Wednesday, December 19, 2007

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The netroots vs. the foreign policy community... sort of

David Frum writes a broadside on the netroots vs. the foreign policy community in The National Interest. Here's how it starts:

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?

You can imagine the response this is going to generate.

I'll have more to say about this later, but for now I'd make two points. First, if the netroots can get past their own spittle, they will see the grace note Frum closes his essay with:

[T]he spread of education and the improvement of communications have raised the level of debate. The populist protesters of 2007 are far more informed and far more sophisticated than their predecessors of 1973, who were in turn a major improvement over those of 1950, 1935 and 1920. And the foreign-policy community that guided U.S. foreign affairs in the 1990s was a much larger and more diverse group than the corresponding elites that wielded power in the quiet days of the 1950s, who were in turn a less cloistered club than that of the 1920s.

It is, as was famously predicted by Yeats, a widening gyre. And it can safely be predicted that when today’s controversies simmer down, and the blogging energy turns to health care or climate change or issues as yet unforeseen, the “foreign-policy community” that reassumes its former ascendancy will likewise be an expanded and enlarged community. The expertise and sophistication of the FPC at its best will always be needed by a country whose natural tendencies are inward-looking and isolationist. And that expertise and sophistication can only be enhanced when today’s FPC is reinforced, as surely it will be, by young people who gained their first introduction to foreign affairs when they were inspired by 9/11 to join the military or enter academia or learn a foreign language…or (why not?) start a blog.

Second, contra Frum's essay, there's really a three-way debate going on, between netroots activists, neoconservatives, and foreign policy experts -- and part of the debate is whether the latter two groups are really fused into one.

More on this later. For now, comment away!

UPDATE: On the other hand, it's not like progressives aren't capable of netroot criticism. Consider this statement from a press release I was sent:

"In this age of blogs, bumper stickers, and soundbites, we made a bet that there was still a need and place for the kind of deep, considered thinking about serious issues that our journal has produced, " said Andrei Cherny, co-editor and co-founder of Democracy. "This award shows that a DailyKos may have its place, but a quarterly journal of ideas can make a real impact in the 21st century."

posted by Dan on 12.19.07 at 11:16 AM


Regarding the statement: "The expertise and sophistication of the FPC at its best will always be needed by a country whose natural tendencies are inward-looking and isolationist."

I agree our natural tendencies have been inward-looking and isolationist, but I do not think they can, should, or will remain so. If the FPC does not see as one of its current important missions to change those natural tendencies because our national interest is no longer served by them, then we need a new FPC. Let me suggest that the FPC needs to instruct and pressure our educational system to increase enormously the study of foreign languages and to fund study abroad opportunities. Since it is often cheaper to send a high school student to study abroad (room, board & transportation included) than to educate them in many of our domestic school districts, we could and should change those natural tendencies.

posted by: Dave Porter on 12.19.07 at 11:16 AM [permalink]

Frum finds it "strange" that opponents of the Iraq war would attack Michael O’Hanlon for supporting the war, an offers and explaination: bloggers and members of the foreign policy community despise each other. Curiously, Frum later quotes Klein saying: "Anyone who doesn't move in lockstep with the most extreme voices [of the blogosphere] is savaged and ridiculed." Apparently it didn't occur to Frum that if Klein is correct, O’Hanlon would be attacked by bloggers even if O’Hanlon weren't a member of the foreign policy community.

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 12.19.07 at 11:16 AM [permalink]

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