"I'm all for being on offense. But I think in retrospect we called the wrong play. But simply because you called the wrong play doesn't mean you walk off the field."
Let's think about that, shall we? It sounds very magnanimous and lofty, until you realize that the reason it sounds that way is because it's something someone else would normally say to the person who made the wrong call. The person who made the wrong call might be consumed by shame, tempted to give it all up, and some wise mentor rallies him to fight again by saying: just because you called the wrong play doesn't mean you walk off the field.
But it's not at all the sort of thing you normally get to say to yourself after you made a horrible mistake, any more than you get to tell your victims to get over it, or lecture them on the value of forgiveness. Other people can say that to them, and they may be right; but if you are the person who has wronged them you do not. Same here.
Moreover, consider the mistake Jonah Goldberg made. He helpfully identifies it for us in the same Corner comment:
"But, of the many arguments in favor of toppling Saddam in 2001-2002 one of the most important — in my mind and, I believe, in the mind of many others — was that toppling the Iraq domino and standing-up a stable, democratically inclined government was supposed to be comparatively easy." (Goldberg's italics.)
That's not a little mistake. It's an enormous one. Jonah Goldberg is paid to write about issues like Iraq; he does not get cut the same slack that I'd give someone who tried to figure out whether to support the war while working full time as an accountant or a janitor. This is Jonah Goldberg's job. And this mistake is on a par with a doctor saying, after a disastrous surgery: "oh, you mean that's the liver?"
If that doctor went on to say: "Simply because you called the wrong play doesn't mean you walk off the field", we'd laugh at him. For a doctor not to know which of those little doohickeys is the liver is not just a "wrong call"; it's a reason to take away his license. For someone who writes about foreign policy to a large audience to think that it would be easy to create a democracy in Iraq is exactly the same.
Of course, we knew that Jonah Goldberg wasn't serious about foreign policy (or, as far as I can tell, about much of anything.) Who can forget this pearl of wisdom, for instance:
"Well, I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I'm not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." (...)
For now let's fall back on the Ledeen Doctrine. The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense."
Only someone who had no idea at all of what war is like -- that it often means the deaths of large numbers of people, children left without parents, societies smashed to bits, and an enormous amount of hatred unleashed on the world; and moreover that both wars and their consequences wars are inherently unpredictable -- could possibly write that. And while I might cut my FedEx delivery guy some slack if he didn't know that, I cut people who make their living writing about and advocating war no slack at all.
If a surgeon killed someone because he didn't know which of those squishy bits was the liver, and if for some reason he wasn't thrown out of the profession, he should stop practicing of his own accord. And if someone who advocated a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, did incalculable damage to the interests and the moral standing of his own country, and resulted in bands of killers wandering around using power drills to torture people did it because he thought that creating a democracy in a brutalized and fractured country would be easy, the honorable thing would be to resign and take up some profession in which one's sheer lack of judgment would be unlikely to harm anyone ever again. Organic farming, say, or playing Mickey Mouse at Disney World.
He certainly wouldn't say something inane like: "simply because you called the wrong play doesn't mean you walk off the field." Because the truth is: it depends on just how wrong that call was.
But then, an honorable person would have thought a lot longer and a lot harder before advocating war in the first place.