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The Best, Worst, And Most Improved Op-Eds Of The Week

The Best: In the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski outlines the inductive fallacy at the heart of the case for perpetuating the war in Iraq — comparing unrealistically optimistic projections of Iraq's future if the war continues to unrealistically pessimistic projections … Read More

By / April 4, 2008

The Best:

In the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski outlines the inductive fallacy at the heart of the case for perpetuating the war in Iraq — comparing unrealistically optimistic projections of Iraq's future if the war continues to unrealistically pessimistic projections if it doesn't — and offers a sensible plan for bringing the war to an end. The key is to provide rational incentives for middle Eastern states to cooperate in stabilizing Iraq, i.e., establishing a framework whereby neighboring states participate in mitigating the consequences of American withdrawal not because of US or EU pressure, but because they stand to profit by doing so. (A pre-emptive word to commenters: I am fully aware of who Zbigniew Brzezinski is.)

Sticking with Iraq, Anthony Cordesman delivers a sobering critique in the New York Times of the overhyping of the scope and centrality of al Qaeda forces to the deep-seated ethnic and sectarian conflicts that stand in the way of establishing a unified Iraqi state in which the government maintains a monopoly on force. If there were no al Qaeda in Iraq, Cordesman warns, the incentive would not exist for Sunni groups to cooperate with the Shiite central government whose political domination they (rightly) fear. Further, the currently dormant multilateral (and border-spanning) ethnic conflicts over control of northern Iraq would remain unresolved. Worst of all, the on-again off-again civil war among Shiite factions would have no countervailing force to prevent an escalation of violence in which the only winner can be Iran. The takeaway point is that to the extent the US has a long-term strategy in Iraq, our short-term strategy cuts against it.

In the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell offers a measured criticism of the "libertarian paternalism" of Barack Obama advisers Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, as advanced in their new book Nudge. Thaler and Sunstein propose to take advantage of real-world failures of ideally rational decision-making in order to craft public policy that promotes the good of the many without infringing individual rights. The problem, as Caldwell notes, is that by nudging individual choices in the direction Thaler and Sunstein approve, they limit the extent to which people are free to make decisions about what it is they want in the first place. Moreover, Thaler and Sunstein are afflicted by cognitive biases of their own, such as praising the anti-littering policies and public pressure that have swayed dog owners towards cleaning up after their pets, without thinking through the long-term environmental consequences of putting that much more non-biodegradable plastic on the market.

The Worst:

Did I tell you, or did I not tell you, that Hillary Clinton chose to make Jeremiah Wright one of her campaign's public talking points in an editorial meeting with Richard Mellon Scaife's newspaper for a specific reason? Namely, "she could trust no other publication to understand, frame, and properly distribute the real message she's trying to express." Who could have guessed it, Scaife's rag went live this week with an op-ed by Ralph R. Reiland asserting (not really arguing) that Barack Obama has been a party to "lighting murderous fires in the black community." Is the guilt by multiple degrees of association crowd ready to STFU now?

In the LA Times, Jonah Goldberg warns ominously of a new form of religious bigotry against Christians: What he calls "Darwin fish." Where to begin? Firstly, Darwin decals have been around for decades, so we can safely assume that the actual point of this column is to fulfill a contractual obligation on a day when Goldberg had no original ideas (like the idea that liberals are fascists). Secondly, Goldberg's effort is somewhat impressive for the sheer number of factual errors it crams into the relatively small real estate of a newspaper column. Here are a couple: Goldberg mistakes the animal identified with Darwin (it's a turtle — because, as Goldberg seems not to know or care, members of the order testudines are rather important to Darwin). Also, Goldberg claims that the Jesus fish is based on "the Greek word IXOYE, which not only means fish but serves as an acronym, in Greek, for 'Jesus Christ the Son of God [Is] Savior.'" Well, except that the Greek word is ?????, which, if you insisted on spelling in Roman characters, would be 'Ichthys.' Goldberg's linguistic difficulties aside, it appears that the Darwin turtle offends him. As he puts it, "I find Darwin fish [sic] offensive," on the grounds that it's okay to affirm an identity, as with the Jesus fish, but pernicious to attack an identity. Presumably then, Goldberg is okay with "white power" and "black power" as slogans. Whereas secularists even attempting to affirm their own identity is a form of bigotry.

Speaking of wastes of column inches, Richard Cohen gives his Washington Post column over to — surprise! — using some minor non-controversy to preen about his own righteousness. "A new book argues that we should not have fought WWII. It is wrong." Okay Richard, thanks for the tip.

The Most Improved:

In my hometown's little league, players in the youngest boys division can't strike out. If they swing and miss three pitches (from their fathers), they get to hit the ball off a tee. Keep that teeball standard in mind when you read over Bill Kristol's column in the New York Times this week. Kristol (okay, let's be honest, his ghostwriter) spends 793 words making the banal and at best worthy of a blog post point that John McCain should talk about issues and not just his biography while campaigning. Still this is Kristol we're talking about. The piece contains no libels recycled from right-wing fringe sites, no factual, grammatical, or syntactical trainwrecks, and even uses generally clear and precise prose. Great success!

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