A Question of Motives

Matt, on the Pollack-O'Hanlon pro-surge op-ed:

... 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.



I think the professional incentives cut in precisely the opposite direction. O'Hanlon and Pollack's current reputations depend on their perceived status as centrist wise men who write for places like, well, the Atlantic. Associating themselves with the dwindling faction that still hopes for victory in Iraq, or with a "stab in the back" narrative once the war is over, might make them popular guests on the right-wing talk show circuit, but it's likely to undercut their current status in the D.C. commentariat, not enhance it. From a professional standpoint, it would be far safer for them to take a Peter Beinartesque route, apologize for their mistakes, and bash Bush whenever the subject of Iraq comes up than to associate themselves with a strategy that only Bill Kristol, Joe Lieberman and David Petraeus seem to think has any chance of succeeding. That's what the "serious" people and would-be wise men on the center-left are doing these days, so far as I can tell - backing a (very slow) withdrawal from Iraq, while concentrating their fire on both the precipitous-withdrawal crowd and the proponents of the surge. And besides, isn't a common complaint on the anti-war left (and right) that hawkish pundits who reverse course don't suffer, career-wise, for having "advocated in favor of a disastrous policy"?

There are personal incentives - the desire to be vindicated against all odds chief among them - that cut in favor of O'Hanlon and Pollack supporting the surge, to be sure. But unless they define professional success as a sinecure somewhere in the vast right-wing conspiracy, which I doubt, I don't think they can be accused of careerism.

Update: Jon Chait makes a similar point.