Backstabbing

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THE PLANK JULY 30, 2007

Backstabbing

Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon have written a widely discussed op-ed in today's New York Times arguing that the surge is working. It's hard for me to evaluate whether their argument is correct, but the on-the-ground evidence they present from their recent trip to Iraq deserves to be treated seriously.

Matthew Yglesias all but accuses them of lying:

Meanwhile, it's worth noting the incentives that O'Hanlon and Pollack face. If they bow to reality and say the US should move rapidly to start cutting our losses in Iraq, then they're people who advocated in favor of a disastrous policy and this'll be bad for their careers. If, by contrast, they say the surge is looking good, and then work together with Bush administration officials and The Weekly Standard to construct a stab in the back narrative about Iraq, then they can hope to salvage their professional reputations at the expense of liberals.

First of all, this badly misreads O'Hanlon and Pollack's incentives. They're Democrats. Nobody of any consequence to them considers them insufficiently hawkish. The biggest single impediment to their careers is the massive enmity and presumptions of bad faith aimed at them by fellow liberals. If I were Ken Pollack and I wanted a job advising the next Democratic president, I would flamboyantly denounce the surge and demand a pullout from Iraq.

I'm not saying they're brave for writing something that will further inflame liberal Democrats. I'm just saying there's a pretty strong chance that they actually believe what they're writing.

Second, Yglesias accuses them of advancing "a stab in the back narrative." A stab in the back narrative means that we're winning the war but liberals and the press are making us lose, perhaps deliberately. It's true that many conservatives are, disgustingly, saying this. But there's literally nothing to that point in the Pollack/O'Hanlon op-ed.

The only way Yglesias could be correct is if he thinks that any claim that the surge is succeeding is tantamount to a "stab in the back narrative." But this, of course, would drain the concept of any meaning. It's perilously close to implying that anybody who has a different view of the surge is a Nazi.

--Jonathan Chait

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posted in: the plank, iraq, kenneth pollack, matthew yglesias

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