Saturday, August 25, 2007

O'Hanlon's Methodology

Michael O'Hanlon has responded to the criticism of his upbeat New York Times article on Iraq in today's Washington Post.

I wrote recently that
progess in Iraq was causing fits on the left. I was particularly bothered by TRex over at FireDogLake, who, citing Glenn Greenwald, called O'Hanlon a liar.

Thus I'm pleased to see O'Hanlon calling some of these guys out with his clarification on methods and sources:

How can one gather and assess information about Iraq -- collected on a trip or from any other source? Information from a war zone is difficult to attain and interpretation is open to many views.

Unfortunately, much of the blogosphere and other media outlets have emphasized the wrong question, challenging the integrity of anyone who dares to express politically incorrect views about Iraq. Last week, Jonathan Finer criticized on this page ["
Green Zone Blinders," Aug. 18] a New York Times essay that Ken Pollack and I wrote, as well as the comments of several senators, for claiming too much insight based on short trips to Iraq. Finer suggested that we did not leave the Green Zone, although we frequently did, on this and other trips, and he ignored how critical Pollack and I have been of administration policy in the past.

Worse, Finer and critics such as Rep. Jack Murtha and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald have suggested that our analyses are based on a few days of military "dog-and-pony shows." Our assessments are based on our observations as well as on years of study. That experience creates networks of colleagues such as military officers whose off-the-record insights can inform ours and who in the past have often told us when they did not think their strategies were working or could work. While hardly making us infallible, this also led each of us to oppose predictions of a "cakewalk" before the invasion and to join Gen. Eric Shinseki in criticizing invasion plans that had too few troops and too little thought given to the post-invasion mission.
Read the whole thing. O'Hanlon restates the case that things are measurably better in Iraq.

I particularly like O'Hanlon's point about how critics will attack politically incorrect views. "Attack" is putting it midly. There's so much investment in failure among left-wing critics that war backers are demonized (which must be necessary to keep the antiwar momentum going).

I noted earlier that O'Hanlon's been very skeptical of America's prospects in the war (which I think gives his recent assessment additional credibility). But because he was an initial war booster, his analysis is suspect by people who despise the Bush administration.

On a related note, some readers might find interesting
the debate between international relations professor Dan Drezner and Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald has criticized the "Foreign Policy Community" of experts for their dismissal of the left-wing netroots and their criticism of the Iraq war. Apparently, this has been a pretty lengthy exchange, and Drezner's got some additional posts here, here, here, and here.

I'm just getting into this debate myself, but I am intrigued by the question of the relative importance of experts versus the netroots in the determination of American foreign policy (sounds a little like the "
red versus experts" conflict during China's Cultural Revolution.)

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