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?

The Materialist Ideology of the Dukes of Hazard and False Cause Fallacies

Michael Medved in yesterday’s USAToday (Source: UT 7/26/05) opines that the slackening movie market is a result of the misfit of Hollywood’s materialist liberal ideology in a conservative and “values” based society. It is difficult to treat this as an argument since Medved seems to possess the ideologues’ faith that justification is not needed and the loudest most confident assertion will persuade. Nonetheless it seems to involve a claim that the divergence in ideology is the best explanation because it is the cause of Hollywood’s woes.

After a brief description of these economic woes, Medved dismisses insiders’ claims about the causes of these woes

>Meanwhile, conventional wisdom ignores all ideological considerations in explaining the sudden box office collapse, concentrating instead on purely material excuses (high ticket prices, availability of DVDs) that have, frankly, applied for years. This knee-jerk tendency to offer direct, physical solutions to deep-seated problems constitutes an unmistakable element in the liberal outlook that remains Hollywood’s reigning faith.

>Revealingly, none of the studio honchos talked about reconnecting with the public by adjusting the values conveyed by feature films, and replacing the industry’s shrill liberal posturing with a more balanced ideological perspective.

It’s not clear what this is thought to reveal, but Medved seemingly suggests that the fact that the industry insiders do not consider a “spiritual” cause is evidence of their liberal bias. But this does not seem to be more significant than my doctor’s silence about Ebola virus during my last appointment. Before the honchos’ silence could be taken to reveal what Medved is already persuaded it means, we need some reason to believe that the cause is spiritual.

>Something clearly changed between 2004 and 2005 to cause an abrupt drop-off at the box office, and the most obvious alteration involved Hollywood’s role in the bitterly fought presidential election. The entertainment establishment embraced John Kerry with near unanimity — and bashed George W. Bush with unprecedented ferocity.

And here we find a beautiful example of the fallacy of the false cause or more precisely of post hoc propter hoc (“after this, because of this”). In order to argue a causal connection between two events you must show more than temporal succession and hypothesized relation. If Medved had any evidence whatsoever that Hollywood’s troubles were caused by their “values” (i.e., some independent evidence, market reseach, sociological data, even anecdotal evidence!), then it would be reasonable to go looking for an event that could have caused this. But of course, Medved has nothing other than his own feeling that this is the problem and so his causal argument becomes ridiculous. There is no more reason to believe that the 2004 election is the cause of Holloywood’s economic problems than there is to believe that the Boston Red Sox winning the world series was the cause.

>Despite efforts by entertainer activists, a majority of voters cast their ballots for Bush. If even a minority of those 62 million GOP voters — say, 20% — reacted to Hollywood’s electioneering by shunning the multiplex, it could easily account for the sharp decline in ticket sales after Bush’s re-election.

Once again, showing that something could cause something else is a far cry from showing that it did cause it.

Medved does advance the box-office success of the Passion of Christ as a reason to think that there is a national desire for religious values in movies. But one piece of data cannot prove a causal relation. If it was the cause then we would expect that this hunger for religious movies to have caused a long stagnation in movie attendance since Charlton Heston parted the red sea.

But, of course, proving the claim is not Medved’s real concern. The last three paragraphs of his column are a tirade against liberal “materialism” which offers supposedly failed solutions to “threats to the family from out-of-wedlock births,” crime, poverty, and terrorism. And if that’s not bad enough, Hollywood is turning to Oliver Stone to make its first 9/11 action movie. Medved doesn’t seem to need evidence or argument for his view–it exists in an ideological space impervious to the expectation of reasoning.

>Meanwhile, Tinseltown will continue to weep and mourn as long as its bosses depend on the likes of Stone to portray the worst terrorist attacks in our history. Americans aren’t stupid, and we’re not all apolitical; many (at least a third) are even self-consciously conservative in both politics and values.

I suspect that a more plausible claim is that Tinseltown will continue to weep and mourn for as long as it continues to expect us to attend re-makes of the Dukes of Hazard.

Well, Hell. Dell LeFevre thinks this is wrong, so it’s wrong.

