But Seriously

The growing clash between the media elite and the media insurgents is well illustrated by this blog-spat between Glenn Greenwald and Joe Klein. I take all of Glenn's points. At the same time, I know of few reporters who do as much work with, say, military sources as Joe. He was the first to tell me in the summer of 2003 that the Iraq invasion was doomed. He has been consistently attuned to military strategy since. He may have centrist biases, but if Joe Klein is what is wrong with Washington journalism, we're in not so bad a state.

On the deeper point, however, I think Glenn is right. One of my own errors before the war was a function of being steeped in Washington policy debates - and neo-conservative arguments - for years. I had been so conditioned to suspect Iraq after 9/11 that my skepticism deserted me. I mentioned Saddam on September 12. The result was that the prelude to the Iraq war was far too easily framed by the information and biases of the Beltway elite, the Pentagon establishment, and the neocon brain-trust. Worse, we were unspeakably condescending to those on the outside who were right. We trusted far too much, and people much further away from the levers of power saw more clearly than we did. I don't think Joe was the worst offender in this camp, which is why I find the focus on him strange. But he wasn't immune, and neither was I.  In so far as the blogosphere has opened up this stifling cartel of received wisdom, it is all for the better.

But this story isn't over, I suspect. And the ramifications of Iraq may well be wider than we currently realize. The questions raised by the mess in Mesopotamia are deeper than many in Washington are prepared to admit. Beltway boundaries can enforce a rote reflexiveness, a cramped conventionality on certain subjects. So few in the Beltway support total evacuation from Iraq. But many, many Americans do. And it is a predictable Beltway meme that Clinton did better than Obama this week because she showed "experience" and he showed "naivete". But I wonder if that's the case. I wonder if the country hasn't shifted sufficiently to make total disengagement from Iraq thinkable and Clinton seem a captive of past presumptions about American power and how it should be wielded. Iraq has made the case for a "humble nation" more eloquently than Bush in 2000 ever could.

Something is stirring out there - as the Obama and Paul candidacies show. The polls show record levels of discontent. The logic for permanent engagement in the Middle East is far less cogent than it was only a year ago. And the capacity of Americans to throw their own elites overboard will be tested in the next two years.

I do not know where this is headed. A new isolationism? A new liberal hegemony? More of the same? But I have a feeling that those of us in the Beltway may be among the last to see it coming.