Why, Exactly, Does Anyone Listen to Charles Krauthammer?
Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer prize winner Charles Krauthammer has a new column out today in which he provides readers with his presumably expert take on the matter of Obama’s decision to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan by 30,000 soldiers while also having announced a force reduction to begin a year and a half afterwards. Noting further that Bob Woodward’s latest book confirms that Obama has meanwhile been seeking some sort of exit strategy, Krauthammer draws a number of conclusions about why Obama is doing such things and what the result will be for Afghanistan.
“He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out,” writes Woodward. One can only conclude that Obama now thinks Afghanistan is a mistake. Maybe he thought so from the very beginning. More charitably and more likely, he is simply a foreign policy novice who didn’t understand what this war was about until being given the authority and duty to conduct it — and then decided it was all a mistake.
Krauthammer’s charitableness in allowing for the possibility that Obama is a “foreign policy novice” rather than merely a fool who disagrees with Krauthammer about the wisdom of the present Afghanistan conflict is very sweet. It also seems to be predicated on the idea that Krauthammer himself is something greater than a foreign policy novice, as well as a reliable observer of Obama’s thinking in general and his plans for Afghanistan in particular. The problem is that neither of these things are true; having gone through his output from 1998 until the present day in the course of researching the state of American punditry for my upcoming book, I will even go so far as to say that they are, in fact, rather false.
As I’ve explained elsewhere, Krauthammer’s record of predictions in the realm of foreign policy is so horrid that it would probably surprise even many of his detractors. He spent much of 1999 explaining how Clinton’s Kosovo policy would lead to a disastrous regional war along with an “irredentist” Kosovo bent on territorial conquest. Two years later, he announced that a small uprising among ethnic Albanians in Macedonia had vindicated his prediction, but then lost interest when the conflict ended with a few dozen dead. And though at that time he saw fit to refer to NATO’s continued presence in the region as a “quagmire” with parallels to Vietnam, he spent the next few years mocking anyone who applied similar characterizations to Afghanistan and Iraq. When the Iraq surge was proposed, he was among the few prominent conservatives to predict that it would fail; a year later he claimed it be a success without mentioning his previous claims that it would be a failure and promptly went about attacking others for their own opposition to the measure.
If Krauthammer had since displayed some measure of predictive competence to match his inexplicable confidence, we might decide that perhaps there is some good reason why he is one of the nation’s most influential columnists rather than just some guy. For instance, if he had lately made some prediction regarding Afghanistan, Obama, and troop levels that had turned out to be correct or at least partly so, it would be reasonable for us to pay respectful attention to any further predictions that Krauthammer cares to make on the same matter. Contrarily, if Krauthammer had lately made a prediction on this same subject that turned out to be exactly wrong, we might just as reasonably disregard his opinion and we might even go so far as to wonder why it is that The Washington Post distributes his output as if it were something worthy of merit rather than the ramblings of some incompetent fraud.
In December of 2009, Krauthammer made one of his regular appearances on Fox News, where he made a prediction regarding the Obama, Afghanistan, and the 30,000 troops in question:
Chris Wallace: “Best guess: Will the president end up giving McChrystal the troops he wants, or will he change the war strategy?”
Charles Krauthammer: “I think he doesn’t and McChrystal resigns.”
Of course, Obama did end up giving the troops to McChrystal, who did not resign in honorable and Krauthammer-vindicating protest but rather stayed on until such time as he was forced to resign after having made no fundamental progress with the troops he’d ordered and after having also undermined the civilian leadership in front of author and journalist Michael Hastings.
And thus it is that Krauthammer, despite having been wrong about every major U.S. military matter of the past twelve years, and despite having more recently predicted the exact opposite development than what actually occurred in the matter of Obama, Afghanistan, and the troop buildup, has once again weighed in on Obama, Afghanistan, and the troop buildup, and The Washington Post and some untold number of other publications has once again published the result, and this dynamic will continue well into the future unless some other dynamic arises to counter it. If you would be inclined to assist in causing such a dynamic to come about, I would invite you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about Project PM.
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