William Safire’s resignation from the opinion pages of the NYT in February was a great blow to our enterprise here. While being regular fans of Safire’s language column in the Sunday Times’ Magazine, we were confident that his opinion pieces would almost always provide fertile material for logical analysis. His replacment, John Tierney, has baffled us ever since.

Tierney’s columns seem to share a singular argumentative structure. Often, rather than offering an elaborate argument for a particular position, Tierney reports on a particular person anecdotally as holding that position with the suggestion that this individual possesses a certain epistemic privilege over the reader, and thus the reader should adopt the relevant position. This “argument” is then bolstered by a very terse ideological argument for the relevant position. The anecdotal argument seems to work by a peculiar form of an appeal to authority–and not necessarily a fallacious one. But even though it seems to avoid fallacy, the argument is so weak that it is hard to see how it provides anything more than this anecdote as support for its conclusion. This often leaves Tierney’s ideological argument as the only support for his claim.

His column today “Sagebrush Solution” (Source: NYT 7/26/05) seems to conform to this structure. Here we are introduced to Dell LeFevre who dislikes hikers, the Bureau of Land Management, and some environmentalists.

>Mr. LeFevre, who is 65, has no affection for the hikers who want his cows out of the red-rock canyons and mesas in southern Utah, where his family has been ranching for five generations. He has considered environmentalism a dangerous religion since the day in 1991 when he and his father-in-law found two dozen cows shot to death, perhaps by someone determined to reclaim a scenic stretch of the Escalante River canyon.

Yet, despite his suspicion that environmentalists randomly shoot his cows, Mr LeFevre likes environmentalists when they give him money.

>But he is not bitter when he talks about the deal he made with an environmentalist named Bill Hedden, the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust. Mr. Hedden’s group doesn’t use lobbyists or lawsuits (or guns) to drive out ranchers. These environmentalists get land the old-fashioned way. They buy it. To reclaim the Escalante River canyon, Mr. Hedden bought the permits that entitle Mr. LeFevre’s cows to graze on the federal land near the river. He figures it was a good deal for the environment because native shrubs and grasses are reappearing, now that cows aren’t eating and trampling the vegetation.

But, the Bush administration is not standing for this capitalist free-market system:

>The Interior Department has decided that environmentalists can no longer simply buy grazing permits and retire them. Under its reading of the law – not wholly shared by predecessors in the Clinton administration – land currently being used by ranchers has already been determined to be “chiefly valuable for grazing” and can be opened to herds at any time if the B.L.M.’s “land use planning process” deems it necessary.

>But why should a federal bureaucrat decide what’s “chiefly valuable” about a piece of land? Mr. Hedden and Mr. LeFevre have discovered a “land use planning process” of their own: see who will pay the most for it. If an environmentalist offers enough to induce a rancher to sell, that’s the best indication the land is more valuable for hiking than for grazing.

>The new policy may make short-term political sense for the Bush administration by pleasing its Republican allies in Utah and lobbyists for the ranching industry. But it’s not good for individual ranchers, and it ensures more bitter range wars in the future. If environmentalists can’t spend their money on land, they’ll just spend it on lawyers.

Thus, when you strip away the anecdote, you have an argument for the claim that environmentalists should be able to retire grazing permits. The reasons that Tierney thinks this is true seems to be something like

a) Retiring grazing permits is done through the free market.
b) The government should not interfere with the free market.

The anecdote provides evidence, it seems, that the motivation for allowing environmentalists to retire grazing permits is not environmental but rather because it benefits a rancher. But this is just a smoke screen for the ideological argument presented above–at least, it is such a weak argument (Are all ranchers benefitted by this? Will they continue to be benefitted if more grazing land is retired?) that it cannot lend much support to the conclusion: It’s as though the argument that Tierney offers us is “Well, Hell. Dell LeFevre thinks this is wrong, so it’s wrong.”

Now perhaps I am being uncharitable here. Tierney might reply that Dell LeFevre isn’t really part of his argument. It is a little bit of color meant to interest the reader, as presumably every Journalism 101 class suggests students begin their articles with a “hook.” That aside, the anecdote is logically related to Tierney’s claim and provides some rhetorical support for that claim. The vaporous nature of that support is all that I wish to reveal here.

