the prequelOkay, yes: Irving Kristol and Jonah Goldberg and Michael Ledeen and Max Boot and the rest of the wankosphere have been wrong about everything having to do with the war in Iraq, but they still somehow get published and invited to appear on TV and yadda yadda yadda.
But I can't say enough about Ron Robin's book about the Cold War, which is so incredibly well worth reading. Especially worthwhile (aside from the necessary introduction, which establishes the premises of the book) is chapter nine, which discusses the Rand Corporation's behavioral sciences "analysis" of the "insurgency" in Vietnam. Speaking of people who succeed by getting everything completely wrong.
I won't try to summarize, but the bottom line is that Rand -- working for U.S. Air Force pay -- unleashed a foul stream of utter bullshit on the world, prescribing a series of fact-free and ideologically insane measures that failed, failed, and failed again. Which led to, yes, new "research" contracts from a government that was increasingly desperate for answers. Get paid, fail, get paid again as a consequence of failure.
I'm more convinced with each passing day that being demonstrably right about policy choices not only has nothing to do with the success or failure of pundits and think tank bloviators, but can even be directly harmful to their careers. The important thing is to make the right kinds of noises, always sounding enough like what everybody else is already thinking that no one can identify you as an outlier or an intellectual deviant. The important thing is to be conventionally respectable, not right.
So a responsible analyst is one who said, in late 2001 or 2002, that the Iraqis would greet Americans as liberators, and there would be a quick transition to peace and stability; loud, shrill, dangerous nutjobs said that the war would produce complex and ugly outcomes. Notional level-headedness and actual correctness are unrelated.
And so the rest of us are stuck endlessly on the merry-go-round.
And yes, I know that other people have already said this. But it was attention-getting to read such familiar stuff in a different context, so I'm saying it again. There's a basic, built-in failure in our ability to discuss the consequences of policy choices -- and that failure will show up again.
Seriously: Read this book, or at least the introduction and the chapter on Rand and Vietnam, and see if it doesn't sound entirely, gravely familiar.