Category Archives: Ad Hominem Abusive

Write trash

It's hard to have a conversation when some people don't follow the rules.  If your conversation is about, say, which things ought a rational person assent to, then indeed there are certain rules.  One can disagree about these rules, but the rules say you have to state the grounds for the disagreement and those grounds have to be good grounds.

Here's one rule.  If you offer up a point of view in a public forum, you should expect criticism.  Some of this is probably going to be dumb and uninformed, some of it relevant.  There's a rule that says you have to focus on the relevant criticism.  Pretending that the only criticism you get is of the former variety breaks a rule.  Here's Amity Shlaes, a kind of conservative author, talking about George Will:

So Michele Bachmann’s version of history is “from another planet.” Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is “chronically stupid.” And Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, is “busy lying constantly.”

That at least is according to posts on three left-leaning blogs.

Writers who are not pro-Barack Obama are suffering character assassination as well. George Will of the Washington Post, the nation’s senior conservative columnist, has been so assaulted by bloggers that his editor, Fred Hiatt, recently wrote, “I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.”

The disconcerting thing isn’t that the bloggers or their guests did this slamming. We’re used to such vitriol in campaign time. What is surprising is that the attacks are continuing after an election.

In the past, politicians and policy thinkers tended to be magnanimous in victory. They and their friends focused, post- victory, on policy and strategy — not on trashing individuals.

I didn't know the nation had a "senior conservative columnist."  But anyway, George Will has been criticized for the inadequacy of his ideas (see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here)–and a person of Shlaes's very expensive education ought to know that.  She at least ought to be able to distinguish between "trashing" and saying, "hey, that conclusion doesn't follow!" (even if she doesn't think that conclusion doesn't follow).  If she isn't aware of this criticism (use the Google!) she ought not write about it, if she doesn't know the difference between "trashing" and "argument analysis" she ought to return to ask for her college tuition back, and finally if she does know the difference (and I suspect she does) but this is how she plays the game, then I say she's not playing by the rules.  That's not fair.

It's not fair because the discussion is about a topic, someone has offered up a view of that topic, and rather than discuss that view, we have to spend all of our time explaining how challenging someone's view in a public forum does not amount to trashing that person.  And when we do that, we don't get to have a discussion.


We certainly pick on George Will a lot.  This is because he is a recidivist.  Now despite his having been roundly and decisively refuted in his ridiculous global warming denialism, he has returned to the scene of the crime, to repeat his errors and once again to tout the virtues of his skepticism.  His skepticism has little by way of virtue, because it has no factual basis, and he has no business writing anything about a subject in which he has worse than no competence. 

Others have already amply demonstrated the factual errors again in his column.  I would just like to make two points.  Will's most basic problem lies with the inferences he draws.  He insists in his column that dire warnings about global cooling 30 years ago in the popular press have some kind of significance for whether or not one should believe the community of competent and qualified climate scientists when they assert that the globe is warming.  He writes:

Few phenomena generate as much heat as disputes about current orthodoxies concerning global warming. This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done. That column, which expressed skepticism about some emphatic proclamations by the alarmed, took a stroll down memory lane, through the debris of 1970s predictions about the near certainty of calamitous global cooling.

Concerning those predictions, the New York Times was — as it is today in a contrary crusade — a megaphone for the alarmed, as when (May 21, 1975) it reported that "a major cooling of the climate" was "widely considered inevitable" because it was "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950." Now the Times, a trumpet that never sounds retreat in today's war against warming, has afforded this column an opportunity to revisit another facet of this subject — meretricious journalism in the service of dubious certitudes.

Yes, the New York Times' being wrong about global cooling is evidence against a Times' reporter's claims (problematic though they were for being too kind to Will) that scientists have questioned Will's facts.  Sheesh.  You cannot get any dumber than that by way of rejoinder.  Maybe: I know what you are, so what am I?  But this really is a version of that.  