Once more into the argument’s breach

Over the past several weeks, the Weekly Standard has been running a series of articles on the evidence for the administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were in some significant way working together to achieve their ends. The series seemed to be kicked off by Hugh Hewitt’s subtlely titled “Breeding Stupidity” (Source: WeekStand 7/14/05). Hewitt is attempting to refute two positions on the left:

>The first is that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were not connected.

>[The second] Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists.

The first is rejected on the basis of evidence and argument that I hope to return to in the future.

The bulk of breeding stupidity involves the second claim, which we have examined in several forms over the past couple of weeks. It involves the question of the causes of terrorism. Here Hewett argues that the “left” does not have adequate evidence for the claim that Iraq is breeding terrorists. Invoking an interesting distinction, he argues:

>The fact that foreign fighters are streaming across Syria into Iraq in the hopes of killing America is not evidence supporting the “breeding ground” theory. “Opportunity” to act is not the same thing as “motive” for acting. There is zero evidence for the proposition that Iraq is motive rather than opportunity, but the “motive” theory is nevertheless put forward again and again.

Distinguishing between the “opportunity” to fight the U.S. in Iraq and being motivated to fight the U.S. by the invasion of Iraq is a subtle distinction. Nonetheless, Hewett doesn’t argue his point, he simply asserts the absence of evidence that Iraq is motivating terrorists.

>As recently as Wednesday the Washington Post account of the aftermath of the London bombings included the incredible–and unsubstantiated in the article–claim that the “the profile of the suspects suggested by investigators fit long-standing warnings by security experts that the greatest potential threat to Britain could come from second-generation Muslims, born here but alienated from British society and perhaps from their own families, and inflamed by Britain’s participation in the Iraq war.”

But, the WaPo cannot be right because Tony Blair rejects this view:

>Blair disputed the idea “that the London terrorist attacks were a direct result of British involvement in the Iraq war. He said Russia had suffered terrorism with the Beslan school massacre, despite its opposition to the war, and that terrorists were planning further attacks on Spain even after the pro-war government was voted out. “September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all,” he said.

Even putting the argument in the mouth of Tony Blair does not make the argument any stronger. As I have had occasion to show several times recently the equivocation between the specific act and the general phenomena makes this argument fallacious as can be easily seen in this quotation.

But, Hewitt offers three further reasons:

>While it is theoretically possible that some jihadists were forged as a result of the invasion of Iraq, no specific instance of such a terrorist has yet been produced.

>Reports in the aftermath of the London bombings indicated that the British intelligence service estimates more than 3,000 residents of Great Britain had trained in the Afghanistan terrorist camps prior to the invasion of Afghanistan–which suggests that the probability is very high that most of the jihadists in England date their hatred of the West to some point prior to the invasion of Iraq.

>And though two of the London bombers appear to have traveled to Pakistan for religious instruction post-March 2003, there is not the slightest bit of evidence that it was Iraq which “turned” the cricket-loving young men into killers. In fact, it is transparently absurd for anyone to claim such a thing.

The first argument is an argument from an absence of evidence. If this is being used to defend the claim that “Iraq is not a breeding ground of terrorism” then it is fallacious–an instance of a fallacy of ignorance. But, charitably and despite the recalcitrance of his rhetoric to logical control, we can take this as a restatement of the claim that the belief is being held without adequate evidence.

The second argument is interesting. Once again, the argument works by showing that there was some involvement with radical and militant islamists prior to the invasion of Iraq, which would imply that that invasion could not have caused the prior involvement. What the argument seems to ignore is that thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of people may have “trained in these camps.” Yet, presumably the vast majority do not commit terrorist acts for one reason or another. So the important causal question, is what prompts particular trained militants ultimately to act? And then, is the Iraq war giving these militants more motivation to act?

The final argument is a textbook example of “begging the question”: The kind of example that we explain to students they will almost never encounter so unsubtely deployed.

Hewitt finishes his article with some speculation as to the motivations for this belief, having convinced himself that there is no evidence in favor of it.

>Of course it’s a convenient stick with which to beat the Bush administration. But it has a far more powerful lure than that.

