Category Errors

Ross Douthat points approvingly to Mickey Kaus, who says this:

There aren’t many respected foreign policy machers who were right on the Iraq war (no) and on the surge (yes).

This breed of criticism has been popular among conservatives who champion the success of the surge, but it evinces perfectly the category error endemic to a lot of conservative thought on the topic. That is, the surge was a tactical consideration of the War in Iraq, whereas the invasion was in the first place a strategic decision, and as such can’t be compared by the same criteria. For example, many Democrats — and Barack Obama, notably — opposed the surge because it escalated involvement in a flawed strategy. Whether not that surge was successful of it’s own right, it sunk billions more into a misguided neoconservative project that has enhanced Iranian influence in the Middle East and considerably worsened America’s standing, not to mention the thousands of American lives lost and the untold casualties and hardships suffered by Iraqis. You can’t just disentangle the “surge” from the “War” as though they were discrete decisions that enjoyed their own sets of facts and circumstances.

Imagine two basketball teams are playing, and one of those teams is losing badly at half time. The losing team’s coach decides his team needs to be shooting more off the screen, which his team goes on to do, trimming the point margin, but ultimately losing simply because they were ill suited to compete against the team they were playing. If you were Mickey Kaus, you’d suggest unproductively that there weren’t too many basketball machers who were right on The Outcome of the Game (no) and on taking more shots off screens (yes). While this may be true, it’s utterly pointless to criticize those who argued taking more shots off the screen wouldn’t win the game because they underestimated the degree to which it would lower the margin of loss.


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