Thursday, February 08, 2007

If Wishes Were Horses (Jonah Goldberg Remix)

Today, as Atrios kindly reminds us, is Jonah Goldberg Day.

Two years ago, the nationally syndicated columnist and self-proclaimed "expert" (of what, it's still not clear), in a self-described "fit of pique" made a wager with Middle East expert Juan Cole:
Since he [Cole] doesn't want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now). This way neither of us can hide behind clever word play or CV reading. If there's another reasonable wager Cole wants to offer which would measure our judgment, I'm all ears. Money where your mouth is, doc.

Matthew Yglesas has a brief summary of the debate, the proffered wager, and the aftermath. Cole, to his credit, declined to treat the Iraqi people as if they were a bunch of greyhounds at the track.

Goldgerg now argues that he's off the hook, since the bet was "off."

Nice try, JG.

There are two issues here: (1) the proposed bet (which was tawdry, as both parties have come to agree) and (2) Jonah's allegations of his own so-called expertise and judgment when weighed against Juan Cole's extraordinary knowledge of affairs in the Middle East. The first action may have been null and void, but the debate--which preceded and superceded the wager--was alive and well and should call into question anything Goldberg says about the Iraqi civil war. He was not only wrong (and Cole was right), he was spectacularly wrong.

But Jonah's new strategy in response to his second defeat is more telling: He approvingly quotes an e-mail correspondent who says Jonah "made the bet in the honest hope and desire that things would and could get better [emphasis added]."

And right there you can see the problem. The entire debacle in Iraq has been faith-based rather than reality-based: our entry into Iraq and our subsequent strategies there are founded not on what could have been done (according to experts familiar with both the region and with the pitfalls of "nation-building") but on what might have been done if we lived in some neo-con utopia that never has and never will exist.

This isn't a matter of bad guesswork, or a reasonable prediction gone bad. Instead, the state of affairs in Iraq today is something any (and every) reasonable and/or knowledgeable person predicted two years ago--and many folks predicted it four years ago. That our foreign policy continues to be dominated by the faith-based war-planning community is frighteningly clear not only because "pundits" like Jonah Goldberg refuse to leave the arena in shame but also because non-experts like Fred Kagan are now advising Bush and Cheney.

For more than five years, the supporters of Bush's policies have been praying, not thinking; they have based their outlook entirely "on honest hope and desire" rather than on evidence or reason. Hell, I have the "honest hope and desire" that (to quote Jonah's correspondent again) "liberty and democracy [will come to] one of the most troubled regions of the world"--let's start with China. But I would be a total ass to suggest, much less believe, that we could invade a sovereign country (like China), overthrow their authoritarian regime, occupy their territory, install a government friendly to our interests, control their natural resources, reconcile longstanding ethnic differences, and make them love us.

Imagine if a company's CFO announced in a board meeting that his rosy outlook for future growth was based mostly on "honest hope and desire." He'd be filing for unemployment within hours. It's time for Jonah and Company to do the same.