We’ve all been very busy around here doing whatever it is that we do, so apologies again for the dearth of posting.
While writing something else and looking for distraction, I ran across a tweet of interest. Here’s the tweet: (courtesy of Media Matters).
You can imagine the context, but here it is (again, MM):
And I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.
Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader – and especially your Commander-in-Chief – to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.
In a very narrow sense, Hayes is correct to accuse Obama of strawmanning–especially with the “only” modifier. I’m sure in Hayes’s world many problems cannot be solved by military action (e.g., a famine or natural disaster). And indeed it certainly sounds like Obama is making the general claim that this is all and only what certain pundits think about.
Fair enough, but I think it’s fairly obvious that the “only” in this case shouldn’t be read so strictly. In the first place, given the context of the speech (West Point), that Obama is talking about diplomatic crises involving possible (or suggested) military force. Second, it’s a speech, and Presidents don’t generally name their critics or get specific.
And here is where Hayes’ accusation of straw manning is coupled with self-iron manning. On any fair reading, Obama is referring to the many pundits and members of the political opposition who complain that his failure to make military moves during diplomatic crises is a sign of weakness. Here, for instance, is the allegedly straw manned Hayes (same link as above):
HAYES: [If] we had said when Russia first invaded Crimea, if we had sent troops, hopefully more than 150, to our NATO allies at that time, it would have suggested that the president was resolute, that he was determined not to let Russia push our allies around. Instead what he did was dither for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. And now he does it almost grudgingly and because is he being badgered in part by members of Congress suggesting is he not doing enough, that he sends something that everybody recognizes. The United States, the Obama administration basically has to concede, members of Congress are calling him out on this. Our allies are saying this is just a symbol. This is basically just a symbol.
Funny, this is just the kind of thing Obama is talking about. Hayes’s accusation of straw man is itself an iron man of his own view. Here’s another:
HAYES: I think the overriding objective for the Obama administration on a number of different fronts, whether you’re talking ability Iran, Syria, or Russia, is to avoid military confrontation. We can all understand why he wants to avoid it. Everybody would like to avoid it. But there comes a time where that can’t be your leading objective. When you have one of the world’s great powers invading other countries or annexing other sovereign states, you have to take that seriously.
Gee, and this is just the kind of thing Hayes complains has happened to him. But more to the point, and in the interest of charity, the question is whether “seriously” means “military something.” I think that’s what Hayes means by it. Thus Obama’s criticism.