One Thing They Can Agree On — They Need to Listen

One Thing They Can Agree On — They Need to Listen


The cross-fertilization began during the Obama administration when A.E.I., which backed the Iraq war, and CAP, which opposed it, started exploring approaches to Iraq’s future.

After 2011, when Mr. Katulis and Ms. Pletka were on opposing sides in a debate over Iran at an Israeli security conference, the joint activities expanded: public appearances here and abroad; meetings with foreign leaders; writing essays; and a book, by Mr. Rubin, Ms. Pletka and Mr. Katulis, on the need for a fundamental rethinking of American foreign policy toward the Middle East.

None of this suggests a homogenization of right-left thinking. The group has many differences over Iraq, the Iran nuclear deal, climate change and President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as shades of gray on topics like military power. “The ground rule is we don’t have to agree with each other at all,” Mr. Rubin said.

Still, the common truths uniting them are more compelling. Like the “moral imperative” that Ms. Pletka says she shares with Mr. Katulis about the need for a coherent policy to deal with the war in Syria, which has killed an estimated 500,000 people. Or their opposition to racist and Islamophobic policies and their support for human rights and for America as a beacon of hope for people fleeing war and oppression. (On this latter topic, Mr. Rubin has some reservations about the criteria used for vetting refugees.) Or the fact, Mr. Singh said, that knowing “we’re all interested in the best things for the country” provides a solid foundation for meaningful arguments.

In general, they see Russia as a threat, value America’s international leadership and worry that the presidency has become too powerful and Congress too supine, especially in not taking responsibility for authorizing overseas military operations.

For Mr. Singh, one of the group’s strengths is that “we’re coming at the world as Americans before we’re coming at the world as liberals or conservatives.”

Ms. Pletka would dispense with those terms, arguing that “increasingly in America the divide is actually not between liberals, progressives and conservatives. Or Democrats and Republicans. It’s between internationalists and isolationists.”

The experts fall squarely in the internationalist category, which sometimes puts them at odds with their respective parties and makes them targets of internet trolls. They are searching for ways to counter President Trump’s isolationist tendencies and to persuade Americans that the country needs to remain engaged overseas and involved in a nonvitriolic debate at home over how to address international challenges.

Beyond the corrosive environment in Washington, the analysts worry about what’s happening on campuses where students sometimes refuse to let controversial speakers appear at events and shout down people with whom they disagree. To set an example for more civilized discourse, Mr. Rubin and Mr. Katulis are taking their tandem act to colleges and universities. One recent stop was Yale, where they tempered their robust debate by playfully wielding boxing gloves.

In Mr. Trump’s Washington, it’s easier for a think-tank analyst than an elected member of Congress to deal cooperatively with a political opponent. But truth-seeking and analysis between people of opposing views are likely to lead to better policy. That’s an ethic and a behavior to be encouraged.



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