Category Archives: Robert Kagan

Don’t jinx it

Here's what looks like a causal argument–or a causal inference at least–wrapped up in another causal  explanatory inference.  The second one is an ad hominem, the first likely a causal fallacy.  Robert Kagan, of hawkish foreign policy fame writes.

Judged on its own terms, the war on terror has been by far Bush's greatest success. [1] No serious observer imagined after September 11 that seven years would go by without a single additional terrorist attack on U.S. soil. [2] Only naked partisanship and a justifiable fear of tempting fate have prevented the Bush administration from getting or taking credit for what most would have regarded seven years ago as a near miracle. Much of the Bush administration's success, moreover, has been due to extensive international cooperation, especially with the European powers in the areas of intelligence sharing, law enforcement, and homeland security. Whatever else the Bush administration has failed to do, it has not failed to protect Americans from another attack on the homeland. The next administration will be fortunate to be able to say the same — and will be contrasted quite unfavorably with the Bush administration if it cannot."[numbers inserted]

While there thankfully hasn't been another attack (aside from the Anthrax attacks) on U.S. soil, there have been numerous terrorist attacks on U.S. allies (Britain, Spain, Bali, etc.) and U.S. interests (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and so on).  Aside from the unsettling progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, one might suggest (as many terrorism experts have) that no terrorist attack was planned or attempted on U.S.soil.  So Kagan might be claiming credit for nothing.  In light of such observations, Kagan can hardly claim that "naked partisanship" (and fear of jinxing it) have prevented the Bush administration from taking credit.

So the second claim assumes only the weakest objections to credit-mongering (which, by the way, the Bush administration has not been shy of pointing out), when a person of Kagan's calibre ought to know better.  Given the existence of such views, Kagan ought to be far more circumspect when it comes to definitive causal assertions of the sort that the Bush Administration is responsible for stopping or otherwise preventing attacks on US soil–their mere absence is not evidence for its success.  Besides, given its unique ability to thwart terrorism here, our Allies might wonder why we can't be more helpful to them in this regard.

In fairness to Kagan, there's much more to the argument than cited here.  But then again, a silly argument is a silly argument.

Civil war

Almost two years ago, a “guest blogger” in the Washington Post made the claim that Iraq was not in a civil war, because civil wars tend to be more bloody than what he had seen. He might as well have said that Civil Wars tend to be more old-timey, with lambchops, fiddles, and morphine. The number of people dead and the violence involved don’t make them any less of a civil war.

Someone ought to tell Robert Kagan. He writes:

>It is what’s wrong with this story, however, that makes it so irresponsible. The fact is that, contrary to so many predictions, Iraq has not descended into civil war. Political bargaining continues. Signs of life are returning to Baghdad and elsewhere. Many Sunnis are fighting al-Qaeda terrorist groups, not their Shiite neighbors. And sectarian violence is down by about 50 percent since December.

So, evidence of a civil war includes (1) decreased violence; (2) some Sunnis fighting al-Qaeda groups; and (3) diminished sectarian violence.

Some might think a civil war has less stringent requirements:

>”Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter’s ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain.” (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, “Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)

Does Iraq qualify?

>The definition focuses on three main dimensions of civil war: that it is fought within a country rather than between states; that it is fought between insurgent forces and the state; and that the insurgent forces offer effective resistance.

>The Iraqi central government is pitted against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance. Some 50 distinct cells, spanning the political spectrum from secular Arab nationalists to religious fundamentalists, direct the activities of at least 20,000 to 30,000 part-time guerrillas, and perhaps many more. They strike regularly throughout seven key center-north provinces, including Baghdad, which at 6 million persons contains a fourth of the inhabitants of Iraq. In civil wars, the violence is staccato and almost random. Journalists or bloggers who visit Iraq and find bustling bazaars and brisk traffic are often fooled by their naiveté into thinking that the violence has been exaggerated. But it should be remembered that boys went swimming and fished not far from where the battle of Gettysburg was being fought in the U.S. Civil War. Guerrilla violence does not need to be omnipresent to effectively disrupt the society.

Seems so.

Update: Reuters.

