Saturday, November 30, 2013

Don't trust civil war predictions. Including mine.

Last week I listened to a Commonwealth Club podcast about Syria from early September, where I heard their invited speakers make retrospective fools of themselves as they poked fun at how the Obama Administration "boxed itself in" on chemical weapons in Syria.

Hearing their predictions of a fiasco on that issue prompted me to write about my own predictions on the outcome of civil wars, which don't seem that great. I can give myself some slight credit in the summer of 2011 when the mainstream said the Libyan war was at a stalemate, I thought that temporary victories by the government obscured a long term advance by rebels. That's pretty much it in terms of good predictions (written down somewhat late) - I could see an existing trend but not a change in trend. Seven months before that I said Qaddafi would be out within a week. My Libya wrap-up concluded that Assad would win in Syria. By July 2012 I acknowledged my pessimism about Assad was wrong but then thought it looked like the rebels were slowly winning. That too was wrong, as we see in the screwed up stalemate today.

My only defense is that I don't think my predictions are worse than what you'll find in the MSM. I welcome links to someone who got predictions consistently right, and made them early. Meanwhile I think it's still useful to make predictions - the people who make policy recommendations without predicting what results will come from those recommendations aren't adding any value.

Keeping track of those predictions and eating some crow as appropriate is still required, though.

UPDATE:  more Commonwealth Club, more foolishness about Syria and chemical weapons. This time from the moderator, Janine Zacharia, former Wash Post Bureau Chief. Even more depressing was the Israeli consul, who outright refuses to believe that the Arab Spring could be remotely about a drive for democracy as opposed to basic instincts of an honor-driven society.