Friday, January 25, 2008

The Left Blogosphere vs. The Foreign Policy Community

David Frum has a neat piece on (antiwar) blogging and foreign policy at the new National Interest.

Frum looks at the frustration among a number of top left-wing bloggers with the "foreign policy community," or "FPC." Why should these sheltered mandarins have the final word on the direction of American international affairs? Moreover, what gives them the right?!!

Read the whole thing (Frum provides some juicy quotes on hard-left outrage over the FPC's alleged enabling of Bush administration foreign policy "disasters").

I liked this part, however:

Here, for example, is a marvelous demonstration of the mutual torment practiced upon each other by the bloggers and the FPC.

On August 14, 2007, Brookings Institution scholar Michael O’Hanlon was asked on a radio show about Glenn Greenwald’s lengthy and highly personal attacks upon him. He replied,

Well, I don’t have high regard for the kind of journalism that Mr. Greenwald has carried out here. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time rebutting Mr. Greenwald because he’s had frankly more time and more readership than he deserves.
This put-down was featured on the left-leaning website and provoked 71 responses, including this one:

Dear Michael O’Hacklon, Armstrong Williams wants his job back, the one that you are currently occupying. . . .Anyway, there never seems to be a shortage of your special brand of treasonous frauds running around. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.
And this one:

Oh my goodness Mr. O’Hanlon, so sorry the caviar was not up to your supreme standards. We’ll have the beluga beaten immediately.
And this one:

two words for you o’hanlon: f--- you (sorry for the language C&L)

glenn greenwald is a true patriot, working to ensure the continued viability of our ever-so fragile democracy. and, ohanlon? nothing but a blowhard caught in inaccuracies and, like armstrong williams and gannon/guckert, a tool of the administration. the question i have for o’hanlon is just how much money it took for you to sacrifice your integrity.

good job mikey, you have done serious damage to the brookings institute. from now on any ‘finding’ or opinion stemming from this now-compromised “think” tank will be followed by an asterisk, saying: beware, some brookings fellows spew govt propaganda and try to pass it off as independent conclusions. . . .
Bitter! And also strange. Michael O’Hanlon, as readers of The National Interest will know, is the editor of the Iraq Index, a source relied upon by people of almost all points of view. He served in the Congressional Budget Office during the last Democratic majority and has strongly criticized the Bush Administration almost from Inauguration Day. What makes him such a detested target?

To find the answer, revert for a minute to a key point in Gideon Rose’s above-quoted paragraphs: The bloggers’ attacks are generally aimed at the think-tank world. Which is to say: at members of the FPC who are currently out of power. Which is to say: at Democrats. Especially at moderate Democrats, internationalist-minded Democrats, Democrats who in 2002–2003 expressed support for the Iraq War. The bloggers hurling the invective are Democrats too, usually more liberal Democrats.

The blogosphere of 2007 is a predominantly liberal and Democratic place. This was not always the case: As recently as 2005, former Vice President Al Gore castigated “digital brownshirts” who bullied and intimidated critics of George Bush. He would have no such complaint today. Today, it is the critics of George Bush who do the brown-shirting.

Thus, the generally liberal journalist Joe Klein complained in June 2007 of the

fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere. Anyone who doesn’t move in lockstep with the most extreme voices is savaged and ridiculed—especially people like me who often agree with the liberal position but sometimes disagree and are therefore considered traitorously unreliable.
While online readership surveys are notoriously unreliable, such data as exists suggests that the liberal site Daily Kos outdraws Rush Limbaugh’s website. Traffic on participatory conservative sites like Free Republic and Red State has plunged, and as this election cycle opens, one senses greater energy and sees more comments on big liberal blogsites like and the than on their conservative counterparts. Technologically, liberal sites like the HuffingtonPost and MediaMatters seem a generation ahead of counterparts like Drudge and the Media Research Project.

So when we talk about the antagonism that has arisen between bloggers and the FPC, we are really talking about liberal bloggers and the Democratic half of the FPC. This is a family feud, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to the great Democratic schism over Vietnam.
It's an interesting analysis, but incomplete.

I think the left's outrage is directed at any and all support for the Bush administration. There's nothing possibly redeeming about "the Bush/Cheney regime" to the hard left. So for those scholars who would normally be consided natural left-wing allies, the controversy's tantamount to an online ideological inquisition.

Now, it's true that most of the foreign policy professoriate resides on the left of the spectrum. There is some diversity, however. Daniel Drezner, a right-of-center international relations scholar at the Fletcher School, took Glenn Greenwald to the woodshed in a series of posts a while back, a debate which provides some data for the Frum discussion.

Neoconservatives, naturally, as Frum rightly notes, come in for the lion's share of abuse. But the left blogosphere's not exclusively outraged with liberal turncoats: It's anyone who's backed the Bush administration's foreign policy, left, right, or center.

Beyond this, an interesting hypothesis would be to argue that the radical netroots will hold an inordinate level of influence in Democratic foreign policy in 2009 (should the party come to power).

If we take Frum's discussion to the next level - starting with the notion that the leftosphere's not content to sit on the sidelines in foreign affairs - the Democratic Party's assumed inclusiveness should propel the netroot hordes to the status of an elite "Bloggers' Council on Foreign Relations."

I hope I'm proven wrong.