Binge and surge

**Update below**

I was going to make a post about the fallacy of amphiboly, but then I read Robert Kagan’s “The Surge is Succeeding” in today’s Washington Post. Kagan’s article is instructive in its subtle and misleading use of evidence. In the end he doesn’t so much as argue that the surge is working so much as claim the press ought not to be saying that it’s not working, because it’s too early to tell, so it’s working. That’s a pretty straightforward argument from ignorance. And we’ve seen this sort of thing before from Kagan–given the absence of attacks on the US in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the invasion has stopped terrorism. Well, the acute will notice that the latter is a causal fallacy.

But back to the question of evidence. Kagan’s central evidence for the success of the surge:

>Four months later, the once insurmountable political opposition has been surmounted. The nonexistent troops are flowing into Iraq. And though it is still early and horrible acts of violence continue, there is substantial evidence that the new counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the infusion of new forces, is having a significant effect.

>Some observers are reporting the shift. Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, widely respected for their straight talk, say that “early signs are encouraging.”

There is a puzzling circularity to Kagan’s reasoning here. His evidence for the success is the sentence that follows that reports evidence of the success–not the other way around. For most normal evidentialists, the Press–for which Kagan has no regard (more in a second)–reports things they claim to be happening, and we either believe them or disbelieve them. Not t’other way round. So Kagan ought to write: some observers have noticed a shift, and after considering their authority against that of, say, the White House, and the rest of the world media, I believe them. After all, they’re bloggers known for “straight talk.”

In addition to his strange selection of authorities and the weird and apparent circularity of his argument, Kagan finds time to dig at the press:

>A front-page story in The Post last week suggested that the Bush administration has no backup plan in case the surge in Iraq doesn’t work. I wonder if The Post and other newspapers have a backup plan in case it does.

Zing! Take that fact-reporting newspaper! The Post–for however wrong it has been about this entire Iraq fiasco–does not need a military back-up plan in case the surge works. It’s a newspaper. We hope that it will report when the surge is working. But apparently, it keeps reporting otherwise. Since those are facts friendly to the enemy, the Post must be working for the enemy. Sheesh.

And yet, Kagan writes for the Post.


Glenn Greenwald says what commenter Phil has been saying lately:

>No rational person would believe a word Robert Kagan says about anything. He has been spewing out one falsehood after the next for the last four years in order to blind Americans about the real state of affairs concerning the invasion which he and his comrade and writing partner, Bill Kristol, did as much as anyone else to sell to the American public.



None but the delusional at this point can claim that invading Iraq was anything but a mistake: a colossal error of moral judgment, an arrogant and uncritical analysis of our own motives, and a shallow examination of facts. Those who correctly argued it was a mistake before it happened–the “Cassandras”–haven’t yet been sufficiently praised. On the other hand, those who made the shallow case for war, and impugned the intelligence, sanity, courage, and patriotism of those who didn’t, continue to appear as experts on the TV and in the newspaper. They got it wrong the first time–really really wrong–but despite this they still weigh in now on how to fix it or the lessons to be drawn. Who says Americans do not forgive?

One of these experts is Robert Kagan. Today he considers the lessons not to be drawn from this war:

>The problem for those who have tried to steer the United States away from its long history of expansiveness, then and now, is that Americans’ belief in the possibility of global transformation — the “messianic” impulse — is and always has been the more dominant strain in the nation’s character. It is rooted in the nation’s founding principles and is the hearty offspring of the marriage between Americans’ driving ambitions and their overpowering sense of righteousness.

>Critics have occasionally succeeded in checking these tendencies, temporarily. Failures of world-transforming efforts overseas have also had their effect, but only briefly. Five years after the end of the Vietnam War, which seemed to many to presage the rejection of Achesonian principles of power and ideological triumphalism, Americans elected Ronald Reagan, who took up those principles again with a vengeance.

>Today many hope and believe that the difficulties in Iraq will turn Americans once and for all against ambition and messianism in the world. History is not on their side.

Whatever is going on in Iraq, “difficulties” doesn’t quite do it justice. In its original iteration, Iraq had nothing to do with messianism, and everything to do with 9/11 and the hysteria over terrorism. But for those who argued for the parallel claim that Iraq could be remade on the American model, just because democratic messianism has long been a dominant strain in American foreign policy rhetoric, not necessarily its reality, does not, as the death, destruction and resentment caused by Iraq amply demonstrate, mean that it should be.

