Sunday, January 14, 2007
never mind what you said, it's what you're buying:
Jon argues that we shouldn't ignore Iraq hawks because Iraq doves have been less than wise themselves. I agree.

The trouble is that Jon's focus is misconstrued. Using Jonathan Schell as his foil, he writes, "it's worth recalling that his own record of prognostication is not exactly perfect," and proceeds to list some bungled predictions. But predictions are not the issue: the thought process that goes into someone's positions is. It's certainly the case that the ability of that process to explain events on the ground is a crucial consideration, and predictions made reveal this to a great extent. However, a focus on specific predictions that don't come true can obscure the general picture. In 2003, recall, Bush and his supporters attempted to discredit their critics by noting that a predicted humanitarian calamity hadn't materialized. If Jon buys his own argument, he has to nod in agreement with this dubious point.

He doesn't need to. There were a whole host of antiwar arguments that functioned as Gettier cases. For instance, the idea that the war was reducible to oil -- oil is, of course, what makes anyone care about the Persian Gulf region, but to essentialize every impulse for war to a rapacious desire to seize oil will misexplain much about the war's architects. That's a more important consideration than someone's record of predictions: the rationale that leads them to such predictions. Remember Al Gore's September 2002 Commonwealth Club speech against the war. Gore was certainly right to oppose the war, but his premises included the desirability of deposing Saddam Hussein -- only this was to occur short of war somehow -- which introduced an element of incoherence to what was, in top-line form, a correct case. By contrast, Richard Clarke had the right argument against the war: it would, even in the best case, deal a huge setback to the broader strategic need to fuck al-Qaeda up.

What would make Jon's case a lot clearer would be if he specified what he thinks the lessons of the Iraq war actually are. He says there are several. Sure. But if he says we should learn only some things and avoid learning others, it would be nice to know which is which. Otherwise, one fears that the thinking that led Jon into his support for the war is still alive and enslaving the mind of a really great guy.
--Spencer Ackerman