Here's the second point.  Science, as far as I know, thrives on skepticism–qualified skepticism.  Arguing that maybe the Bible is correct and Jesus created the world (okay, it doesn't say that) does not amount to meaningful skepticism.  Neither does George Will's incompetent, ignorant, and self-important bumbling through the facts.  He writes:

The scientists at the Illinois center offer their statistics with responsible caveats germane to margins of error in measurements and precise seasonal comparisons of year-on-year estimates of global sea ice. Nowadays, however, scientists often find themselves enveloped in furies triggered by any expression of skepticism about the global warming consensus (which will prevail until a diametrically different consensus comes along; see the 1970s) in the media-environmental complex.

Nah.  Will has been fairly and roundly criticized for having been wrong in his facts and wrong in his judgments.  This does not amount to evidence of a media-environmental complex, it does, however, suggest that the Post has no interest in reality.  They say as much:

If you want to start telling me that columnists can’t make inferences which you disagree with—and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject—I think that’s really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.

That is not the point.  And it's a deliberate misconstruing of the criticism.  In the first place, Will's facts were wrong.  In the second place, his inferences are preposterous (see, for instance, above).  He has no business making them in a public forum such as this and the Post has no business publishing them.  

Stay classy, Bill Kristol

William Kristol has a strategy for raising the level our national discourse as the election draws near:

That debate is important. McCain took a risk in choosing Palin. If she does poorly, it will reflect badly on his judgment. If she does well, it will be a shot in the arm for his campaign.

In the debate, Palin has to dispatch quickly any queries about herself, and confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president. She should spend her time making the case for McCain and, more important, the case against Obama. As one shrewd McCain supporter told me, “Every minute she spends not telling the American people something that makes them less well disposed to Obama is a minute wasted.”

The core case against Obama is pretty simple: he’s too liberal. A few months ago I asked one of McCain’s aides what aspect of Obama’s liberalism they thought they could most effectively exploit. He looked at me as if I were a simpleton, and patiently explained that talking about “conservatism” and “liberalism” was so old-fashioned.

Maybe. But the fact is the only Democrats to win the presidency in the past 40 years — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — distanced themselves from liberal orthodoxy. Obama is, by contrast, a garden-variety liberal. He also has radical associates in his past.

The most famous of these is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and I wonder if Obama may have inadvertently set the stage for the McCain team to reintroduce him to the American public. On Saturday, Obama criticized McCain for never using in the debate Friday night the words “middle class.” The Obama campaign even released an advertisement trumpeting McCain’s omission.

The McCain campaign might consider responding by calling attention to Chapter 14 of Obama’s eloquent memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” There Obama quotes from the brochure of Reverend Wright’s church — a passage entitled “A Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.”

So when Biden goes on about the middle class on Thursday, Palin might ask Biden when Obama flip-flopped on Middleclassness.

The answer, so it seems, is for McCain and Palin to turn the campaign away from issues that matter towards petty, false and irrelevant matters of "character."  It's one thing third-tier minds such as Kristol says these kinds of things themselves, it's quite another when they advocate others think and act as they do.  The one is just embarrassing, the other is criminal.

Don’t jinx it

Here's what looks like a causal argument–or a causal inference at least–wrapped up in another causal  explanatory inference.  The second one is an ad hominem, the first likely a causal fallacy.  Robert Kagan, of hawkish foreign policy fame writes.

Judged on its own terms, the war on terror has been by far Bush's greatest success. [1] No serious observer imagined after September 11 that seven years would go by without a single additional terrorist attack on U.S. soil. [2] Only naked partisanship and a justifiable fear of tempting fate have prevented the Bush administration from getting or taking credit for what most would have regarded seven years ago as a near miracle. Much of the Bush administration's success, moreover, has been due to extensive international cooperation, especially with the European powers in the areas of intelligence sharing, law enforcement, and homeland security. Whatever else the Bush administration has failed to do, it has not failed to protect Americans from another attack on the homeland. The next administration will be fortunate to be able to say the same — and will be contrasted quite unfavorably with the Bush administration if it cannot."[numbers inserted]

While there thankfully hasn't been another attack (aside from the Anthrax attacks) on U.S. soil, there have been numerous terrorist attacks on U.S. allies (Britain, Spain, Bali, etc.) and U.S. interests (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and so on).  Aside from the unsettling progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, one might suggest (as many terrorism experts have) that no terrorist attack was planned or attempted on U.S.soil.  So Kagan might be claiming credit for nothing.  In light of such observations, Kagan can hardly claim that "naked partisanship" (and fear of jinxing it) have prevented the Bush administration from taking credit.

