More On The Netroots

Not much time to blog today – my latest project is demo-ing today at the Inc 500 Conference in Chicago – but I didn’t want this post by Steve Smith to go unremarked. I know my opinion of the Netroots doesn’t matter because I’m a turncoat warmonger and all that. But here’s what unabashed leftie Smith has to say:

Huh? Well, feel free to rant away, Mr. Stoller, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a f**king clue. Lefty bloggers are great at raising money for causes, for garnering attention to worthy causes, and for publicizing dark horse challengers, but on a tactical level, they have all the sense of a cage of spastic ferrets being harassed by a deranged hive of wasps. Bloggers can get a Ned Lamont nominated, but actually electing him, or avoiding doing really airheadish things that rile up the opposition, is another thing entirely.

Stoller’s notion that blogs doesn’t have “top-down” organizational control is technically correct (for one thing, traffic-wise, political writing is a relatively insignificant part of the blogosphere), but it still obscures the very negative role the Queen Beez play in determining what the agenda is for the rest of the non-MSM. If anything, it’s “pretty stupid” for Stoller to pretend that within the lefty blogosphere, there aren’t about a dozen bloggers who link almost exclusively to each other, who generate 99% of the press coverage, and thereby set the agenda for the rest of us.

Like it or not, that exclusivity can be a strength, since it keeps us on message and magnifies our influence, but it also backfires on occasion, as Mr. Drum points out in the post referenced above. Depending on the season, we are told by the Queen Beez that we have to elect more Democrats to Congress, no matter what position they take, or we are told that we have to purge the “Bush Dog” Demos at the first chance, or we just sit back and make snarky quips about “Friedman Units” and post photoshopped pics of Joe Lieberman. With that sort of de facto leadership, it’s no wonder we feel like we get snookered at every turn.

I pretty much agree; I think the influence of the netroots is vastly overstated (see: Snakes on A Plane) by the central position they have in the Big Media lens.

It doesn’t mean they (we) have no influence, and it doesn’t mean these tools aren’t useful or moving to change politics. But as long as bloggers are for sale, the reality of a ‘movement’ is tantalizing but just out of reach.

Bomb, Bomb Iran? Don’t Think So…

Commenter Beard sent an email asking my view of the recent flurry of reports that Bush is serious – darn serious – about attacking Iran before he leaves office.

My sense of humor is pretty dark these days, but the picture that came to mind was Bush sitting on the stand on January 20 2009, holding up his hand, and picking up a cell phone and telling the staffer on the other side “Go for it! Bomb the c**p out of them!” and then smiling at his successor. “How do like that,” in the words of not-yet-ex-Senator Craig.

But it’s actually a serious issue, and let me take a moment to lay out my thoughts.

Yeah, there’s a whole lot of public-intellectual chatter about Iran right now. Go see Daniel Drezner’s roundup for a good summary of it all.And we are getting to some critical points in the path toward understanding how serious Iran is about making nukes.

Mohamed ElBaradei just gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he said:

ElBaradei said there are positive signs that Iran is willing to avoid confrontation over its nuclear development program.

“We should know by November, or December at the latest, whether the Iranians will keep their promises,” he said. “If they don’t, Tehran will have missed a great opportunity — possibly the last one.”

When a UN diplomat talks like that, my ears do prick up a bit. (As a side note, ElBaradei is worried about global warming, human misery, and nuclear proliferation – in that order –

“We pay completely inadequate attention to the important threats, the inhuman living conditions of billions of people, climate change and the potential for nuclear holocaust,” ElBaradei said.

Dude, I’d say you have quite enough to do managing the nuclear holocaust part of the problem…)

My own position on Iran hasn’t changed much in the year or so since I wrote this:

Could we smash the Iranian oil infrastructure, depriving them of cash and Europe and China of fuel? Of course. Child’s play. Could we drop the Iranian electricity grid, possibly slowing the centrifuges to a halt? Sure. Could we destroy the Iranian army, and do a smash-and-grab raid on the suspected weapons development sites? Probably.

Then what?

The point, in my view, of invading Iraq was largely to give pause to the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia. See ‘strategic failure’ to discuss how that’s worked out.

Is Iran a problem? A really, really big one? You betcha.

Is it one we need to panic about? Not yet.

On the other hand, if I wanted to negotiate with someone – whether they were based in Tehran, Paris, or Bonn – I’d say that making the consequences of a failed negotiation even more prominent than they might be in reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So as a posturing position leading to talking, I can say that I’d probably do much the same things as I’m seeing being done here. Float some trial balloons, create some ambiguity about what I might do.

There are two problems with that posture, however. Serious ones.

The first is that in building visible momentum toward conflict as a negotiating move, you risk being pulled along by events and your own momentum (see “World War One”). I’d rate this risk as high enough to worry about a bit.

The second is that you have to be taken seriously. Waving a wooden gun doesn’t accomplish much. And the reality is that if Bush gave the order to bomb – as I said back in 2006 – he’d immediately be impeached. Absent some facts not in evidence that could be shown to Congress and that would be strong enough to embarrass the wobblers, he doesn’t have and isn’t likely to get the support. If I – the last of the red-hot Iraq apologists – feel that way, imagine how the rest of the U.S. feels.

Bush has shown himself to be surprisingly competent at diplomacy – yeah, sorry about the keyboard – but the gradual progress and lack of hysteria about North Korea, the growing move in Europe to align the major powers more closely with the US, and the gradual chipping away at UN resistance to significant sanctions on Iran seem to show that the White House is – somehow – keeping the pieces in play diplomatically.

But until I see a meaningful opening to talks to Tehran that fails spectacularly, or until Iran oversteps militarily somehow (and they have been pretty canny as well), I just can’t imagine a surprise attack by the US. And I’ve got quite an imagination, to quote Benny Noakes.

The Israelis are another story…for another time. Time to board my flight home, and I’ll leave you all to think a bit more about that.