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.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In