Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
In his latest column about Barack Obama, New York Times columnist David Brooks offered his prediction of what the next Commander in Chief will face:
Over the next four years, the world could face a genocidal civil war in Iraq, a wave of nuclear proliferation, more Islamic extremism and a demagogues’ revolt against globalization.
For years he has been predicting victory in Iraq and minimizing the possibility of civil war. While I don't think he wants that bad stuff to come to pass, it is notable that he reserves his most realistic assessment in a rare column about a Democrat. The fact is, he has a history of making predictions that line up perfectly with his fondest wishes.
It is precisely that "betting with your heart" quality that makes me want him to join the staff here. He's an easy mark. Since joining the staff, I've had to buy expensive coffees (our usual bet) for coworkers after making bad predictions on everything from the NBA Finals to the date of Speaker Hastert's resignation. I'm tired of losing.
Even though Brooks's editorial stances and inability to do basic fact-checking would make him a tough sell to the editorial staff, the prospect of winning coffee bets might be enticing. In fact, if we just engaged him on Iraq, we'd be swimming in a sea of espresso and steamed milk.
Here are my favorite David Brooks Iraq predictions:
September 23, 2003:
The good things that are happening in Iraq are taking place far below the level of grand strategy. On Sunday, 18 bankers and civil servants from 11 central and Eastern European countries came to Iraq to describe the lessons they had learned in moving from tyranny to democracy. Every day, U.N. humanitarian workers, far removed from the marble halls of the Security Council, risk their lives to feed and clothe Iraqis. Every day, U.S. military officers spend millions of dollars building schools and tackling neighborhood issues. That's the work that gives Iraqis hope. Seventy percent of Iraqis expect their lives to improve over the next five years, and two-thirds want coalition forces to stay for at least a year, according to a recent Zogby poll.
October 7, 2003:
Washington will continue to get distracted by microscandals about leaks and such, but the Iraqi constitutional process is the most important thing that will be happening in the world in the next year. If it succeeds, Iraq really will be a beacon of freedom in the Middle East. The Americans who have died in Iraq will have given their lives in a truly noble cause.
April 10, 2004:
Come on people, let's get a grip. This week, Chicken Littles like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were ranting that Iraq is another Vietnam. Pundits and sages were spinning a whole series of mutually exclusive disaster scenarios: Civil war! A nationwide rebellion! Maybe we should calm down a bit.
Not sure what "ruthlessly flexible" means, but here's a keen prediction from April 17, 2004:
Despite all this -- and maybe it's pure defensiveness -- I still believe that in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing. To his enormous credit, the president has been ruthlessly flexible over the past months and absolutely committed to seeing this through.
May 18, 2004:
There's something about our venture into Iraq that is inspiringly, painfully, embarrassingly and quintessentially American. No other nation would have been hopeful enough to try to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East. No other nation would have been naive enough to do it this badly. No other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do.
His optimistic statements are more measured after President Kerry was inaugurated ... oops ... that was my prediction. January 11, 2005:
The arrival of a new government will also mean the end of the American-dominated authority. The new, Shiite-led government will begin debating when the Americans should leave. The new government will remake the intelligence service. It will transform the military, probably bringing in members of the Badr Brigade, trained in Iran, to join the former Baathist elements. The army will grow, and its soldiers will finally have an authentic Iraqi government to fight for.
February 1, 2005:
The journey back from where these people have been is not a straight shot, which we can readily understand. In Washington, senators make facile arguments about improving the training of Iraqi troops, trying to reduce problems of motivation to problems of technique. Ted Kennedy gave a speech last week blithely insisting that the terrorists are winning the war for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Brent Scowcroft warned of incipient civil war, denigrating the Iraqis' ability to manage their own tensions. In fact, these are a people who voted at higher rates in the face of death than we do in the face of inconvenience. These are a people who have used the campaign as a process of therapy and self-education. These people have just built the most democratic government in the Arab world.
Here's a really good one from March 8, 2005:
If the trends of the last few months continue, [Former Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul] Wolfowitz will be the subject of fascinating biographies decades from now, while many of his smuggest critics will be forgotten. Those biographies will mention not only his intellectual commitment but also his personal commitment, his years spent learning the languages of the places that concerned him, and the thousands of hours spent listening deferentially to the local heroes who led the causes he supported.
June 23, 2005:
On the one hand, there are signs of progress. U.S. forces have completed a series of successful operations, among them Operation Spear in western Iraq, where at least 60 insurgents were killed and 100 captured, and Operation Lightning in Baghdad, with over 500 arrests. American forces now hold at least 14,000 suspected insurgents, and have captured about two dozen lieutenants of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There were reports this week of insurgents fighting each other, foreign against domestic.
November 20, 2005:
As a survey by the Pew Research Center suggests, most journalists and most academics think the war is unwinnable, but 64 percent of military officers believe the U.S. can prevail. Re-enlistment rates are high because most American troops believe they can create a better Iraq... Most important, the training of Iraqi troops has been going well. Authoritative investigators like Jack Keane, the retired Army general, report that the Iraqi troops are becoming effective fighters and their morale is high.
December 18, 2005:
At the very moment that American gloom-mongers are opting for panicked withdrawal, there's been a pileup of good news on Iraq: the improved training of Iraqi troops, the more effective counterinsurgency strategies, the booming Iraqi economy, the vastly improved White House communication strategy, the amazing confidence of the Iraqi people and, most of all, this glorious election.
I suppose all of this would be funnier if an influential columnist was wrong about the NBA Finals, but Brooks has been a cheerleader for war and stenographer for the Bush team. So having him here in Madison fetching coffee would have other benefits.