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Schadenfreude and Ken Pollack


Yesterday morning, a colleague with mild tendencies towards neo-conservatism pointed, in irritation, to Ken Pollack’s article in the Washington Post. “It’s as if,” the colleague noted, “he hadn’t written a book trying to convince me that the war was a good idea.” Right, I said; Pollack didn’t exactly issue a mea culpa, and didn’t mention his complicity in building the case for war. On the upside, his analysis of the situation now is more or less correct; three years late, but correct.

I then go to new faculty orientation, so I’m away from the computer for seven hours or so (this is an eternity in Rob computer time). I get back and take a look at my aggregator, finding something along the line of a dozen denunciations of Pollack, ranging from the humorous to the bitter to the measured to the quizzical. This, I think, is odd. Some thoughts:

1. If you really don’t care about what Ken Pollack has to say, here’s a tip; writing an angry post about his latest article does not indicate indifference. I can honestly say that I no longer care what John Tierney or Bobo Brooks or Tom Friedman say (thank you thank you thank you Times Select), and I express this lack of interest by not writing about their columns.

2. When George Will came out not long ago and said that the Iraq War was a terrible idea, he didn’t exactly win plaudits from the left half of the blogosphere, but he did get numerous approving citations. It’s unclear to me to why Will (who was a war supporter) gets to change his mind (without issuing a mea culpa) and Pollack doesn’t. Will was even part of the chorus early on that denounced war opponents as unpatriotic, a position that Pollack, to my knowledge, never took.

3. It’s fair to say that Pollack was terribly, terribly wrong about the Iraq War, and that he’s failed to face up publicly to that error. Moreover, the magnitude of the error was rather impressive, and it demonstrated some serious blind spots. It is not, however, fair to say that Pollack is just another pundit who hasn’t the faintest idea of what he’s talking about. Pollack knows a lot about Middle Eastern military affairs; he wrote a very long and very, very good book on Arab military performance, and a long, solid-enough-if-irritating-in-parts book about US-Iranian relations. He’s also has considerable practical experience working in government. Who knows what the qualifications for “pundit” are, but Pollack is a good deal smarter and better informed than most.

4. Say what you will about The Threatening Storm, but it’s a serious book. There’s no passive, mealy-mouthed “I kinda favor this option but would prefer to cover my ass” nonsense; the subtitle is “The Case for Invading Iraq.” He takes the other options seriously, and doesn’t build strawmen. He doesn’t denounce opponents of the war as pacifists, or useful idiots. He dreadfully underestimates the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq, but points out (correctly) that the reconstruction would be the most difficult and most important element of the conflict. Again, reasonable people should have been able to tell that the Bush administration would be incapable of carrying out ANY meaningful plan to rebuild Iraq, but Pollack is hardly the only guy to make that mistake. Pollack also doesn’t have a Lieberman-esque “one size fits all” approach to solving military problems; his latest book opposes military intervention in Iran.

5. Unless I missed it, Pollack has never engaged in Beinart-style baiting of the anti-war elements of the Democratic Party. He has never suggested that his is the only reasonable position on national security, and that everyone needs to get on the bus. His focus has remained squarely on international affairs, and has not extended to undermining the political standing of domestic opponents of his favored policy.

Given all this, I find the interest in throwing Pollack under the bus both curious and troubling. As I noted in comments below, I would much prefer to welcome Pollack to the reality-based community than to suggest that he spend some time in a closed room with a revolver.

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