Two years ago today, Jonah Goldberg offered Juan Cole a bet:
"Anyway, I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn't want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now). This way neither of us can hide behind clever word play or CV reading. If there's another reasonable wager Cole wants to offer which would measure our judgment, I'm all ears. Money where your mouth is, doc.
One caveat: Because I don't think it's right to bet on such serious matters for personal gain, if I win, I'll donate the money to the USO. He can give it to the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or whatever his favorite charity is. "
Juan Cole turned the bet down. Jonah Goldberg seems to think that this makes it silly to discuss the whole thing:
"E&P this morning asked Goldberg for his response, and he e-mailed: "I offered the bet in a foolish fit of pique with Cole. ... Cole refused to take the bet. ... [Now] it seems that his fans want it both ways. They want to extol Cole as a prince for not accepting the bet, but they want me to be held accountable to it even though he never agreed to it. Countless blogs have been dishonest about this suggesting I owe Cole himself $1,000."
Just so I'm very, very clear about this: Juan Cole turned down the bet. Therefore, Jonah Goldberg does not owe him any money. Not a dime.
However, that's not the point. The point, according to me, is that Jonah Goldberg offered this bet as proof of his superior judgment. That in itself was a demonstration of bad judgment: at any rate, I would think long and hard before challenging CharleyCarp, von, Seb, or publius to a bet about the law, and on those occasions when I have disagreed with people who really ought to know a lot more than me -- disagreeing with the Israeli military establishment about the likely consequences of the war in Lebanon is the example that leaps to mind -- I spent a long time questioning my own judgment before I did so.
In any case, Jonah Goldberg offered this as proof of his superior judgment. And, as Matt Yglesias points out, he also insinuated "that Professor Cole is a terrorist whereas Goldberg is a patriot." And he was wrong, wrong, wrong. Moreover: there are possible worlds in which one might think: things worked out badly, but that doesn't in any way call Goldberg's judgment into question. Suppose, for instance, that Iraq had been doing really well until some unforeseen catastrophe befell the country -- a serious epidemic, a large meteorite landing in central Baghdad, or something like that. Then one might think: could Goldberg really have been expected to foresee that?
Unfortunately for all of us, that's not what happened.
Goldberg seems to think not only that we should all forget about the bet because Cole didn't take it, but also that the fact that he has admitted that the Iraq war was a mistake settles the matter:
"Regardless, Cohen knows Cole never took the bet, but he's trying to muddy the waters. Indeed, I've admitted that Cole would have won. I've written that the Iraq War was a mistake. ... I join a long list of people whose expectations about the war and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part. ..."
But to me the point of this story is: this was the test Goldberg chose to illustrate the superiority of his own judgment. He came up with the idea. He could have chosen some other test, but he chose this one. He was, presumably, pretty sure of it. He failed that test. Moreover, he didn't fail it as a result of some unforeseeable fluke; he failed it completely, and in spades. The decent thing to do would be to admit that his judgment about such things is dreadful, and that whoever gave him a platform to write about them made a terrible mistake.
He should then find some other line of work, where he might yet, in some way, prove useful to mankind.