So the second claim assumes only the weakest objections to credit-mongering (which, by the way, the Bush administration has not been shy of pointing out), when a person of Kagan's calibre ought to know better.  Given the existence of such views, Kagan ought to be far more circumspect when it comes to definitive causal assertions of the sort that the Bush Administration is responsible for stopping or otherwise preventing attacks on US soil–their mere absence is not evidence for its success.  Besides, given its unique ability to thwart terrorism here, our Allies might wonder why we can't be more helpful to them in this regard.

In fairness to Kagan, there's much more to the argument than cited here.  But then again, a silly argument is a silly argument.

Argumentum ad dictum

I can think of the Latin for "bumper sticker" (argumentum ad scriptum bigae in posteriore?).  But Bill Kristol gives us another example in today's Times (see here for another):

But the next morning, as I drove around the Washington suburbs, I saw not one but two cars — rather nice cars, as it happens — festooned with the Obama campaign bumper sticker “got hope?” And I relapsed into moroseness.

Got hope? Are my own neighbors’ lives so bleak that they place their hopes in Barack Obama? Are they impressed by the cleverness of a political slogan that plays off a rather cheesy (sorry!) campaign to get people to drink milk?

And what is it the bumper-sticker affixers are trying to say? Do they really believe their fellow citizens who happen to prefer McCain are hopeless? After all, just because you haven’t swooned like Herr Spörl doesn’t mean you don’t hope for a better world. Don’t McCain backers also have hope — for an America that wins its wars, protects its unborn children and allows its citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income?

But what if all those “got hope?” bumper stickers spur a backlash? It might occur to undecided or swing voters that talk of hope is not a substantive plan. They might be further put off by the haughtiness of Obama’s claim to the mantle of hope. This hope restored my spirits.

Before they fell again. Later that day, I read a report of a fund-raising letter from Obama on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, arguing that “We must have a deadlock-proof Democratic majority.”

Someone once claimed that all arguments are "ad hominem."  By this he obviously didn't mean that all arguments commit the fallacy of the same name, but he meant rather that all arguments are directed at some particular person's beliefs.  Regardless, the same principles of charity would apply.

Now this isn't the worst of Kristol's argument, as it is merely a set-up for an even sillier claim [continuing directly]:


But then it occurred to me that one man’s “deadlock-proof” Democratic majority is another’s unchecked Democratic majority. Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans’ tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters’ repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 — isn’t the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?

These are all certainly reasons related in the right kind of way to the conclusion (they won't elect Obama), but Kristol is guilty of two big mistakes.  The first is a priorism–while the evidence he mentions relates to the conclusion (even though the claim about the dissatisfaction with the "democratic" congress is misleading), the availability of empirical data makes such recourse to a priori notions unnecessary.  One can, in other words, track poll data now–poll data which paints a rather different picture (so he at least ought to argue against that).  Second, the repudiation of majorities 12 years a part does not demonstrate much (it's only two instances) about American distrust of one-party rule–besides, in neither of those years were their Presidential elections.

**update: here's someone's suggestion for bumper sticker: adfixum in obice.

You make me so mad

The proliferation of global warming deniers occupying the highest echelons of the Republican political and intellectual structure (need they be listed here?) notwithstanding, Al Gore is really partisan–and on top of that, some environmentalists seem not to value people more than plants.  So if anyone is responsible for the failure of environmentalism, Michael Gerson argues, it's them.  While we're at it, if anyone is responsible for the failure of women's rights, it's those annoying feminists:

Some Republicans and conservatives are prone to an ideologically motivated skepticism. On AM talk radio, where scientific standards are not particularly high, the attitude seems to be: "If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it." Gore's partisan, conspiratorial anger is annoying, yet not particularly relevant to the science of this issue.

