Jacob's Jottings: Blog Wars

As Republicans fall into line behind presumptive nominee John McCain on foreign policy, Democrats continue to cut each other down. The setting for this epic battle? The blogosphere.

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush's war plan is working in at least one area. The surge has left the enemy divided and uncertain. Internal feuding over Iraq is beginning to replace sniping attacks. I'm referring, of course, to the ferocity with which Democrats are battling each other over Iraq rather than the GOP. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was at it again in her speech at George Washington University on Monday. While she took a few potshots at what she's now dubbing the "Bush-McCain Iraq policy," most of her fire was reserved for Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). In her latest salvo, Clinton all but accused him of being missing in action when it comes to offering a real plan for withdrawal from Iraq. She scoffed at his early opposition to the Iraq War, declaring that he only vigorously opposed it once he began running for the presidency. Going on to state the obvious, as is her wont, Clinton bleated, "Words can be powerful, but only if the speaker translates them into action and solutions." And the fisticuffs between Obama and Clinton have been mirrored by the battles among liberal foreign policy thinkers and bloggers.

The blunt fact is that as the Iraq War continues, one of the most remarkable aspects is that the Democrats have become enmeshed in a kind of civil war, while the GOP has had no real debate about the direction of Iraq. On the contrary, the GOP has closed ranks behind Senator John McCain (R-NV), who touched down in Baghdad a day before vice-president Dick Cheney and whose insistence upon unilateralism and "rogue-state rollback" has turned him into the apostolic successor of the man he once condemned, George W. Bush. (In Foreign Affairs McCain has even called for creating a new version of the Office of Strategic Services that would engage in the derring-do of yesteryear, carrying out the covert action that the CIA has supposedly lacked the nerve to conduct.)

To the extent that there is any ferment inside the GOP, it's confined to justifying past decisions. In the Sunday New York Times, a veritable galaxy of neoconservatives from the American Enterprise Institute appeared to make the case once again that it was everyone except the neocons who flubbed up in Iraq. Had Washington only handed over power to local Iraqis (Ahmed Chalabi, anyone?), Richard Perle argued, Iraq would indeed have quickly become a flourishing democracy: "Rather than turn Iraq over to Iraqis to begin the daunting process of nation building, a group including Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; and the director of central intelligence, George Tenet-with President Bush's approval-reversed a plan to do that." It was, in other words, the fault of the squishes inside the Bush administration. This is the kind of smooth and brazen self-confidence that wins elections, or at least arguments. The Democrats, by contrast, could hardly offer a more vivid contrast to their coevals in the GOP. And so, to truly understand how raw and intense the feuding is among Democrats, it's most instructive to look at the recent spate of attacks against Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon by bloggers such as the Washington Independent's indefatigable Spencer Ackerman or the American Prospect's Ezra Klein. O'Hanlon had already stirred consternation with his July 30, 2007 op-ed in the New York Times (co-written with Kenneth Pollack) arguing, after a brief visit to Iraq sponsored by the military, that the war was going even better than the Bush administration was stating. Most recently, according to Ackerman:

Michael O'Hanlon continues to demonstrate that ignorance or shoddy reasoning is no obstacle to placing an op-ed. Two days after his problematic piece introducing us to Brookings Benchmarks-or, as I like to call them, The Only Iraq Metric That Matters-here he is in USA Today. This time O'Hanlon doesn't bother to pretend his Benchmarks are responsible methods of calculating progress. He just bald-facedly states that progress is happening and chides the Democrats for their strategic myopia in opposing the worst strategic mistake of the post-Vietnam generation.

In essence, the widespread antipathy toward O'Hanlon mirrors the hostilities between Obama and Clinton. On the one side are the progressives who loathe Clinton for what they see as abjectly kowtowing to Bush in voting for the war; on the other are the liberal hawks such as O'Hanlon (or Richard Holbrooke) who believe that America has to have a fighting faith, that it can't simply bail out of Iraq and wantonly, as they see it, abandon its foreign obligations.

Even more than his colleague Kenneth Pollack, O'Hanlon seems to stir the ire of the left blogosphere, which views him as a Trojan Horse for the Republican right. Unquestionably, O'Hanlon is to the right of both Obama and Clinton. Writing March 11 in USA Today, he warned that they are wrong to believe