One of the dangers of a U.S. foreign policy consensus is that once it’s formed, there are enormous market incentives for analysts in Washington to formulate smart-sounding ways to operationalize it, rather than to question it. This pressure is particularly—and understandably—felt most strongly by young analysts trying to make a name for themselves and break into the competitive world of D.C. policy shops.
But established figures are not immune to it, as keeping up with the conventional wisdom is a time-tested way to project an image of seriousness in Washington. In addition, the process often involves the mainstreaming of previously marginalized voices who, though considered cranks and extremists before the new consensus emerged, can henceforth present themselves as voices in the wilderness and prescient visionaries.
We see all of these dynamics on display now when it comes to U.S. policy on China.