A few days ago Jonah Goldberg wrote in the LA Times that “the Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003.” But then at the end of his column, he wrote that “if we can finish the job, the war won’t be remembered as a mistake.” This struck me immediately as a paradoxical analysis. Is it really meaningful to say that the war is a mistake now while conceding that it might not seem like a mistake later?
Jeff Jacoby, responding to Goldberg in the Boston Globe, notes several wars that might have looked like a mistake in the heat of battle, but not like a mistake in retrospect. Perhaps, like the cat that seems to be both dead and alive until its state is observed, the war is both a mistake and not a mistake until we can actually look back on it.
(Of course, it’s not even that simple; historians often continue to argue about wars decades and even centuries later.)