Friday, November 20, 2015

The Pushing-Old-Ladies-Around Fallacy

Jonah Goldberg is spot on with his critique that President Obama seems immune to events in his determination to "stay the course" on his ISIL war plan, but it is wrong to compare this president's sorry performance in Turkey to Bush 43's refusal to admit mistakes in Iraq.

Our president was surely not up to expectations of presidential stature while he answered questions in Turkey.

But is this really a good comparison?

Obama’s bloodlessly detached and condescendingly professorial remarks seemed oddly reminiscent of those excruciating news conferences during the Iraq War when George W. Bush couldn’t bring himself to admit he made any mistakes.

As somebody wiser than myself has noted, it is not proper to say that a person who pushes an old lady in front of an oncoming bus and a person who pushes an old lady out of the way of an oncoming bus both like to push around old ladies.

Remember, whether or not Bush ever formally admitted to mistakes in Iraq, he did ultimately implicitly concede mistakes by ordering the Surge offensive that changed our strategy.

Of course, I think the "mistakes" analysis ignores that we did successfully defeat a succession of threats in Iraq (and we did win the war by 2008, so perfectly normal for wartime mistakes were not fatal to the outcome). The Surge offensive was simply one more type of threat that we had to overcome and we adapted to do that.

And it ignores the issue of timing for that major strategy change--the Awakening that took place at the end of 2006 and into 2007 was a crucial complement. We had surged troops into Baghdad earlier in 2006 after sectarian violence took off post-Golden Mosque bombing in an effort to adapt to the new threat, but with no effect on the security situation there. The timing of the Surge change was important.

But more important, the criticism of Bush ignores the difference between calls to admit error and change strategy then and now.

Can anyone doubt that the critics of today want the president to admit mistakes in order to do a better job of fighting and winning the war against ISIL?

Can anyone doubt that the critics of Bush 43 wanted him to admit mistakes in order to lose the war in Iraq?

Remember, Democratic opposition to the war intensified as Bush implicitly admitted mistakes and put in place the Surge strategy enabled by the Sunni Arab Awakening.

Even as the plan showed signs of success in summer 2007, Democrats refused to believe good results were being seen.

And even after we won the war, Democratic war opponents did their best to lose Iraq by getting out too soon.

If President Bush didn't want to admit mistakes, it was because he wanted to win and understood the insincerity of the claims by the loyal opposition that he should just admit mistakes so we could move on.

If President Obama does not want to admit mistakes, is it because of his devotion to victory or his devotion to not losing his title of "He Who Responsibly Ends Wars" while not actually losing on his watch?

Remember, despite all the mistakes in Iraq through two administrations, we do have at least a partial success in Iraq of an ally fighting at our side in the war on terror rather than an enemy who supported terror and sought to dominate the region at the expense of our allies.

Heck, even Iraq's imperfect democracy despite losses to ISIL is a factor in the Middle East:

Iraq is being keenly watched by the Arab world. It's one of only few Arab states to have held free and fair elections lately. Iraq, however, is in the center of the Arab world, and its success, or failure, as a democracy, will determine how well democracy will fair in the region. Thus the current struggle with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) takes on an added urgency.

So perhaps you can say that both President Bush and President Obama don't like to admit mistakes in their handling of the war they are responsible for waging.

But to suggest that the refusals to admit mistakes are from the same motivation is wrong and also ignores the motivations for those who want an admission of error and a change in policy.

By all means, read all of Jonah's piece. Aside from my quibble over that quoted paragraph, it is quite good.