Over at Atrios’ place I see Bob Shrum observed that “The blogosphere was a lot more right about Iraq than all the experts in the Democratic party.” This is a nice thing to say to bloggers, but in important ways it’s not really true. After all, lots of progressive bloggers (your truly, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Matt Stoller, Ezra Klein, I’m sure there are more) got this wrong. And, at the same time, it’s just not the case that all the experts got Iraq wrong. What happened was that all the experts the Democratic Party leadership listened to were wrong. Plenty of other, non-obscure voices were around, but the leading figures in the party decided not to listen to them.
This is possibly one good way of getting into the difficult question of assessing the Democratic contenders’ foreign policy differences. As I said to Ramesh it’s my sense that Barack Obama would probably appoint a sounder team, but I’ve found it difficult to articulate what’s driving that sense. After some chit-chat at yesterday’s conference, the basic shape of it comes clear. Basically, left-of-center foreign policy professionals who opposed the Iraq War felt very alienated by the party leadership’s embrace of the war back in 2002-2003. Since Obama opposed the war, and since Obama entered the Senate as a celebrity figure interested in foreign policy, those people have tended to cluster around him. Conversely, the left-of-center foreign policy professionals who won the argument in 2002-2003 tend to find themselves in Clinton’s orbit and see boat-rocking as a bad thing. The Edwards situation is less clear to me.
Now, since the next president isn’t going to hop back into a time machine and redo things, maybe we don’t care about this. The point, however, is that the division over the war has a kind of institutional legacy in terms of what kind of people are likely to influential in one administration versus the other.