This points, however, to a broader problem. Any legislation ambitious enough to cut carbon emissions significantly and encourage new energy technologies will require a broad political and social consensus. Nothing this complex and expensive gets done on a party-line vote. Yet many environmental leaders seem unpracticed at coalition-building. They tend to be conventionally, if not radically, liberal. They sometimes express a deep distrust for capitalism and hostility to the extractive industries. Their political strategy consists mainly of the election of Democrats. Most Republican environmental efforts are quickly pronounced "too little, too late."

Even worse, a disturbing minority of the environmental movement seems to view an excess of human beings, not an excess of carbon emissions, as the world's main problem. In two recent settings, I have heard China's one-child policy praised as an answer to the environmental crisis — a kind of totalitarianism involving coerced birth control or abortion. I have no objection to responsible family planning. But no movement will succeed with this argument: Because we in the West have emitted so much carbon, there needs to be fewer people who don't look like us.

Human beings are not the enemy of sound environmental policy; they are the primary reason sound environmental policy is necessary.

If the movement to confront climate change is perceived as partisan, anti-capitalist and hostile to human life, it is likely to fail, causing suffering for many, including the ice bears. And so the question arises: Will the environment survive the environmentalists?

Now in some respect this might be sound practical advice.  But really, I think Gerson has blamed the unreasonable excesses of the Conservative movement on their perception (which is in reality a caricature) of the environmental movement.  That caricature, of course, exists primarily in their minds.  Sure, you can find some pretty jerky environmentalists, but you need not consider them the key representatives of the movement.


The President of the Czech Republic has helped Charles Krauthammer find the true enemy of freedom.  It's knowledge about the natural world.  This knowledge is especially dangerous if Krauthammer doesn't have the patience, time, or expertise to understand it.  He writes:

Predictions of catastrophe depend on models. Models depend on assumptions about complex planetary systems — from ocean currents to cloud formation — that no one fully understands. Which is why the models are inherently flawed and forever changing. The doomsday scenarios posit a cascade of events, each with a certain probability. The multiple improbability of their simultaneous occurrence renders all such predictions entirely speculative.

Yet on the basis of this speculation, environmental activists, attended by compliant scientists and opportunistic politicians, are advocating radical economic and social regulation. "The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity," warns Czech President Vaclav Klaus, "is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism."

If you doubt the arrogance, you haven't seen that Newsweek cover story that declared the global warming debate over. Consider: If Newton's laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown, it requires religious fervor to believe that global warming — infinitely more untested, complex and speculative — is a closed issue.

But declaring it closed has its rewards. It not only dismisses skeptics as the running dogs of reaction, i.e., of Exxon, Cheney and now Klaus. By fiat, it also hugely re-empowers the intellectual left.

For a century, an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class — social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies — arrogated to themselves the right to rule either in the name of the oppressed working class (communism) or, in its more benign form, by virtue of their superior expertise in achieving the highest social progress by means of state planning (socialism).

Two decades ago, however, socialism and communism died rudely, then were buried forever by the empirical demonstration of the superiority of market capitalism everywhere from Thatcher's England to Deng's China, where just the partial abolition of socialism lifted more people out of poverty more rapidly than ever in human history.

Just as the ash heap of history beckoned, the intellectual left was handed the ultimate salvation: environmentalism. Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but — even better — in the name of Earth itself.

Such a combination of straw men (the weakest versions of global warming arguments–not to Newsweeks's idea of "debate" about global warming), red herrings (communism, socialism, etc.), ad hominem (arrogant scientists are just trying to rule the world), ad ignorantiam (since we don't know much about the effects of carbon, let's do nothing. . . ), and just plain non sequiturs (Newton's law of motion was "overthrown" so distrust everything short of that) has not been seen for, um, weeks on this page.


