Jonah Goldberg’s Bet

A bet Jonah Goldberg made two years ago is the subject of some amusement on the Left side of the blogosphere.

Progressive bloggers pledged about $800 as of [yesterday] morning toward the $1,000 that Jonah Goldberg said — on Feb. 8, 2005 — he’d give the USO if the Iraq War was still going badly in 2007.

Goldberg, a conservative Tribune Media Services columnist and National Review Online editor at large, had suggested the wager during a war of words he was having two years ago with “Informed Comment” blogger Juan Cole. The bet was turned down by Cole, who said at the time that Goldberg was “proposing a wager on the backs of Iraqis” and “betting on them as though they are greyhounds in a race.”

Paying the $1,000 for Goldberg was the idea of “Nitpicker” blogger Terry Welch. “I sent out an e-mail to other bloggers, and they quickly joined in,” he told E&P this morning.

For his part, Goldberg contends that, since Cole declined to take the bet, people should shut up about it. Matt Yglesias and Steven Taylor think the validity of the claim, not Cole’s wagering acumen, is the point.

One would think, yes.

Pundits, even good ones, get things wrong a lot of time. As a wise man once noted, it’s hard to predict the future, since it hasn’t happened yet. Most of the time, they’re smart enough not to lay down markers of this sort, preferring to be able to crow about correct predictions while quietly hoping the (likely more numerous) incorrect ones are forgotten.

UPDATE: The E&P summary above is a bit off. Here’s the exact bet Goldberg proposed: “I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it.”

It’s debatable whether what exists in Iraq now qualifies as “a civil war,” but the insurgency seems no closer to being defeated than it was two years ago. Iraq indeed has a constitution and a government operating under same; whether it is “viable” is a matter of interpretation. On the third count, though, there’s no question that Goldberg was wrong.

Then again, Goldberg admits, “Needless to say, if [Cole]’d taken the bet he would have won, quite obviously.”

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Media, US Constitution, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Of course, and the question logically arises who gets to define “going badly”?

    I’m willing to bet Goldberg will not get that honor.

  2. bains says:

    Overheard in a bar:
    “Dennis, I’ll bet you that the Colts beat the Bears 27-21.”

    Boy do I want to find that guy and make him pay up!

  3. Not a civil war? Come on, James. You’re a smart guy and a fair guy. You can look up ‘civil war’ in Wikipedia. From Lebanon to El Salvador, when people start blowing each other up, in tens of thousands annually, such events are called civil wars. In countless other cases, no one dreamed of quibbling about the application of an ordinary English phrase to describe such events.

    This reminds me of the Nixon-era economist, who upon being chastised for negativity, and specifically for his inexpedient use of the word “recession,” announced that he would no longer use that word, and would use “banana” instead. And, at his next press conference, he noted that if trends continued, “America was at risk of sliding into a deep banana.”

    Maybe we should say that Iraq is today involved in a fierce and bloody avocado.

  4. Beyond the bet aspect, or even the prediction business in punditry here is a clash of the amateur v. the expert. Whether one likes Cole’s opinions or not, the truth of the matter is, he knows a whole lot more about Middle Eastern politics than does Goldberg. IIRC part of Goldberg’s bluster had to do with the fact that he thought Cole was thumping his chest about his c.v.

    Indeed, this reminds me (now that I write this) about Goldberg’s column on Pinochet that I criticized recently. The bottom line is Goldberg , like a lot of pundits, starts from an ideological position and then forms an opinion about an issue–one that he often doesn’t really know that much about.

    While experts can be wrong (indeed, very wrong), the idea of directly challenging, in a very public and blustery way, someone who knows far more about a subject than you do isn’t very wise.

  5. M1EK says:

    At a bare minimum, Goldberg should write a column which says he was wrong, without any equivocation and without bitching about Cole not taking the bet. That’s what a real man would do.

  6. James Joyner says:


    I’ve written about the subject before. It comes down to whether a disaggregated band of anti-government/anti-Coalition forces creating violence but not apparently fighting for a single political objective qualifies.