Greg Scoblete describes the reality of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus:
This consensus is treated as if it simply reflects a self-evident reality about U.S. interests, or portrayed as the result of careful, bi-partisan deliberation. The Hagel hearings exploded that myth.
Instead, we saw first hand that the bi-partisan consensus is sustained because policymakers with career ambitions can’t really afford to deviate from it without risk to their career. It’s an incentive structure that selects for conformity.
One thing I would add to this is that the conformity that is being demanded of politicians and officials doesn’t have much of anything to do with an informed understanding of the relevant issues. As Scott pointed out in his post last week, adhering to the consensus view seems to require flat-out rejection of weighing different policy options. It doesn’t seem to matter whether a person has reached the “right” conclusion at the end of his deliberation. Evidently, the process of reaching that conclusion must not involve entertaining or considering anything besides the “right” answer, and if it has that becomes grounds for suspicion. It’s not just that the consensus view isn’t the product of careful deliberation, but that careful deliberation itself is taken as a sign of possibly unacceptable deviationism.
It’s no wonder that adherents of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus end up supporting so many counterproductive and destructive policies. Politicians are not able to take dissenting views without suffering political damage, but even worse than that they’re apparently not even allowed to consider alternatives on the way to endorsing the consensus view. This is exactly the sort of conformity that impoverished the debate over the invasion of Iraq, and it is constantly driving the debate on Iran policy towards the most confrontational and dangerous options.