Michael Cohen is right to warn against false historical analogies, but this claim is much harder to support:

It’s a problem that exists across the political spectrum—both for hawks, who view any willingness to utilize diplomacy or deal with nefarious regimes as another Munich and any reluctance to use military force as a concession to tyrants; and for doves, for whom every military intervention is Iraq War II and every alleged government cover-up is the Pentagon Papers redux.

Perhaps Cohen doesn’t want his argument to seem overly one-sided, but there is simply no comparison between the two sides here. When it comes to abusing history and citing misleading and false analogies as a substitute for policy argument, hawks are almost always the offenders, and they are very frequent offenders. Hawks also tend to cite the same few analogies over and over regardless of circumstances, so that every crisis is likened to Munich and every attempt at diplomatic engagement is dubbed appeasement. When hawks make these comparisons, they usually aren’t even attempting to apply a lesson from the past, but are simply dredging up the same examples for the purpose of vilifying their opponents and frightening the public into supporting more aggressive policies.

For their part, doves typically don’t do this. Some opponents of the “limited” strikes on Syria in 2013 were skeptical of the government’s claims about a chemical weapons attack, because they remembered that a previous administration had misled the public and grossly exaggerated a foreign threat to justify military action just a decade earlier. Insofar as the memory of the Iraq war informed opposition to attacking Syria, it was because the previous experience had some relevance. The concern in 2013 was not that attacking Syria would be “Iraq War II,” but that it would drag the U.S. deeper into Syria’s civil war and that attacks on the government would benefit jihadist groups. It would have been a bad intervention, but for reasons specific to that conflict. Most opponents of that intervention didn’t dispute that the attack had happened, but they did object to the proposed response of starting an illegal war. Opposition to intervention in Syria was mostly focused on the flaws and risks of that particular proposed intervention. Opponents of the Libyan war similarly focused their objections on the decision to take sides in a foreign civil war where the U.S. had nothing at stake, and others objected to the president’s decision to start a war without Congressional approval. There were some references to the Iraq war during these debates, but more of them came from the interventionist side as they kept repeating that the war they wanted to start wouldn’t like Iraq. Of course, the Libyan intervention didn’t need to be as disastrous as the Iraq war to be a disaster in its own right, which is what it proved to be.

We absolutely should be wary of arguments that rely heavily on historical analogies, especially when they are used to avoid debating the details of the issue at hand. But there’s no question that advocates of hawkish and aggressive policies are almost always the ones that make these arguments. Doves may have blind spots of their own, but this usually isn’t one of them.

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