Two sides of my mouth

Sometimes, when you say something, you mean something else.  Given the inconsistencies from Rand Paul on the Syria issue, I think there’s a likely key to interpretation:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, said President Barack Obama “didn’t quite convince me” on the need to launch a military strike on Syria in his Tuesday night speech.

But, Paul said, Obama did make a compelling case that Syrian President Bashar Assad is guilty of killing almost 1,500 civilians with poison gas last month.

“If Assad is responsible he deserves death for this,” Paul told Fox News Channel after the Tuesday night speech. “But the president’s plan is to leave Assad alone,” Paul said on a later CNN appearance.

Here’s the charitable interpretation.  Assad (or whoever is responsible) deserves death, but it’s not in America’s interest to serve that up to him.  Here’s the less charitable (but probably more accurate) interpretation.  I’ll oppose the President on whatever he tries to do and act very principled about American interests and be very, very non-inteventionist.  And when the President doesn’t do something interventionist, I’ll call him weak for leaving someone like Assad in power. See the game?  If President calls for military action, say he’s a saber-rattler.  If the President tries diplomacy, shout appeasement.  (See Salon for a list of others playing the game.)

Socrates and Donald Rumsfeld

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had some poignant words the other day for the zombie tribe of war pundits:

“If you’re an architect or a conspirator or one of the primary actors in the Iraq War–in arguably the grandest and most craven foreign policy disaster in American history–your opinion is no longer required on matters of war and peace. Please enjoy painting portraits of dogs or something. Painting portraits of yourself in the bathroom, trying to get clean. Please enjoy the loving comfort of your family and loved ones, and your god. But we as a country never ever need to hear from you about war, ever again. You can go now.”

Here’s Socrates in Plato’s Gorgias:

SOCRATES: Well, then, if you and I, Callicles, were intending to set about some public business, and were advising one another to undertake buildings, such as walls, docks or temples of the largest size, ought we not to examine ourselves, first, as to whether we know or do not know the art of building, and who taught us?—would not that be necessary, Callicles?

CALLICLES: True.

SOCRATES: In the second place, we should have to consider whether we had ever constructed any private house, either of our own or for our friends, and whether this building of ours was a success or not; and if upon consideration we found that we had had good and eminent masters, and had been successful in constructing many fine buildings, not only with their assistance, but without them, by our own unaided skill—in that case prudence would not dissuade us from proceeding to the construction of public works. But if we had no master to show, and only a number of worthless buildings or none at all, then, surely, it would be ridiculous in us to attempt public works, or to advise one another to undertake them. Is not this true?

CALLICLES: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And does not the same hold in all other cases? If you and I were physicians, and were advising one another that we were competent to practise as state-physicians, should I not ask about you, and would you not ask about me, Well, but how about Socrates himself, has he good health? and was any one else ever known to be cured by him, whether slave or freeman? And I should make the same enquiries about you. And if we arrived at the conclusion that no one, whether citizen or stranger, man or woman, had ever been any the better for the medical skill of either of us, then, by Heaven, Callicles, what an absurdity to think that we or any human being should be so silly as to set up as state-physicians and advise others like ourselves to do the same, without having first practised in private, whether successfully or not, and acquired experience of the art! Is not this, as they say, to begin with the big jar when you are learning the potter’s art; which is a foolish thing?

CALLICLES: True.

Should be so damn obvious.  But it isn’t.

Ad tyrannem

glenn_beck

OK, the old Godwin’s Law observation with Ad Hitlerem is standard.  And we’ve here noted the Ad Stalinem.  But Glenn Beck just used, in his NYT interview, an analogy with Mao Tse-Tung with similar effect.

 I think these guys (progressives) are the biggest danger in the world. It’s the people like Mao, people that believe that big government is the answer, it always leads to millions dead — always.

For sure, Hitler analogies deserve their own name, but they are of a specific class of arguments by analogy roughly captured as the argument by analogy with some tyrant, so I’ve proposed Ad Tyrannem as the general class.

Oh, another irony is that not but a paragraph up from the implication that progressives will be putting people to death, Beck wishes that the American people could just get along.

Tu quo… um, what?

Here’s the setup for a meta-tu quoqueStage 1: A makes crazy claim.  Stage 2: B criticizes A for crazy claim.  Stage 3: A defends A’s claim by noting B’s criticism is based on a double-standard. Stage 4: B notes that A, in charging a double-standard, employs a double standard. I’ve noted elsewhere here at the NS that some forms of double-standard arguments are relevant and argumentatively appropriate.  (And John, Colin, and I also published a paper on it a year ago.)

OK, so here’s application.  Stage 1:  Brian Kilmeade of Fox News said he wouldn’t support the Syrian opposition groups, because they say “Allahu Akbar” when they score military successes.  Stage 2: John McCain criticizes Kilmeade for Islamophobia.  (Here’s the Huffpo review of the exchange.)  Stage 3: George Neumayr at AmSpec defends Kilmeade noting that McCain’s criticism deploys a double standard:

When Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said on Tuesday that he didn’t want to back Syrian rebels who scream “Allahu Akbar!” after bombing buildings, McCain, revealing the Islamophilia behind America’s Arab-Spring foreign policy, replied that those chants don’t bother him. “They are moderates,” he said, dismissing the chants as no more “offensive” than a Christian who says “thank God.” Too bad Kilmeade didn’t ask McCain to give examples of Christians yelling “thank God” after slitting someone’s throat.

