Barack Obama’s response when asked about his assertion that the Surge was bad strategy is a picture perfect example of what Philip Tetlock described as the “I was almost right defense”. Tetlock described how analysts who failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union still argued that if the coup attempts against Yeltsin had been somewhat better organized and succeeded there would still be a USSR. Hence they were almost right but they were betrayed by facts. Jake Tapper at Political Punch has this excerpt from an interview with BHO which almost exactly reproduces that defense:
In Baghdad yesterday, after a day spent witnessing the reduction in violence in Iraq, Obama was asked by ABC News’ Terry Moran if he was wrong..
“Here is what I will say,” Obama said, “I think that, I did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii’a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.“
In other words, Bush’s strategy was wrong but the idiotic incumbent got lucky. Obama was almost right. How could he have predicted that GWB would win the lottery? The Candidate went on to say that “‘Look, whenever you put US soldiers on the ground, in those particular areas, they are going to have an impact.'” He then went on to assert that it was political reconciliation that made the difference, hence he was right after all. What Obama never seems to have grasped, even until now, was the relationship between the Surge and the “political factors”; between security and reconciliation; between war and diplomacy. That the Surge made it possible for the population to break free of terror and pursue political reconciliation. “Seems” is the word that is most apt, because I doubt that BHO is so stupid as not to see the causal link retrospectively, but he will be damned if he will admit that he was not only wrong, but blatantly wrong.
BHO’s stance on Iraq has been complex. He was against rapid withdrawal for a period which coincided with Tony Rezko’s proposed project in Kurdistan. After the wheels came off Rezko’s project, he reverted to his opposition. Maybe the timing was coincidental or Obama changed his mind in the light of predictions that the campaign in Iraq was doomed. That seemed the MSM consensus in early 2007. Then Surge came and it was the Black Swan which invalidated the predictions.
The only way to predict how well BHO will do in the Oval Office as Commander in Chief is to examine how well he did as a politician from Chicago and how good his judgments have been on the subject of the war. He says he was right all along. Personally I don’t agree with him though I have no doubt that many of his supporters will believe him. I would have preferred it if he had confessed to making a mistake, which all men are prone to, and resolved to do better. But he didn’t and that’s another piece of data against him.
It’s possible that like gloomy predictions of 2007 a future President Obama may turn out to be a Black Swan himself, wholly different from the anticipated. But it’s only fair to point out that the Black Swan may swim in either of two directions: better than hoped for or much worse.