One of the many reasons to be skeptical of the Dish's awards is that they encourage the kind of distorting category-ticking, context and argument-free "opinion through aggregation" that can make even the most thoughtful blog stupid and churlish. So see Beauchamp's two "Van Hoffman Award" winners for today, which celebrate bad predictions.
First, Matt Yglesias:
"Strategic air power still doesn't really work. Will airpower advocates ever learn?"
Well, OK, actually, no. When I copy and paste Matt's quote, it shows up like this:
That's because what is being quoted here is actually the title of a post and the first line of a post. You wouldn't know that from reading Beauchamp's "award," but then that is of course the point of having this whole awards construction in the first place: it hides all that lame "intellectual honesty" business. Now, if one of my students cited something this way, I'd mark it wrong and make them fix it before I graded the paper. But perhaps such pedantry is really only appropriate when I'm actually being employed as a pedant.
No, the really galling thing here is that this bad prediction supposedly made by Matt is in fact from a 65-word post, more than half of which is a quote. That quote, meanwhile, is itself from the Guardian referring to anonymous military sources in the British military and NATO apparatus. In other words, the people actually making this asserted (but not remotely proven) bad prediction aren't Matt Yglesias, as would be clear to absolutely anyone who bothered to click through to the link. It's like a "Von Hoffman by convoluted proxy" award winner. Of course, Beauchamp is counting on most of Andrew's readers to not click the link, and he's right to assume that most won't.
Now, far be it from me to make Yglesias's argument for him. In fact, I don't have to, as he's written on strategic air power on several occasions. Not in short, off-the-cuff quotes of news reports like what is linked to here, but in substantive posts-- the kind with actual arguments that you actually have to rebut, rather than hide behind a fatuous and tired awards gimmick and the considerable institutional authority of a blog whose reputation you've done nothing to build. Here's a briefer one regarding Iraq and the fact that the media-ready good appearances of lower US casualties meant little for achieving the strategic aims of the Iraq campaign. If I would put my own gloss on it, I would say that Matt consistently argues that strategic air power is fine for blowing shit up but very limited in achieving the large host of strategic and diplomatic goals we tend to have in foreign affairs. That attitude has not been remotely challenged by recent events. Blowing the shit out of Qaddafi's military is the easy part. Building a democratic society, a humanitarian success, and a functioning post-Qaddafi civic infrastructure is what actually matters. This argument has the nontrivial benefits of being accurate, demonstrable through historical evidence (Dear Zack: Vietnam was a real thing!) and intellectually and ethically modest. But like I said. Argument=hard, played out Internet award meme=easy.
I'm afraid Beauchamp gave a second award, this one to Daniel Larison.
"We are no closer to finding a means by which Gaddafi would be forced to 'go' than we were four months ago."
First, tell Zack Beaucamp with my love and a kiss that if he is ever in possession of a tenth of the understanding of foreign policy and military affairs that Daniel Larison enjoys, he'll have reason for pride. This one at least meets the minimal standard of quoting someone who was not himself quoting someone else. It also seems to represent an actual prediction! Unfortunately for Beauchamp, it also contains some significant historical context and consideration of complex and nuanced recent events, which Beauchamp has not deigned to access today.
The rebels now say that the offer for Gaddafi to remain in Libya after stepping down has “expired,” which raises the question why it was ever made at all. It’s an odd bit of timing for them to extend the offer, wait until both Britain and France have endorsed the idea, and then withdraw it after Britain and France exposed themselves to no end of ridicule for having entertained the idea.In case it isn't clear, Larison is here reacting to an actual overture made by the actual Libyan rebels, which seemed then and seems now like a curious and out of character move that suggested conflicting principles within that organization. This post (which is about a month old) is trying to make some sense of a rebel movement which has at times operated in the peculiar way that large, shaggy, and complex military groups do when they lack clear leadership, unanimity of principles, and clearly articulated political goals. Now, I wouldn't put this particular maneuver on equal footing with their history of assassinating one of their own generals or targeting sub-Saharan Africans as Qaddafi's mercenaries without evidence (little bits of nuance that escape the commentary of Mr. Beauchamp), but I think Daniel had a right to read about this information and question their capacity to take Tripoli, or even their will to.
Or here's this from Daniel:
As a matter of protecting the civilian population, the Libyan war was already lost shortly after it went from being a defensive operation to protect rebel-held areas to a campaign to topple Gaddafi, so it’s not clear what “finishing the job” could mean under the circumstances.The operative distinction here being that Daniel Larison has long demonstrated that he actually cares about the material conditions of the lives of actual Libyans, and that he is possessed of a discriminating refusal to quickly describe actors or events as good or bad out of the sensible logic that these events take time to unspool. I don't doubt that in some vague undergraduate sense Zack Beauchamp wants nothing but the best for the Libyan people, but I have to tell you that it is likely just this simplistic: he probably imagines that there is some such thing as "nothing but the best," that it can be achieved here on earth by us fragile mortals without trampling the autonomy or rights of Qaddafi loyalists, and that he is in possession of such wisdom that he can know it when he sees it and bestow that vision upon the Libyan people. I have said it before and I will say it again: the surest, quickest test of whether someone genuinely cares for the well-being of innocent Libyan people lies in whether he or she is willing to wait beyond the news cycle and the election cycle to see what the long-term prognosis is. I don't begrudge the right of American people to view Libyan events through an American lens, but the Dish's focus on Libya's consequences for Barack Obama has been a little ugly.
Incidentally-- some might take from my post title that I am arguing that Beauchamp is unworthy of working at the Dish. Well, worthiness doesn't mean what it once did in blogging, but in any event, rest assured: I'm sure Beauchamp has a fine resume and a very shiny degree. He's likely a young guy and will have lots of opportunities. But he's compounded the sin of his adherence to what is in my view a very reductive view of the world with a flatly distorting attack on two bloggers who deserved better. He should reconsider.