Differences without distinctions

According to Robert Kagan, the Democrats are the same as Republicans, er “fundamentally”:

>Although [the Democrats] pretend they have a fundamental doctrinal dispute with the Bush administration, their recommendations are less far-reaching. They argue that the United States should generally try to be nicer, employ more “soft power” and be more effective when it employs “hard power.” That may be good advice, but it hardly qualifies as an alternative doctrine.

What’s one reason there isn’t much of a difference?

>Even today leading Democrats who oppose the Iraq war do not oppose the idea of war itself or its utility. They’re not even denouncing a defense budget approaching $500 billion per year.

That’s setting the bar for substantial difference so high that only avowed pacifists will qualify for being the opposition party. At bottom, rhetorical strategy consists in his claiming for the Republicans every foreign policy view short of radical anti-american opposition. This strategy at once demonizes and trivializes sensible opposition to this administrations disasterous policies.

Non causa

It’s good to be skeptical of the press. There may be reasons to approach press reports of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) with caution, but flying into speculative refutation is deeply confused. In that spirit, Robert Kagan attempts a futile recasting of the role of the Iraq war in the war on terrorism:

>For instance, what specifically does it mean to say that the Iraq war has worsened the “terrorism threat”? Presumably, the NIE’s authors would admit that this is speculation rather than a statement of fact, since the facts suggest otherwise. Before the Iraq war, the United States suffered a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing and destruction of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the Iraq war started, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks against the United States. That doesn’t mean the threat has diminished because of the Iraq war, but it does place the burden of proof on those who argue that it has increased.

Notice that Kagan–a Washington Post columnist–suggests that the absence of successful attacks against the United States in the wake of the Iraq war is a matter of causal significance. It would have to be, if the burden has shifted onto those who suggest it has.

But that’s crazy talk. For, (1) according to the adminstration, Iraq is full of terrorists attacking (successfully) the United States (much like they did the USS Cole); (2) There were no terrorists in Iraq before the war (and Saddam had no ties–ask Bush–to al Qaeda); (3) Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11; (4) there have been terrorist attacks of the al Qaeda variety all over the world–including Iraq and Afghanistan.

In light of these very obvious and well known facts, the only way Kagan could approach a causal claim is by construing “terrorist attack” in a way that excludes anything that has happened since the Iraq war (and in the Iraq war or in the war in Afghanistan). And so he would have to equivocate on “terrorist attack” so as to render it meaningless.

But even he were right about the meaning of “terrorist attack”, there is nothing to suggest that the Iraq war has a causal relation to the absence of such attacks (as he very strongly implies). At best, as he says, it has no relation. If it has no relation, then the burden has not shifted on to the opposing side (each side may have the same burden of proof). The burden, Kagan ought to note, lies with the one, like him, who asserts the causal claim.

But the truly silly thing about this argument is that Kagan hasn’t seen the NIE either. So his criticism is purely of the speculative variety. The very sort he accuses others of advancing.

How Many Degrees of Kevin Bacon Justifies Invasion?

Over at the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes is making a profession of castigating the mainstream media for denying and ignoring evidence of the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq. In a series of articles based on his not terribly well received 2004 book, The Connection Hayes, along with several other authors and co-authors at the Weekly Standard, has been sifting through various reports of the connection in order to rebut the mainstream media’s supposed denial. His article last month, “Body of Evidence” (Source: Week. Stand. 6/30/05), presents the core of his argument.

>”THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that Saddam Hussein was connected in any way to al Qaeda.” So declared CNN Anchor Carol Costello in an interview yesterday with Representative Robin Hayes (no relation) from North Carolina. Hayes politely challenged her claim. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken. There’s evidence everywhere. We get access to it. Unfortunately, others don’t.”

>CNN played the exchange throughout the day. At one point, anchor Daryn Kagan even seemed to correct Rep. Hayes after replaying the clip. “And according to the record, the 9/11 Commission in its final report found no connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.”

>Conveniently, such analyses ignore statements like this one from Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 Commission. “There was no question in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Hard to believe reporters just missed it–he made the comments at the press conference held to release the commission’s final report. And that report detailed several “friendly contacts” between Iraq and al Qaeda, and concluded only that there was no proof of Iraqi involvement in al Qaeda terrorist attacks against American interests. Details, details.