>As the bloody toll of the Islamist movement grows and its record of horrors lengthens from Bali to Beslan to Madrid to London, the incredible cost that can only be attributed to the Afghanistan metastasis that went unchecked from the time of bin Laden’s return there in 1996 until the American-led invasion of 2001 becomes ever more clear.

The real motivation according to Hewett is to conceal the causal role that four years of a Democratic administration’s “inaction” on bin Laden played in all of the terrorism that has occurred since or presumably will occur in the future.

>Christopher Hitchens sharply rebuked the “motive” school of terrorist psychologists: “I thought I heard you making just before we came on the air, of attributing rationality or a motive to this, and to say that it’s about anything but itself, you make a great mistake, and you end up where you ended up, saying that the cause of terrorism is fighting against it, the root cause, I mean.” [emphasis added]Hitchens’s point, which must be made again and again, is Blair’s point: The killers are killers because they want to kill, not because the coalition invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, or because there are bases in Saudi Arabia, or because Israel will not retreat to the 1967 borders.

This argument, even concealed under Hitchen’s rambling blather, is unconvincing, as we have attempted to show over and over again. In order to argue that administration policies are not causing terrorism, Hitchens and others retreat to the position that nothing is motivating terrorism. One could argue quite plausibly that Iraq is not the sole cause of terrorism, but the administration’s shills cannot admit this much as it would suggest that Iraq plays some causal role.

Beneath all of the Hewett’s bluster we find that his argument is ultimately and simply the assertion that there is no evidence that Iraq is breeding terrorists. But the absence of evidence does not show the claim is false. If the alternative claims (1996-2000 Afghanistan is the cause or there is no cause for terrorism) were at all plausible, or had any evidence adduced for them, then it might be unreasonable to continue to hold this claim. But, this is as far as our analysis can take us.

Political Radicals or Maladjusted Kids?

Oliver Roy, guest opiner in today’s Times treats us to a fuller exposition of a fallacy riddled argument that we have been discussing lately in his “Why do they Hate Us? Not Because of Iraq” (Source: NYT 7/22/05). This provides some occasion to look a little more carefully at some of the questions of historical causality that underlie these arguments.

These arguments have the following form:

1. Either terrorism is caused by specific events and policies, or it is caused by Islamist ideology.
2. Terrorism is not caused by specific events and policies.
3. Therefore, terrorism is caused by Islamist ideology.

There is almost certainly a false dichotomy in the first premise–though this seems to be generally implicit in all of these arguments–since the causal relations underlying terrorism are probably more complex than this dichotomy allows. Nevertheless, most of Roy’s argument is devoted to justifying #2 through a series of arguments.

First, we have the argument from chronology. This argument is based on the seemingly incontrovertible causal principle that a cause must precede its effect. This seems to imply something like the following.

A. If Y exists at a time prior to X, then X cannot be the cause of Y.


B. If Islamic terrorism (militant Islamism, etc.) exists at a time prior to the invasion of Iraq, or Afghanistan, etc., then those conflicts cannot be the cause of Islamic terrorism (militant Islamism, etc.).

>First, let’s consider the chronology. The Americans went to Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, not before. Mohamed Atta and the other pilots were not driven by Iraq or Afghanistan. Were they then driven by the plight of the Palestinians? It seems unlikely. After all, the attack was plotted well before the second intifada began in September 2000, at a time of relative optimism in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

This argument is, of course, a straw man here. No one, I think, would argue that the cause of 9/11 was our retaliatory invasion of Afghanistan, or the subsequent invasion of Iraq. But, what Roy is going to do in order to make his argument seem more convincing than it should, is switch between general and specific instances of Y in our principle above (9/11, terrorism in general, Islamist mujahdeen in Afghanistan in the 80’s, London bombings). This becomes a fallacy of equivocation and allows him to set up these straw men arguments in order to knock them down.

He shows us that the presence of troops in Saudi Arabia can not be the cause of bin Laden’s radical islamism, since the latter preceded the former.

