Beinart on Being Wrong

Peter Beinart, among the loudest and most passionately pro-Iraq-war liberals, recently got a generous book deal to write about what Democrats should do about foreign policy.  Beinart has since recanted his support for the war, admitting (with a list of excuses) that it was a mistake. 

Kevin Drum interviews Beinart about his book at the TNR website (sub. req’d.) and asks this: 

KD: The obvious question, then, is with a track record like [yours] why should anyone listen to you now? 

PB: Anything one writes deserves to be judged by itself. The Democratic Party nominated someone in 2004 who had been flat wrong in his opposition to the Gulf War in 1991, I think most people would acknowledge that.* Many people who were very prominent figures in the Democratic foreign policy debate and the Democratic Party in general–most of the people who were there at that time in 1991 were wrong about that. The vast majority of the party was wrong, and yet it still seems to me that we have things to learn from people like Sam Nunn or John Kerry. If you were to go from the Gulf War through Kosovo and Iraq, you would find that a large number of people in every facet of the liberal Democratic universe were wrong, on at least one of those wars. Very, very few people were right about all three of them. The people who were–and I think Al Gore is in this category–deserve a significant amount of credit, but the truth of the matter is, if you were looking for an untainted record, you would find very few people. (emphasis added) 

Per Beinart, pundits’ predictions deserve to be judged by themselves.  So if someone has a consistent record of making wrong predictions and embracing dubious premises in support of a policy that turns out to be a catastrophe, when that person starts issuing declarations about similar issues, we shouldn’t pay any attention to his track record, apparently.   

That’s pretty convenient.  There were plenty of folks who got Iraq right.  Beinart got it wrong, and yet has hardly missed a beat in urging an interventionist foreign policy on his fellow liberals.  Something’s a bit odd there. 

*(I’d certainly quibble with Beinart’s belief that Gulf War I was a slam dunk success.  It put US troops in Saudi Arabia which served as a “principal recruiting device” for Osama bin Laden to rally support against the United States and laid the groundwork for the second war against Iraq.  But that’s a separate matter…)