That in a nutshell is the dispute.

>The CNN claims are wrong. Not a matter of nuance. Not a matter of interpretation. Just plain incorrect.

But judging whether it is a matter of nuance or not is a different question. The reason that the connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden is a matter of interest is that it comprised one of the ever-changing justifications for the invasion of Iraq. The argument was that Saddam Hussein was such a pressing threat to U.S. security that an invasion was justified as a matter of self-defense. In order to make the case for a pressing threat, the administration argued that Iraq’s “connections” with terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda made the invasion a preventive war. If we were not to invade Condoleeza Rice dramatically suggested mushroom clouds might be seen over American cities.

So it was an argument that Iraq’s WMD programs coupled with the right sort of connections with al Qaeda presented a pressing threat to American security.

Having seemingly been wrong about the first premise of this argument (the existence of WMD and their respective programs), it seems to be necessary to develop the case for the second if the war is not to enter history as ultimately based on mistaken reasoning. Interestingly a strong enough argument for the second premise may overshadow the lack of evidence of, or even, if it turns out to be so, the non-existence of WMD. In this case, the connection with al Qaeda coupled with the possibility of developing WMD might satisfy many as a justification for the war.

So it makes some sense that that the Weekly Standard is devoting a series of articles to the evidence for this connection. But, it raises the preliminary question: What sort of connection will make the argument successful. There are, of course, all sorts of connections that we might look for. Representatives of the two organizations might have golfed, for example, or met regularly over coffee and doughnuts to denounce supposed American imperialism. Or, they may have used one another for various limited and particular purposes, like gathering intelligence. Of course, the goal of the authors is to show that the two organizations co-operated in aggressive actions, or even their planning (and perhaps merely the intention to do so), against American interests.

So whether Hayes can see it or not, it seems that it is all a matter of nuance: what precisely do we mean by “connection” between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?

The only connection that matters for the purposes of the underlying justification for the invasion of Iraq is whether or not the sort of connection existed by which Iraq was enough of a threat that pre-emptive military action was justified. Anything less than this is functionally no “connection” at all. This is not to minimize the possible threats that such a “connection” presented, only to argue that for the purposes of justifying a war of this sort not just any “connection” will do. But, if we fail to respect the distinction between a “war-justifying-connection” and all other sorts of lesser connections, we run the risk of commiting a fallacy of equivocation.

As an aside, we shold note that we might have to entertain the possibility that a “war-justifying-connection” can be composed of many lesser connections–that the totality (or “constellation” of connections, to borrow Hayes’ language) of many lesser connections might provide evidence of an overall “war-justifying-connection.”

Nevertheless, the 9/11 Commission seems to have understood the relevant standard when they concluded that there was no evidence: “indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States” (quoted by Hayes).

We should re-read Hayes’ paragraph.

>Conveniently, such analyses ignore statements like this one from Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 Commission. “There was no question in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Hard to believe reporters just missed it–he made the comments at the press conference held to release the commission’s final report. And that report detailed several “friendly contacts” between Iraq and al Qaeda, and concluded only that there was no proof of Iraqi involvement in al Qaeda terrorist attacks against American interests. Details, details.

It is hard to know what Hayes means by the last two words of the paragraph, but it suggests, if I read it rightly, that the distinction that I am drawing between there being a “relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda” and a war-justifying-connectionbetween Iraq and al Qaeda does not matter to Hayes, which opens him and anyone who attempts to justify the war on the basis of the connection to the fallacy of equivocation.

Only when we are clear and forthright about what we are looking for, can we adequately and judiciouslessly evaluate the evidence that Hayes and his fellow authors are presenting. Is any contact or co-operation by an Iraqi and a representative of al Qaeda enough for pre-emptive war? Is evidence of the sharing of weapons of mass destruction necessary? Or, must we wait until evidence of co-operation in “developing and carrying out any attacks against the United States” appears?