>Another motivating factor, we are told, was the presence of “infidel” troops in Islam’s holy lands. Yes, Osama Bin Laden was reported to be upset when the Saudi royal family allowed Western troops into the kingdom before the Persian Gulf war. But Mr. bin Laden was by that time a veteran fighter committed to global jihad.

Once again, no one would argue this, I think. Instead, the argument would be that a terrorist movement gains adherents and militants to the degree that populations feel violated, oppressed, and otherwise powerless. So although these events did not cause the existence of the movement, they feed, strengthen, and radicalize these movements.

Roy’s second argument is more interesting. Here he argues that the militants and terrorists are not really concerned about what happens to Afghanis or Iraqis.

>Second, if the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists? Rather, the bombers are mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and Pakistan – or they are Western-born converts to Islam. Why would a Pakistani or a Spaniard be more angry than an Afghan about American troops in Afghanistan? It is precisely because they do not care about Afghanistan as such, but see the United States involvement there as part of a global phenomenon of cultural domination.

If it is the case that there are virtually no Iraqis, Afghans, or Palestinians, one wonders what the denotation of “terrorists” includes. The decade and more of suicide bombings in Israel and the occupied territories, the insurgency in Iraq and Afghan, all seem to be excluded now from Roy’s argument. Now it suits his purpose to focus not on the broadest phenomena of Islamic militancy, but rather on a much narrower problem which excludes anyone who would cause trouble for Roy’s argument.

>It is also interesting to note that none of the Islamic terrorists captured so far had been active in any legitimate antiwar movements or even in organized political support for the people they claim to be fighting for. They don’t distribute leaflets or collect money for hospitals and schools. They do not have a rational strategy to push for the interests of the Iraqi or Palestinian people.

So there are two reasons for his second argument: (a) the militants and terrorists are foreigners; (b) the militants and terrorists do not have political programs in mind for the populations that they are supposedly fighting for.

>Even their calls for the withdrawal of the European troops from Iraq ring false. After all, the Spanish police have foiled terrorist attempts in Madrid even since the government withdrew its forces. Western-based radicals strike where they are living, not where they are instructed to or where it will have the greatest political effect on behalf of their nominal causes.

Switching back now to the Western militants, Roy claims, quite incredibly and without argument, that the real motivation is a form of “culture shock” rather than politics.

>The Western-based Islamic terrorists are not the militant vanguard of the Muslim community; they are a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, frustrated by a Western society that does not meet their expectations.

The terrorists seem, on Roy’s view, to be maladjusted kids rather than political radicals. Perhaps there is some truth here, but the inadequate arguments presented above does nothing to support this view. Roy would need to spend more time presenting evidence for this curious view, and less time knocking down straw men, if we were to be obligated to take his conclusion seriously.

The motivations for terrorism are sometimes deeply perplexing, and the causes of both the multi-national Islamist movement and individual participation in terrorism for its sake are far more complicated than Roy and these argument’s recent proponents on the right can allow. Although a strong case can be made for the uncontroversial claim that Iraq and Afghanistan are not the sole cause of all acts of Islamist terrorism, the desire of these pundits seems to be exonerating the Bush administration of any causal contribution to the terrorism it is supposedly trying to combat. That argument has certainly not been made by Roy here and the growing body of argument and evidence seems to support the contrary.

Give me that old time religion

Over the year we’ve been in business we’ve seen plenty of ironic fallacies–these are the fallacies people commit by accusing others of committing fallacies. During the election the favorite was the reverse ad hominem–accuse someone else of attacking (thereby ignoring their justified attack and attacking them in turn). Here’s another variation on that theme–the reverse ad populum:

>These things come in waves, of course, but waves need to be resisted, even if the exercise leaves you feeling like King Canute. The new wave is fashionable doubt. Doubt is in. Certainty is out.

So Charles Krauthammer (famous for his use of the reverse ad hominem) would have us believe that since doubt is fashionable, people who believe it must do so simply because others do, not because perhaps they have a reason to doubt. This is a nice way of abdicating your responsibility for an argument against their view. That doesn’t make it right. And worse, I’m not sure if Krauthhammer knows this, but just because your belief is deeply held or profoundly felt doesn’t mean it’s *true.*

Of course, Krauthammer’s jeremiad (he used that word) on belief is really just a set up for his main argument.