Judging by the number of op-eds by (ironically) elite (i.e., very rich, very educated, very isolated from the unwashed masses) writers, there’s a consensus forming around the notion of elitism: it’s bad.  Some argue that elitism is insulting; some argue that it could seem insulting; some use it to explain the Gore having "lost" the 2000 election.  By contrast, folksyism–the "wanna have a beer with" seems to be the true test of a presidential candidate.  The only people, oddly, who think this kind of nonsense are the members of the "elite" media.  

Today George Will, who makes untold thousands to give lectures to prominent law firms (Dear law firms: I’ll do it for one eighth of the price and I promise most of what I say will be true, coherent, and well established by argument) finds this elitism–I mean, liberal elitism, a bad thing.

Barack Obama may be exactly what his supporters suppose him to be. Not, however, for reasons most Americans will celebrate.

Obama may be the fulfillment of modern liberalism. Explaining why many
working-class voters are "bitter," he said they "cling" to guns,
religion and "antipathy to people who aren’t like them" because of
"frustrations." His implication was that their primitivism,
superstition and bigotry are balm for resentments they feel because of
America’s grinding injustice.

By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism’s transformation since Franklin Roosevelt.
What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its
working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those
people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.

"His implication" is a bit of a stretch, but let’s grant that some may reasonably be taken aback by those words.  That kind of stuff happens–and after nearly eight years of President Bush (and VP Cheney) Americans ought to be used to being offended.  But hey, we’re not going to draw any large, unjustified inferences from Bush’s malapropisms or Cheney’s meanness.  But George Will won’t can’t help himself:

The iconic public intellectual of liberal condescension was Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970 but whose spirit still permeated that school when Obama matriculated there
in 1981. Hofstadter pioneered the rhetorical tactic that Obama has
revived with his diagnosis of working-class Democrats as victims — the
indispensable category in liberal theory. The tactic is to dismiss
rather than refute those with whom you disagree.

You’ve got to be kidding me.  That’s exactly what Will is up to hear. 

Obama’s dismissal is: Americans, especially working-class
conservatives, are unable, because of their false consciousness, to
deconstruct their social context and embrace the liberal program. Today
that program is to elect Obama, thereby making his wife at long last
proud of America.

Hofstadter dismissed conservatives as victims of character flaws and
psychological disorders — a "paranoid style" of politics rooted in
"status anxiety," etc. Conservatism rose on a tide of votes cast by
people irritated by the liberalism of condescension.

Obama voiced such liberalism with his "bitterness" remarks to an audience of affluent San Franciscans. Perfect.

Here is what Will is trying to say: Liberals (spit spit) dismiss people as crazy rather than as merely being in the wrong.  Here’s what Will ends up saying: I dismiss liberals because they’re effete snobs (San Francicso, San Francisco) who look down on other people.


If you look at opinion journalism, you'll often find the author complaining of someone's willful dishonesty and/or lack of basic critical thinking skills. This is the "opponent" (yes, I'm looking for a new name) variety of op-ed.  That's the op-ed directed at specific opponents (this also includes specific fantasy opponents).  This specific type of op-ed is typical of the conservative pundits usually featured on this page.  Paul Krugman is the only liberal I can find who writes frequently in this genre.  So, again, when people ask, "where are the liberals?" this is the answer–they just don't write or argue like their conservative colleagues.  In many respects I think they should.  

The typical opponent op-ed will consist in the claim that the object of criticism fails some basic critical thinking and/or honesty test.  Such charges seem to me to be very serious.  It's also very worthwhile that they be made.  But it's worthwhile especially when they're made properly.  When they're not made properly,they lead to the misspelling of misspelling problem.  In other words, there's a right way to attack an argument and a wrong way. 

It's truly surprising to me, however, how often such charges are made.  Take David Brooks today: 

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent’s strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week’s Democratic chorus: McCain isn’t really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He’s more tainted than his reputation suggests.

