights are regarded objectively, methodically and with a sense of forthright responsibility.


Peter Pan is more factual.


Think tanks are often little more than puppet universities, echo chambers that look for better ways of marketing ideas, not vetting them. Facts are commodities to be manipulated and exploited to support a pre-existing point of view. Their methodology is a language like the Klingon language that few people understand but are nonetheless impressed upon hearing it spoken.


I hate to be so cynical. But for anyone to take this “discussion” seriously is missing the point. It pains me that the New York Times and the Washington Post frequently go to the think tank well for juicy quotes and analyses. I guess it’s because I don’t believe any of those analyses and I am a bit old fashioned about who becomes an expert and how. Watching Michael Hanlon sit in a Pave Hawk and emerge a military expert writing papers on US policy just gives me chills.


So when Dan Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Neat East Policy says there is a 50% chance of an Israeli attack on Iran before the election, this is just ginning up a war by people who will profit from the conflict not bleed in it.


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