>The Op-Ed pages are filled with jeremiads about believers–principally evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics–bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy. Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong–indeed, deeply un-American–about fearing people simply because they believe. *It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you.* And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.

Now let’s look at this a little more closely. Embedded in the usual tripe about anti-religious feeling in the liberal media, is a familiar argumentative trope: religious [think Christian Evangelical not Muslim] versus secular. These two things do not rightly belong in the same category (at least in the way Krauthammer arranges them), so any attempt to compare them is bound to mislead. Besides, *legalized* abortion is not imposed on anyone the law recognizes; gay marriage (wherever it is legal) is not imposed on anyone either (barring probably unlikely shotgun weddings). These are activities, not views. Views cannot be imposed on anyone; activities can, but these activities can’t–unless your parents force the gay lifestyle on you; or force you to get an abortion. To avoid gay marriage, don’t go to gay weddings, or don’t be gay; to avoid abortion, give birth to any children you conceive.

Muddling moral claims and causal claims

We have had occasion before to point out a specific confusion of causal claims and moral claims that seems common among conservative commentators. The confusion is at times quite subtle and arises out of deep conceptual connections between some causal claims and moral claims. But there are also many cases of egregious confusions. Cathy Young today provides several in a column comprised of a series of quotations from various sources to show that the liberal “response to terrorism even on the moderate left remains an egregious moral muddle” (Source: BG 7/19/05).

>In a letter to The New York Times published on July 9, one New Yorker proudly described his comments to a Dutch television news crew which interviewed him on the New York subway immediately after the bombings. When asked if he believed New York would be attacked again, he replied in the affirmative. Why? ”Because the US is hated now more than ever. Even some of our allies sort of hate us.” And why is that? ”We invaded Iraq, which has never attacked us or declared war on us.”

>In other words: If we’re attacked again, it will be our fault (just as, presumably, the London bombings are the fault of British Prime Minister Tony Blair for lending his support to the war in Iraq).

The letter writer seems to be quite clearly describing a causal relation, which Young nonetheless interprets as a moral relation. The language of “fault” is probably at fault here, since we can use it to indicate both a causal and a moral relation–nonetheless, it carries in all of its uses a connotation of “wrong” and therefore of justifying the result.

a) It is likely that the U.S. will be attacked because attackers are motivated by hatred and the U.S. is hated more than ever (because of Iraq.

becomes in Young’s translation something close to:

b) It is right that the U.S. will be attacked because attackers are motivated by hatred and the U.S. is hated more than ever.

Of course, this letter writer may be wrong about the causal relationship between future terrorism and the Iraq war, but he is presumably not advancing the claim that Young suggests he is.

But Young has other targets in mind:

>Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan and a leading left-of-center commentator on the Middle East, argues on his website and in an article at that the London bombings are ”blowback” from the US and its allies’ misguided policies. Cole pooh-poohs the idea that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is a product of hatred for the West’s democratic values. In his view, it is a response to specific Western policies that are perceived as a war against Muslims, from Israeli oppression of the Palestinians to the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Once again we have a causal claim about the relationship between certain policies and terrorism. But this time Young chooses to address it as a causal claim:

>Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, took place before the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Cole tries to make the case, citing the 9/11 Commission report, that Sept. 11 was ”punishment on the United States for supporting Ariel Sharon’s iron fist policies toward the Palestinians.” Yet the report makes it clear that planning for the attacks had been underway for about two years before Sharon became prime minister of Israel in March 2001, though Osama bin Laden evidently wanted to move up the operation in response to Sharon’s actions. And the radical Islamic terror network first struck New York City in 1993.

Presumably Cole would argue that the earlier terrorist acts were themselves the response to earlier *particular* policies such as troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, the continual support of Israel’s occupation, etc. Young, however, wants to argue that terrorists are motivated by the hatred of our way of life, rather than particular policies and perceived injustices. This is a difficult question–it is hard to understand what a sufficient cause of suicide bombing is for the terrorists. In addition, there are deep questions here that could be explored about the nature of historical causality–about the identification of necessary and sufficient conditions for historical events–about the relationship between abstractions and the concrete policies that implement these abstractions and make them an affront. But Young wants to cobble together a diatribe against supposed “moral confusions” on the left and not examine the complexities of causal claims. And whatever Cole’s confusions might turn out to be, they do not seem to be “moral” as Young would like.

