Ive walked the path in both worlds and I have a disturbing revelation: Academics often have smarter and more informed conceptions of foreign policy than the lanyards who work ‘in the field’ directly.
This is *not* to say that academics are not often utterly deluded themselves. They are often too in love with theory and models that do not apply to the chaos and moral neutrality of reality. But in a direct comparison with an average academic in the field and an average foreign policy lanyard I have to say 9/10 the academic will come out on top. Why?
Because even though being an academic *often* results in being utterly consumed by an ideology or cause, its not always. Also it means constantly being challenged by colleagues who do not share the same intellectual background (unless of course one is a postmodernist who thinks everyone can magically be right ‘in their own way’). In the case of the lanyard ghoul, however, it almost always means being surrounded by utterly like minded individuals and never being challenged professionally on anything that isn’t simply topical to preexisting assumptions. Indeed, there may be social pressure not the rock the boat. It also means being ensconced inside a hive that believes itself to be post-ideological when in fact it is anything but and that therefore all criticism must be ‘extremist’ even if it is extremely factually grounded.
I think a good and calculating instinct with a background of being historically and geographically well informed is key, but if I couldn’t have that I would still take an absent minded professor over a self described professional ‘wonk’ who uncritically totes the main line they were basically indoctrinated with since childhood any day. Such people will be the death of us all.