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Contentions

Klein’s Pendulum

In his Swampland posting today, Joe Klein, reacting to a New York Times story that reports that the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols–groups of former insurgents who joined the American side and have been a major reason for the decline in violence around the nation–writes this:

This, of course, was the fallacy of McCain’s “We’re winning” argument from the start: Who are “we” at this point? It’s the reason why David Petraeus has never been as sanguine as the neocons about the situation on the ground. Without true political reconciliation, the success of the Surge is, by definition, temporary and ephemeral. So now there are three possible scenarios:

–the Maliki government comes to its senses and makes a major effort to reconcile with the Sunnis.

–there is renewed ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shi’ites.

–the Sunnis return to the insurgency (if not to the arms of the jihadis).

Options two and three are not mutually exclusive, of course, and the smart betting in Iraq has always been on the side of pessimism.

Fine. But just last month–not last year, but last month–Joe wrote this:

The reality is that neither Barack Obama nor Nouri al-Maliki nor most anybody else believes that the Iraq war can be ‘lost’ at this point.

This is what I mean about pundits who write with absolute certitude in The Moment. They take snapshots in time and assume what is shall ever be, and draw sweeping conclusions from it. This kind of thing happens a lot among the pundit class, though it rarely happens as often and with such glaring contradictions as we see with Klein. His analytical pendulum swings very widely and very quickly. That’s fine, if sometimes embarrassing, for a political commentator. But it’s exactly the kind of thing you don’t want in people who must actually govern a nation or run a war. Equanimity is an admirable trait, particularly in those who bear important responsibilities.


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