Bloggers Unite?

Two prominent bloggers, Dan Drezner and Megan McArdle, take a second look at what it means to type on foreign policy from the left. National Review online scribe and right-wing aficionado David Frum wonders what place the partisans have in

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.

-David Frum
"Foggy Bloggom"
Jan./Feb. 2008


AS SOMEONE who has a foot in both the blogosphere and the foreign-policy community, I feel compelled to highlight a few errors in David Frum's "Foggy Bloggom" (Jan./Feb. 2008).

In his essay, Frum suggests that bloggers are "pretty much the opposite" of the foreign-policy community, which "insists upon formal credentials, either academic or bureaucratic." It is puzzling, then, that the first four bloggers quoted in Frum's essay possess the very credentials that the foreign-policy community extols. Duncan "Atrios" Black holds a PhD in economics from an Ivy League institution. Matthew Yglesias is a Harvard graduate writing for the Atlantic. Steven Clemons is the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. Glenn Greenwald is a Salon columnist and a partner in a DC law firm. Pajama-wearing stereotypes to the contrary, most influential bloggers possess the elite credentials necessary to crack the foreign-policy community.

Frum's effort to frame the debate between the foreign-policy community and the netroots omits a key source of irritation between the two groups-the role of neoconservatives in foreign-policy discourse. What truly rankles the netroots is their conviction that neoconservatives have been granted a seat at the foreign-policy table that is without merit. In the wake of a series of costly foreign-policy blunders and reversals of course under the Bush administration (cough, Iraq, cough), this anger might well be justified. 

I'm a paid-up member of the foreign-policy community. I vehemently disagree with many blog diagnoses regarding American foreign policy. I've vigorously debated Greenwald, Yglesias and Black in the blogosphere. In this case, however, I'm not sure the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It's nice that Frum is trying to referee a debate among those to the left of him. I'd be much more interested, however, in his justification for why the netroots are in error with regard to neoconservatives. Simply put, given the track record of the past half decade, why shouldn't the former replace the latter at the foreign-policy table?


Daniel W. Drezner
Associate Professor of International Politics
The Fletcher School


BLOGGING IS still an evolving medium. But one thing that doesn't seem to have changed is that bloggers do their best work in opposition. They are the voice of the excluded; the neural net that detects and amplifies the mistakes of the powerful, and occasionally even marshals the force needed to remove the mistake makers.

With the power of the presidency still firmly in Republican hands, the left-wing "netroots" is in ascendance. Conservative bloggers, and their readership, are demoralized. Meanwhile, the Intrade betting markets are predicting an Obama win, and the progressives are happily planning what they will do with control of Congress and the presidency. But this may be their happiest hour. Once Obama (or Clinton) has office, talk will turn from policy to politics: the dirty business of assembling enough votes to write your ideas into law. And the netroots, whose greatest asset is their fiery conviction that they are the voice of righteousness, will be faced with an unpleasant conundrum: power or principle?

As any Republican blogger will tell you, it is very hard to have both. To be sure, George Bush has betrayed conservative principles with his spending plans and has not advanced their agenda very far. But at least he had conservative principles to betray. Kerry would have suited them even less. It is hard to avoid compromising your ideals when you have something to lose-like the next election.

Too, the debates that occupy the ruling coalition are very different from the ones that obsess the opposition, and less well suited to blogging's strength. Right-wing bloggers brought down Dan Rather because his transgression involved something bloggers are very good at: worrying at a factual claim like a deranged terrier until the whole thing falls apart. The bloggers, with their distributed, grassroots approach, could muster vastly more man power and expertise than CBS could, and hence, they won. (It does help to be right.) Contrast this with the recent netroots jeremiad against the Democratic foreign-policy establishment, as chronicled in "Foggy Bloggom." Fighting experts in their domain of knowledge is a very different exercise from fighting journalists. The experts usually have a lot more information than the bloggers, and they have spent more time thinking about it-indeed, they are the source of much of the evidence that might be used against them. It is nearly impossible for a blogger embroiled in such a dispute to deliver a knockout blow, or even win on a decision. I will be surprised if the netroots maintains its appetite for disputation when these are the sorts of arguments it must win.


Megan McArdle
Associate Editor, the Atlantic
Asymmetrical Information