The first trouble is that Kilmeade is taking the speech act performed after a horrible deed to be identify the perpetrator as representative of the group that speech act indicates.  So because a Muslim terrorist says “Allahu Akbar” after a terrorist incident, those who say “Allahu Akbar” are dangerous radicals.  McCain’s reply is by way of counter-examples – Christians say “Thank God” all the time… that’s what the phrase is analogous to.  Neumayr’s case is that McCain’s double standard is not to take extreme behavior as representative.

Here’s stage 4: Religious man murders his friend after his friend tells him he’s an atheist.  We don’t take that as representative, do we?

Under a description

Here’s a way you can straw man someone.  Pick out a bad decision she made, then say she chose that bad part of the decision.  For example, say my wife and I are  trying to decide where to vacation.  She wants to go to a cabin in the woods – something rustic and woodsy.  But we get there, and the cabin’s filled with spiders and there’s a raccoon in the fireplace.  Angrily, I say: We could have gone to Chicago, but you preferred a cabin filled with arachnids and vermin! Yes, that’s the choice she made, but not what she chose as she chose it.  What she chose was rustic vacation… what that choice yielded was spiders and a hissing varmit.  The lesson: our desires are propositional attitudes, and those attitudes represent what we desire or choose under a specific description.  Again, she chose rustic cabin… and it happened to have spiders.  She didn’t prefer the spiders.  She just chose something that turned out had them.  That’s not choosing spiders.  So it’s a straw man – you’re misrepresenting the intentions of your interlocutor by describing them under the description of their worst consequences.

OK.  So now the point about choice under a description and straw-manning is clear, let’s turn to the way George Neumayr over at AmSpec is handling his portrayal of the Obama Administration’s turn on foreign policy.  His view is not just that they make bad decisions, but that they choose terrible things.

Ho Chi Minh once said that he won the Vietnam War not in the jungles of Asia but on the streets of America. Islamic terrorists could make a similar claim: from Libya to Egypt to Syria, they rose to power not in spite of American leaders but because of them. Obama and McCain preferred Morsi to Mubarak, the assassins of Christopher Stevens to Gaddafi, and now the enforcers of sharia to Assad.

The final point about Syria is a familiar one.  (If you haven’t, take a quick look at John Dickerson’s Slate overview of the various arguments regarding Syria.)  The point is that there would be an unintended consequence of destabilizing Assad – the opposition’s not a bunch of liberal-minded democrats, but radical Islamists.  But it’s not that with the Arab Spring, the Obama Administration chose to support a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to lead Egypt or that there would be a terrorist attack on a consulate in Libya.  Those were the consequences of the choices, but, again, choices are under descriptions, and not all consequences are the descriptions.

Yeah, they call me that

Donald Rumsfeld doubles down on the downplayer when he both uses the ‘so-called’ qualifier and marks the usage with tone when he characterizes President Obama’s role as Commander in Chief (video HERE):

The fact that the American people are confused, and the fact that the Congress seems uncertain, and the international community is not supportive, is a reflection of the fact that the so-called commander in chief has not been acting as a commander in chief

Downplayer? Check. Modus tonens? Check.  Answers about whether the reasons for the Iraq invasion were worse or better than Obama’s reasons for Syria? Whoops.

You justify your war with the analogies you have

Believe it or not, this is an argument for attacking Syria:

World War II began 74 years ago Sunday when German troops invaded Poland. The invasion conclusively discredited the concept of “appeasement” as a foreign policy for, well, the next 74 years. But if the U.S. Congress opposes authorization of the military mission to Syria that President Obama has now handed off to it, and if Obama uses that as an excuse to back further away from enforcement of his “red line,” the “A” word will likely come to dominate the international debate once again.

And Barack Obama, who in his first term was known as the vanquisher of Osama bin Laden, could come out of his second looking more like Neville Chamberlain.

I don’t want to overstate things. Bashar al-Assad, a tinpot dictator who is fighting only for his own survival, is no Hitler. He’s not set to overrun an entire continent. And the “lessons of Munich” and the dangers of appeasement are generally overdrawn. But, after all, it was Secretary of State John Kerry who lumped Assad with the Fuehrer on the talk shows Sunday, saying that he “now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein [who] have used these weapons in time of war.” (Technically, Hitler’s only use of gas was not on the battlefield but to kill millions in extermination camps.)

Gee, if “appeasement,” “Munich,” and “Hitler” are terrible analogies to the civil war in Syria, why use them?  My advice would be not.  But that’s why I don’t make the big money.

But in all seriousness, all the talk of Hitler and Munich and such  is really just to set up the mother of all slippery slopes (for those keeping track at home, that was a reference to Saddam Hussein of Gulf Wars I and II fame–he also used to be Hitler):

Yet that international order is what is now in some danger, 74 years later. After all, it was just this kind of war weariness that created Neville Chamberlain, and his foreign policy of “positive appeasement” as he called it, in the years after the terrible bloodletting of World War I. If one becomes unwilling to strike dictators and mass murderers, all that remains is to appease them.

Come to think of it, this is also a false dichotomy: there’s “appeasing” (giving in to expansionist and genocidal demands–here Assad has none that I’m aware of) and military strikes.  I can imagine one or two other possibilities.