Ricks delivers a good-old-fashioned bean ball
By Peter Feaver I received a couple high, hard, fast ones from fellow FP blogger (full disclosure: and old friend) Tom Ricks recently. What provoked his ire was a blog post of mine which expressed concern about whether it was prudent to stick inflexibly to the withdrawal schedule. I noted that people whose judgment I ...
By Peter Feaver
By Peter Feaver
I received a couple high, hard, fast ones from fellow FP blogger (full disclosure: and old friend) Tom Ricks recently.
What provoked his ire was a blog post of mine which expressed concern about whether it was prudent to stick inflexibly to the withdrawal schedule. I noted that people whose judgment I respected were on both sides of the "is it safe to do this now" issue. I concluded that I hoped it was safe to do so but I also hoped it would not lead to a stampede for the exit that would leave Iraq in a far worse position. My policy conclusion, Tom conceded, was the same as his own.
So what led him to reach deep into his junior-high gym-bag for such rocks as "kool-aidish" and "repeat after me?" Apparently my sin was I referenced an article by Fareed Zakaria that was entitled (by Fareed, not by me) "Victory in Iraq." In my blog post, I did not use the word "victory" to characterize the situation in Iraq. Check that, I deliberately did not use the word victory. Instead, I wrote "the opportunity for a decent outcome in Iraq seems tantalizingly close." But Fareed did use the v-word and I did link to it, albeit with an explicit sense of irony, and I guess that was enough for Tom to revisit the central theme of his work: Bush (and people who worked for Bush) merit history’s condemnation because they/we made mistakes in Iraq.
Tom is perhaps the most celebrated advocate of this view and, like all partisans in a fight, he is keen to see that his villains stay in the stockade. Thus, when a former Bush-staffer like me says that we should be careful not to undo the progress we have achieved since 2007 — or when another former Bush-staffer like John Hannah (the other villain in his piece) says that after all the mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq it would be a shame to squander recent progress with a hasty exit — we must be condemned, even though those points are exactly the ones that Ricks himself makes.
I don’t have quite the same animus he has and feel more comfortable in the role of an umpire who just calls them as I see them. Tom and I agree that the Bush administration made mistakes in Iraq and that these mistakes have had tragic costs associated with them. Where we appear to part company is here: I think that the Bush administration also did some things right in Iraq, notably President Bush’s surge decision, and that this means that President Bush salvaged some things in Iraq that the next team should seek to preserve. And Tom and I appear to part company on one further matter: I believe the other team is up at bat now, and so it seems proper to attribute to them the consequences of their choices, just as we did with the consequences of the previous team’s choices.
I think Tom is persuadable on this last point, because it is the logical conclusion of an insight I read from a trenchant observer of the Iraqi scene writing in 2008: "…the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."
So was Tom chiming 13 when he went after me? The umpire in me says that this was less a 13th chime and more a good-old-fashioned bean ball. I can take a bean ball or two just so long as they don’t tap into something deeper still.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.