Blind squirrel

David Brooks lays out the case for Bush's military genius in advocating the "surge," which, by some accounts is having some success, by other measures, not very much.  Brooks's argument, however, turns out to hinge on the squirrel and nut principle: every now and then even a blind squirrel finds a nut.  He writes:

The additional fact is that Bush, who made such bad calls early in the war, made a courageous and astute decision in 2006. More than a year on, the surge has produced large, if tenuous, gains. Violence is down sharply. Daily life has improved. Iraqi security forces have been given time to become a more effective fighting force. The Iraqi government is showing signs of strength and even glimmers of impartiality. Iraq has moved from being a failed state to, as Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations has put it, merely a fragile one.

The whole episode is a reminder that history is a complicated thing. The traits that lead to disaster in certain circumstances are the very ones that come in handy in others. The people who seem so smart at some moments seem incredibly foolish in others.

The cocksure war supporters learned this humbling lesson during the dark days of 2006. And now the cocksure surge opponents, drunk on their own vindication, will get to enjoy their season of humility. They have already gone through the stages of intellectual denial. First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good. Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement. Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress. Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home.

Never mind the parade of straw men here at the end–too many well informed people doubt that the surge has been a success by any of the proposed measures for Brooks to be so confident in their foolishness.  Now of course it turns out that even granting the success of the surge, there was no plan for afterwards.  Forget about that.  Consider that Brooks doesn't tell us how it is that can call Bush "courageous" or "astute."  To be courageous he would have had to risk something, to be astute he would have had to know something.  Even on Brooks's account he's merely lucky.  So is everyone else, of course, because "history is a complicated thing."

3 thoughts on “Blind squirrel”

  1. One might also add that, regardless of its actual causal relations, most arguments for the surge are so lacking in genuine evidence and analysis to be little more than post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments.

    (I know I should keep my tone more elevated, but I just can’t resist: even a blind squirrel could find a nut in the Whitehouse.)

  2. I agree with Gary — the majority of cases for the effectiveness of the surge have the distinct whiff of post-hoccery.  And given the fact that Al Sadr had independently called for a cease fire early on seems to provide at least one other alternative cause.
    Additionally, it’s strange how Brooks, when he sits next to Mark Shields for comments on PBS’s News Hour seems more measured… when he sits down at his computer to write, the indignant and vitriolic side comes out.  Maybe he should dictate his comments while looking at a picture of Gwen Ifill to give him some self-control.

  3. I’d tend to agree with both of you about the general feeling of surge arguments.  I might also add that there is an air of the “vague horizon of success” that’s at work here as well.  Any result different from the one in 2006 seems to count as success for the advocates of the surge (now).  This forgets the very specific benchmarks set forth prior to the surge (which haven’t been met).  This claim, of course, is compatible with the view that the vague successes are the results of the surge merely because they follow them.

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