This is the basic opponent style attack.  Obama's consultants lack imagination and independent thought (they're part of the chorus!), so they mistakenly go after McCain on his strengths–he's not cozy with lobbyists, as the evidence will show.  Then he proceeds to deal with evidence. 

This, it seems to me, is the wrong way to go about the opponent op-ed.  Brooks sets the whole thing up in psychological terms.  Obama's consultants lack imagination and critical thought–they follow "fads" that lead them into making silly and false claims about McCain.  After a partial list of McCain's achievements on special interests, Brooks concludes:

Over the course of his career, McCain has tried to do the impossible. He has challenged the winds of the money gale. He has sometimes failed and fallen short. And there have always been critics who cherry-pick his compromises, ignore his larger efforts and accuse him of being a hypocrite.

This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus.

And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense.

Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.

The last line made me chuckle a bit (I kept thinking of "the coward with a manly bearing" and Brooks's other vile distortions from the 2004 election–insult to reality!). 

But this remark is also funny because this column is an accusation of the variety Brooks describes.  Brooks is right to respond to the claim that McCain is tainted by special interests.  In fact, if he thinks its false and he has the evidence that it is, then by all means he ought to respond.  This is a crucial function of the opponent op-ed.  It can go directly at the argument–focus the mind of the reader on whether specific claims warrant belief.

But that's where it ought to stop.  Brooks does himself in with the silly framing of his piece: people who wonder about McCain's honesty (and they are legion, by the way) suffer from a fundamental lack of critical skill–or they're mediocre.  We could do, in other words, without the ad hominems.  If it's wrong or misleading to say that McCain is cozy with special interests, then just show why.  Accusing people who think of this of shallow partisan hackery is shallow partisan hackery.  

Dueling pundits

Here's Charles Krauthammer:

In fact, in May 2006 Cordesman had written that "no one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good." Now, however, there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.

Unless you're a Democrat. As Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) put it, "Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq." Their Senate leader, Harry Reid, declares the war already lost. Their presidential candidates (eight of them at the time) unanimously oppose the surge. Then the evidence begins trickling in.

I was going to say something like: Wow, you'd have to be insane to disagree with Charles Krauthammer!  Well, ok, primarily because he so frequently calls those who disagree with him insane.  You see, Bush's opponents have so succumbed to Bush Derangement Syndrome that they can't admit the obvious truth.  Krauthammer concludes:

Why? Imagine the transformative effects in the region, and indeed in the entire Muslim world, of achieving a secure and stable Iraq, friendly to the United States and victorious over al-Qaeda. Are the Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory?

Nice complex question! But we know that that's a distraction from the real question.  Krauthammer has shifted focus from the discussion of whether the surge is working, to what psychological diagnosis characterizes those who disagree with the fact that the surge has worked.  I was going to say that I swear.  Then I read Michael Kinsley (on the same page in the Washington Post!):

It is now widely considered beyond dispute that Bush has won his gamble. The surge was a terrific success. Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They're all down, down, down. Lattes sold by street vendors are up. Performances of Shakespeare by local repertory companies have tripled.

Skepticism seems like sour grapes. If you opposed the surge, you have two choices. One is to admit that you were wrong, wrong wrong. The other is to sound as if you resent all the good news and remain eager for disaster. Too many opponents of the war have chosen option two.

That's right.  All the talk about sour grapes, and the "you're only saying that because" covers up the fact that by all of the metrics offered by the surge supporters, the surge has been a failure.  Or at least, it's an open question as to whether the surge has worked.   Kinsley continues:

But we needn't quarrel about all this, or deny the reality of the good news, to say that at the very least, the surge has not worked yet. The test is simple, and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.

Then he goes on to argue for that.  He arrives at the always more pressing question at the end: 

And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that they would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops — and claim victory — if they had any confidence at all that the gains they brag about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't to the situation a year ago. It's to the situation before we got there. Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "debaathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and that "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.

You might have several words to describe this situation, but "success" would not be one of them.

And it would be important not to forget that.