The soft bigotry of low expectations

With Bush leaving office, people are now scrambling to say something nice.  Now enter Peter Beinart, liberal hawk, whose bad foreign policy judgment has propelled him ever upwards, as it nearly always does in the accountability-free profession of punditry (cf. Tom Friedman).  The wronger you are, the more jobs you get.  Anyway, Beinart today counsels "liberals" (by which he means irony-free stoners with no sense of history, practicality, or self-awareness) to admit that the surge–the 2006 increase in troop levels in Iraq–worked, and that it was "courageous" of Bush to do so.  He writes:

It's no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O'Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

Violence in Anbar province is down more than 90 percent over the past two years, the New York Times reports. Returning to Iraq after long absences, respected journalists Anthony Shadid and Dexter Filkins say they barely recognize the place.

Is the surge solely responsible for the turnaround? Of course not. Al-Qaeda alienated the Sunni tribes; Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army decided to stand down; the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops. And the decline in violence isn't necessarily permanent. Iraq watchers warn that communal distrust remains high; if someone strikes a match, civil war could again rage out of control.

Moreover, even if the calm endures, that still doesn't justify the Bush administration's initial decision to go to war, which remains one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history. But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush's record, his decision to increase America's troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

It's time for Democrats to say so.

He probably could have done better than this if he wanted to praise Bush's courage and wisdom, as he has admitted that perhaps the surge wasn't the cause of Iraq's improvement after all, and, for that matter, he can't really say Iraq has improved.  Well, it has in one sense.  Fewer US troops are dying.  I would say that if you going to make a strong causal claim such as this one, and psychoanalyze people who fail to see the causal connection you do, then you ought to have a more convincing case.

3 thoughts on “The soft bigotry of low expectations”

  1. There’s also an interesting ambiguity in the word “vindicated” here–one question is whether Bush’s belief that the surge would work was right? But the second, and I think the one more important for evaluating presidential actions, was did Bush have good reason to make this judgment at the time?

    Success, assuming we grant the strong causal claim, does not vindicate a decision, unless you are solely concerned with consequences. Hail Mary’s might work some of the time, but putting your team in the position of needing to rely on the Hail Mary could reasonably be held to be bad quarterbacking–and stunningly bad presidential leadership. The success of the surge might just be the one time Bush’s “gut” came up with the right answer in his life. (I haven’t read Woodward’s books, nor do I know much about the decision making that went into the Surge, and I am generalizing on the basis of many reports of Bush’s lack of concern with evidence, argument, policy, reading as preparation for making decisions.)

    So even if the premises of his argument hold, his conclusion need not.

  2. One might add the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy to the list.

    Also, given that the originally stated purpose of the surge was to provide the Iraqi gov’t with the breathing room to form a stable political system, it seems that the failure to achieve that goal ought to be counted as part of whether or not the surge “worked.” I’m not sure that redefining the criteria of evaluation after the fact is a logical fallacy, but it certainly seems like a failure of critical thinking.

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