Worth it or not

Now that some on the right have concluded the obvious–the Iraq was a mistake in its inception and in its execution–a new argument has appeared on the scene. It’s not a new argument, of course, it’s an old one dressed up to fit current circumstances. It goes something like this. For those, like John Kerry, who say the Iraq was not worth it, we have to ask what the costs of leaving Saddam in power would have been. We see a variation on this argument in Sunday’s *Washington Post.* Short of saying that the invasion was worth it, Robert Kagan revives the rhetorically effective 2004 Republican campaign strategy of citing the opinions of Clinton-era policy types as evidence that Saddam would have gotten worse if left unchecked. And that’s just the thing. For serious and responsible world leaders–some of them perhaps French–the question was never the one that was thrust on them by bifurcating American hawks:

>go to war against Saddam and remove him from power


>trust that he will no longer be an evil person and do nothing (or some variation of the status quo).

Perhaps it’s overly pedantic to point out that between these two false alternatives lies a range of possibilities. Even if the status quo was not keeping weapons out of Saddam’s hands (and it was–by the way–he didn’t have any WMDS; and he barely had an army with any will to fight, least of all invade a neighbor), there were still many options short of an Anglo-American invasion. The depressing thing about Kagan’s piece is that Bush’s silly dichotomy–something for which he has a marked tendency (cf., “you are either with us or with the terrorists”)–resurfaces in the calm light of what otherwise might seem to be careful historical analysis. But it’s not careful or historical–it’s simply regurgitated pro-invasion talking points that were no more cogent the day they were uttered than they are today.

Jumping on the flip-floppery bandwagon

As the accusations of flip-floppery reach crescendo in the op-ed pages of our major dailies and weeklies, it is appropriate to consider the underlying logic of this accusation. Virtually all of the prominent conservative pundits have devoted a column or two to demonstrating Kerry’s flip-floppery, but their details are essentially the same. Last week there were two columns that stand out: Krauthammer’s editorial in the Washington Post and the Weekly Standard’s Kagan and Kristol’s (the latter seems to be writing nothing but flip-flop columns) co-authored editorial.

What the pundits are trying to demonstrate is that John Kerry has changed his position on Iraq. Now this by itself would not suggest anything. All politicians presumably should change their positions when circumstances demand it, or when they discover their previous position to have been mistaken. For example, George Bush argued that the military should not be in the business of “nation building” during the 2000 election. After 9/11, of course, he saw that his previous view was mistaken and has chosen to engage in acts of nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet none of these pundits see fit to accuse Bush of “flip-floppery.” Surely something more than change is at stake here. And given the course of the war over the last three years (including planning and build-up), one would think it could be a virtue to be able to change one’s assessment in response to the changing “facts on the ground.”

The real accusation that the pundits are striving to make is that Kerry changes his position for the wrong reasons. This is an old accusation trundled out against “liberals” every four years. In essence, it claims that liberals change their positions for matters of mere political expediency and therefore cannot be trusted to do what they think is right. The implicit conclusion is that we cannot trust John Kerry to be President. As such it is an ad hominem argument.

It is, however, important to keep in mind that not all ad hominem arguments are fallacious. Often a person’s character or past is relevant to our inferences concerning that person. It only becomes fallacious if the claim about Kerry’s character is irrelevant to the conclusion about trustworthiness.

For example, although the argument would be ad hominem, the following would not be fallacious:

John Kerry uses political power to enrich his friends and family at the expense of the state. Therefore, John Kerry cannot be trusted with the office of president.

Certainly the premise of the argument attacks Kerry’s character, but because this characteristic is relevant to trustworthiness the argument is not seemingly fallacious.

So we can never conclude simply because an argument is an “attack” on a candidate that it is fallacious. If, as people often say, the public does not like “negative attack ads,” this is not necessarily a sign of their virtue. The relevant difference lies between fallacious and unsound attacks ads and valid and sound attacks.

In general, it seems plausible that flip-floppery, of the kind with which Kerry is accused, is potentially relevant to his trustworthiness.

But this is not the end of the story. First of all we must determine how we can recognize flip-flopping when it occurs. Let’s look at two putative examples.

  1. Source (WkSt. 9/7/04):

    Wiliam Kristol, who has seemingly become a full time flip-flop detector, finds the following “flip-flop” (though he does not call it by this name).

  2. JOHN KERRY said yesterday that Iraq was “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Translation: We would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power.

