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Future Historians: Blogs Drive U.S. Foreign Policy

BY Ari Melber | Sunday, April 12 2009

For Internet politics, the controversial becomes conventional very quickly.

Until recently, there were heated disputes over whether political blogs had any impact on American government. While academics still debate the contours of that impact, much of the media and political establishment now seem to accept that blogs and online activism have an impact on politics. Credit the wired Obama campaign, or the media learning curve, or liberal bloggers' knack for being right and early on Iraq, financial regulation, economic populism and the Democrats' 50-State Strategy.

Whatever the overlapping factors, this Sunday's New York Times Book Review has a salient example of blogs' ascension within the conventional wisdom.

Michael Beschloss, the author, historian, Emmy-award winner and presidential scholar for NBC News, faulted a new foreign policy tome for failing to acknowledge the rise of blogs in policymaking. In a largely positive review of "Power Rules" by Leslie Gelb, a former government official, CFR president and Times columnist, Beschloss raps Gelb for underestimating "both the value and the importance of mass citizen involvement in American foreign policy." The book's treatment of political pressure on foreign policy felt frozen in a pre-digital era, Beschloss observes, yet historians may conclude that America's shift on Iraq had a decidedly orange hue:

Gelb’s chapter about domestic political influences on top foreign-policy makers is excellent on think tanks, cable TV and lobbies but does not discuss the mass influence of the Internet. (The chapter takes no serious note of blogs, except to mention that some think-tank analysts write them and to praise some bloggers for reading government documents.) In fact, future historians may well conclude that one of the most formidable forces in mobilizing opposition to George W. Bush’s adventure in Iraq was the widely read liberal blog Daily Kos.

Getting credit in the history books, however, may be even harder than crashing the gates in Washington.