Home / imperial punditry / Motivations



I think Matt retreats too quickly from Chait and Douthat here….

Speculation about motives can be problematic, first because, in the absence of any written or spoken evidence, it’s always going to be speculation. Second, it can assume that your target is a liar, which can be comforting but isn’t always accurate, and in any case doesn’t open the field for productive discussion. Not everyone is Bill Kristol, of whom we can more or less assume unstated motives and intentions. On the other hand, it’s not always sensible to assume the integrity of a target, given strong incentives of whatever kind to argue for a particular position. Also, attempting to divine motivation doesn’t always assume that a subject is lying; motivated bias, or the seeing what we desire to see, is a legitimate concern.

So, while I agree with Ross that O’Hanlon and Pollack likely aren’t intentionally developing a “stab-in-the-back” narrative such that they can, in the future, ensure their positions on Fox News, I don’t think it follows that they have no careerist motivations for arguing what they do. Some sort of objective assessment of their career prospects matters less than what they think of their career prospects. While it may appear to Douthat right now that the good career move would be to admit error and call the whole thing off, O’Hanlon and Pollack have both built successful careers out of being on the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party. They may well believe that the Democratic Party will come back to them, perhaps after an electoral defeat, or a disastrous withdrawal, and thus that they don’t need to move towards the current Democratic mainstream. It’s hard to give up what you know, and what they know how to do is be more hawkish than the average Democrat.

What we have to remember is that hawkish Democrats have, for a very long time, understood themselves to be on the edge of Democratic opinion. It’s based on what is, in my view, a fundamental misassessment of both the American political scene and the Democratic Party, but it is nevertheless the case that Democratic hawks, perceive themselves as beset by hippies. For O’Hanlon and Pollack, then, it’s not so much that the terrain has fundamentally changed, as that it’s gotten more difficult.

But Matt is correct in saying that O’Hanlon and Pollack are a)simply wrong on the evidentiary basis available to us, and b) have a history of misreading the situation in Iraq such that any claims they make are quite questionable. Chait writes that “the on-the-ground evidence they present from their recent trip to Iraq deserves to be treated seriously” but what stands out about their piece is that the evidence they provide is either irrelevant (it’s great that morale is great, but without outcomes, who cares?), anecdotal (some Kurds are getting along with some Sunni), simply wrong (casualties down, electricity up) or both anecdotal and wrong (we met a shopkeeper who likes Americans and wants them to stay, unlike the vast majority of his countrymen).

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