    Dean also said, “The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at the extraordinary cost, so far, of $166 billion.”

    But who challenged Dean immediately? John Kerry. On December 16, at Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that “those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don’t have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president.”

    The first quote contains an obvious “straw man”–a deliberate misconstrual in order to generate the contradiction with the last quote.

    “The wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” would be contradicted by claim such as that it is the “right war” or the “wrong war in the right place” or the “wrong war in the wrong place at the right time.” But, Kristol wants a flip-flop at any cost. So he “translates Kerry’s words into the claim that “we would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power.”

    The claim might be translated into the claim that “it was not worth the cost to the U.S. to remove Saddam Hussein from power.” But unfortunately if Kerry intended this, he would be perfectly consistent with his earlier claim. The Dean quote makes it quite clear that Kerry probably means this.

    But, Kristol does not let problems like journalistic accuracy thwart him in his pursuit of a flip-flop. In the last quote, Kerry only claims that those who think that capturing or removing Saddam from power does not make us safer are unfit for the presidency.

    To put the relationship between these various quotes clearly. The last quote speaks about an end, the former two question the means to that end. There is no inconsistency and thus no “flip-flop.”

  3. Source (WaPo 09/17/04):
  4. alls Iraq “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, of course, he voted to authorize the war. And shortly after the fall of Baghdad he emphatically repeated his approval of the war: “It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him.”

    Of course, the center piece of all the accusations of flip-flopping on Iraq is the perceived contradiction between Kerry’s “vote for the war in 2002 and his recent criticisms of the war. Once again the contradiction between the two takes a little editing work to generate, and rests ultimately on the obfuscation of the relevant aspects of our system of government. With a simple conception of decision making in Washington abetted by a media that is unwilling to instuct its viewers on the nature of our government, it seems to many that Kerry has changed his mind on the Iraq war. The very terms in which the media portrays the vote to authorize the President to use force as a “vote for the war” obscures the basic facts of our government.

    Here is John Kerry in 1991 speaking about the vote to authorize the first George Bush’s first Gulf war.

    75 percent or more of those who will vote for the use of force do not want it to be used, and a significant number will vote for it only becuase they want to prevent the president from being reversed.” (quote from Eric Alterman’s Sound and Fury

    Before both wars, in fact, the Presidents Bush and Bush asked for the authority to use force in order to be able to avoid using force. Here’s George Bush the younger on the vote:

    Q Mr. President, how important is it that that resolution give you an authorization of the use of force?

    BUSH: That will be part of the resolution, the authorization to use force. If you want to keep the peace, you’ve got to have the authorization to use force. But it’s — this will be — this is a chance for Congress to indicate support. It’s a chance for Congress to say, we support the administration’s ability to keep the peace. That’s what this is all about. Source (Al Franken’s Blog)

    So, according to Bush in 2002 Kerry’s vote for authorization of the president to use force, was not a “vote for the war” as the pundits claim, it was a vote in support of the “administration’s ability to keep the peace.”

    But once again, if John Kerry was not endorsing an invasion of Iraq, never mind an invasion that lacked any clear strategy for the occupation, then there is no necessary contradiction between his later claim that “it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” These statements are seemingly consistent.

    And as apparently Kerry said at the time (once again from Franken’s blog):

    Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.

Identifying “flip-flops” takes logic: At the root of the question is the identification of contradictory and contrary claims. The real challenge faced by the pundits, however, is obscuring the lack of a contradiction and generating a seeming contradiction, by either deliberately misconstruing the meaning (Kristol and Krauthammer above) or by taking comments out of their context. These pundits know that they must obscure context and intention, never mind nuance, if they are to make the charge of “flip-floppery” stick. We can see that in the first example from William Kristol. There he goes so far as to replace without explanation or justification Kerry’s own words with a straw man translation that allows Kristol to claim “flip-floppery.”

This is not to say that Kerry hasn’t “flip-flopped,” or perhaps better that he hasn’t changed his mind on the issues. There are other examples in Krauthammer’s, and Kristol’s and Kagan’s editorials. Whether these are plausible accusations of “flip-floppery,” or accusations contrived in the author’s enthusiasm to jump on the “flip-flop” bandwagon and at the expense of the rules of logic, I will leave for the reader to consider.