by Virginia Postrel • Oct 7, 2003 at 12:27 am
In his latest typically sharp column, Jonathan Rauch coolly analyzes the biases that lead to excessively pessimistic coverage of Iraq's reconstruction. Here's one that will sound familiar to readers of The Future and Its Enemies:
Planning bias. Again and again, critics charge the government with having no plan or strategy. Whenever the Pentagon or administration changes course, they charge it with having planned poorly. Headlines speak of events "out of control" in Iraq.
More than just hindsight bias is at work here. Many people, particularly the sophisticated sort, hate messiness. They like to know that smart managers are in charge, figuring out everything. Surprises are defeats.
In truth, the planning mind-set is exactly wrong for Iraq. Anything might have happened after the war: a flood of refugees, a cholera pandemic, a civil war--or, for that matter, the discovery of an advanced nuclear program. The fact that the Bush administration keeps adjusting its course, often contravening its own plans or preferences, is a hopeful sign. The administration's decisions to raise rather than reduce troop levels, to ask for $87 billion that it never planned on needing, to go looking for help from the United Nations--all this suggests not that the Iraq effort is failing but that the administration is more flexible than its rhetoric.
Only trial and error, otherwise known as muddling through, can work in Iraq. There is no other way. Muddling through is not pretty, but never underestimate America's genius for it. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington never enjoyed the luxury of planning, but they were two of the finest muddlers-through the world has ever known, and they did all right.
Whether Bush will prove a gifted muddler is at present unclear, to say the least. Bush might be a better president if he took fewer risks. But risk-takers must be judged by their results.
Read the whole thing.