An Unfalsifiable Foreign Policy

[Jon Henke]

Commentary Magazine's Peter Feaver says we're still turning corners in Iraq, and there's bound to be a victory parade beyond one of those corners some day...

Over the past sixteen months, the United States has altered its trajectory in Iraq. We are no longer headed toward a catastrophic defeat and may be on the path to a remarkable victory. As a result, the next President, Democrat or Republican, may well find it easier to adopt the broad contours of this administration’s current strategy than to jeopardize progress by changing course abruptly. [...] The challenge…was to develop and implement a workable strategy that could be handed over to Bush’s successor.


Justin Logan says this is a "heads-we-win-tails-you-lose" strategy for the Bush Administration. Matt Yglesias calls it "Kick the Can."

I'll make a prediction: for the rest of the campaign season, one of the following arguments can/will be made for pretty much anything that happens in Iraq...

  1. [Something] is evidence that we are succeeding/failing in Iraq. Therefore, we must continue/withdraw.


  2. [Something] is good/bad news, but we should be careful not to read too much into it.

One big problem with the current Iraq policy is that it is pretty much unfalsifiable. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. The lack of clear metrics and falsifiable predictions blurs the line between "has not yet succeeded" and "has failed". It would be helpful if proponents and opponents of the war would make clear, falsifiable predictions we could use to evaluate their prescriptions.

If the argument is simply that "it will eventually succeed/fail if we continue/withdraw", then there will always be sufficient evidence to justify continued rationalizations.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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