By Barry Rubin
One of the points I’m constantly trying to get across is the separation between political view and analysis. Let me use a simple, albeit important, case to try to explain this idea.
Let us assume two basic positions on Israel’s policy toward dealing with negotiations with the Palestinians.
The first position is along these lines: For a variety of reasons, Israel should do everything possible to hang on to all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Do you think Cubans are fighting for healthcare or freedom from Communism?
The second position is along these lines: For a variety of reasons, Israel should be willing, in exchange for things it wants, to trade all or almost all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
These are political positions expressing the political views of the person in question. These can be characterized as hawkish or dovish, left or right wing in the political spectrum.
Now, let us turn to analytical positions.
The first position is an assessment that the Palestinians—for whatever reasons–want to make a deal. Perhaps they would keep the deal, perhaps they would break the deal but let’s leave that open.
The second position is the assessment that the Palestinians either do not or cannot make a deal, again this could be attributed to a variety o reasons.
These latter two positions are analytical positions, not political stances. The view taken does not characterize the personal political views of the person holding them.
From what we’ve said so far we can construct a simple series of four alternative combinations of political stances and analyses:
1. Pessimistic Hawk: Opposes yielding territory and making a deal, thinks that would be disastrous. But believes that a deal will be made.
2. Optimistic Hawk: Opposes yielding territory and making a deal, thinks that would be disastrous. But believes that a deal will not be made.
3. Pessimistic Dove: Favors yielding territory for a deal that he believes will bring peace. But believes a deal will not be made.
4. Optimistic Dove: Favors yielding territory for a deal that he believes will bring peace. But believes a deal will be made.
The political position makes one feel good or bad about the situation. But an analysis is not a preference but an assessment of the facts.
This model can be applied to any issue at all: abortion, health care, elections, policy toward China, anything. Many people, of course, make their assessment on the basis of their preference and perhaps personality. But that is not the right way to do it. It is not acceptable for academics, journalists, intelligence analysts, or people working in research centers—in short, professionals.
The next level is to evaluate the situation in more detail: What factors might or might not change the situation? What concessions or compromises should or should not be traded in exchange for other benefits? How does one define an acceptable deal? This is what politicians and policymakers are supposed to do—and policy analysts are supposed to help them do.
But there is something profoundly wrong, though it is what so often happens, to line up analyses with preferences. To be “left” or “right,” liberal or conservative should have nothing to do with one’s view of a situation. Equally, one should be prepared to change one’s view as circumstances make appropriate.