Foggy Bloggom

December 19, 2007 Topic: Society Tags: NeoconservatismHeads Of State

Foggy Bloggom

Mini Teaser: From the January/February issue of The National Interest: Bloggers are moving into the Washington establishment’s neighborhood. From K Street to Capitol Hill, will they ever feel at home?

by Author(s): David Frum


MY NAME is David Frum, and I am a blogger. Every day I post some hundreds of words of commentary at the National Review website-often (to fulfill the cliché) while still wearing my pajamas. But I am also a proud, suit-wearing member of the foreign-policy community, with my very own office in a think tank to prove it.

There is no avoiding the sad truth that my two communities despise each other.

The foreign-policy community (henceforward, "FPC") values moderation of views and modulation of tone. It insists upon formal credentials, either academic or bureaucratic (ideally both). It respects seniority, defers to office, mistrusts overt self-promotion and is easily offended by discourtesy.

As for the bloggers-well, they're pretty much the opposite, aren't they?

Here, for example, is the popular left-of-center blogger known as Atrios complaining that:

[Presidential] candidates are judged by the rather arbitrary rules of the "foreign policy community" which demand they engage in these absurd rhetorical dances so they can fit themselves into the Grand Foreign Policy Community Consensus. Anyone who just tells them to shove it is doing the right thing.1

And here's another left-of-center blogger, Matthew Yglesias, quoting a third, Steve Clemons:

"People like me," [Clemons] says, "were being fed quite a bit of inside information from people who were every bit as horrified" [about Iraq] but very few people said anything. And it's true-alongside the famously pro-war elements of the establishment, there's a shockingly large number of people at places like Brookings, csis, the cfr, etc. where if you try to look up what they said about Iraq it turns out that they said . . . nothing at all.
His perspective, he says, is that Washington is "a corrupt town." From that perspective, he says that "the political-intellectual arena is essentially a cartel"-a cartel that's become extremely timid and risk-averse in the face of a neoconservative onslaught-and "blogs allow smart people to break the cartel." That all seems very true to me, and I'm not sure what I have to add.2

Finally, here is Glenn Greenwald at

The Foreign Policy Community . . . is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any "good result," and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.3

Such criticisms-so personal, so rude and so imperfectly grammatical-elicit only countervailing scorn from their targets.

In the summer of 2007, The Economist invited Gideon Rose to guest host their blog, Democracy in America. Rose is the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, and thus ex officio a member in highest standing of the FPC, or at any rate, its recording secretary.

He responded at considerable length to accusations like those of Atrios, Yglesias, Clemons and Greenwald. Here's just a bit:

The lefty blogosphere . . . has gotten itself all in a tizzy over the failings of the "foreign policy community." The funny thing is...hell, I'll just come out and say it: the netroots' attitude toward professionals isn't that different from the neocons', both being convinced that the very concept of a foreign-policy clerisy is unjustified, anti-democratic and pernicious, and that the remedy is much tighter and more direct control by the principals over their supposed professional agents.
The charges the bloggers are making now are very similar to those that the neocons made a few years ago: mainstream foreign-policy experts are politicised careerists, biased hacks, and hide-bound traditionalists who have gotten everything wrong in the past and don't deserve to be listened to in the future. . . .Back then, the neocons directed their fire primarily at the national security bureaucracies-freedom-hating mediocrities at the cia, pin-striped wussies at the State Department, cowardly soldiers at the Pentagon. Now the bloggers' attacks are generally aimed at the think-tank world.4

Because the "neocons" are regarded as public-enemy number one by both lefty bloggers and most of the FPC, Rose's words put the cat among the pigeons. For all their ferocity, the bloggers as a group are intensely sensitive to criticism. They crave the very thing for which they vilify the FPC: respectability. Nothing infuriates them more than its withholding. With shrewd intuition, then, members of the FPC go out of their way to make clear their lack of regard-that is, on those rare occasions when they deign to take notice of the bloggers at all.

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. . . .5

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.6

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.

Back then, it was the party's intellectuals who revolted against its regulars; J. K. Galbraith, Richard Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger against George Meany and Richard Daley. This time, it is the regulars who are rebelling against the intellectuals.

Essay Types: Essay