>Other myopic responses abound. A few commentators insist on a moral equivalence between the deaths of Iraqi civilians in US military operations with the deaths of civilians in the London bombings. Yet the US military and its allies have made every effort to minimize civilian casualties; the deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians is overwhelmingly the work of so-called insurgents who drive explosive-packed cars into crowds of children while American soldiers hand out candy.

Five-hundred, or so, words into her column and Young has finally found a specifically moral claim to adduce as evidence. One wonders, in passing, how widespread this claim is, given that Young vaguely attributes this to a “few commentators” (and all her other cases are specifically attributed). Nonetheless, there seems to be something of a muddle here for those supposed “few commentators.” It seems reasonable to distinguish between first degree murder and second degree murder, and they are not morally equivalent. One might make a case for the claim that there are “moral similarities” between these sorts of deaths, but I suspect Young would be as unhappy about that. But if this is a moral confusion found only within a supposed “few commentators” it seems difficult to find an “egregious moral muddle” that defines the left on its basis.

So without any evidence advanced for her accusation, Young decides she’s finished her job.

>But acknowledging our mistakes and misdeeds should not undercut moral clarity when it comes to terrorism. The jihadists are driven primarily by hatred of Western civilization and its freedom; their primary targets are innocent civilians; and they cannot be defeated except by force.

Having failed to find an egregious moral muddle endemic within the left, Young chooses a simple assertion of her view to close her muddled accusations of moral muddles. Perhaps she is right about these last claims (there is of course no argument to defend them here). Nonetheless, the connection between these claims and the “moral clarity” which she wishes to claim for herself could do with some significant unmuddling.

Neo-Con Abstractions and Sleight of Hand

We have heard a fairly consistent chorus, since September 11th, castigating the Islamic world for their supposed failure to denounce Islamic extremists. Unable to blame all muslims directly for terrorism, some find it plausible to blame all muslims for complacency, and an ever-present suggestion of complicity as well, with terrorism. This enables those thinkers who are so disposed to conceive the world in abstractions and to pose its problems in terms of wars among and within “civilizations.”

Krauthammer has a particular love of this neo-con trope. Today he again draws on it to help explain Europe’s problem with terrorism (Source: NYT 7/15/05). For Krauthammer the phenomenon that needs to be explained is that the terrorists in London (and the murderer of van Gogh in Netherlands) are “native-born Muslims.” (Of course, the terrorist acts in Madrid are the unmentioned exception here.)

>The fact that native-born Muslim Europeans are committing terrorist acts in their own countries shows that this Islamist malignancy long predates Iraq, long predates Afghanistan and long predates Sept. 11, 2001. What Europe had incubated is an enemy within, a threat that for decades Europe simply refused to face.

This is an extremely interesting rhetorical move. It rests on a certain ambiguity in the author’s intention. If he aims to show that there was a radical Islamic movement advocating violence prior to the last 5 years, then one wonders who doubts such a thing. That claim seems uncontroversially true and does not need additional evidence. This makes the argument look very strong. But Krauthammer’s intention is more devious. He wants to suggest that these acts would have been committed even without, and perhaps more likely without, America’s war on terrorism. The fact that radical Islamic movements pre-exist the last five years, of course, does nothing to show what Krauthammer wants to suggest. It is only the difference between a proximate cause and a more remote cause. Though there would be good reason to suggest this if we limited ourselves to the Dutch case–though that is not probably a case of terrorism even if it was violence committed by a muslim with fundamentalist beliefs.

This is a complicated fallacious argument. This seems to be something like a ignoratio elenchi (the fallacy of missing the point) with the conclusion unstated but suggested by the context. His choice of the three American events (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq) suggests that the relationship between these events and the continued terrorism is Krauthammer’s real though not explicitly stated concern.

a) native-born Europeans are committing terrorism
shows b) that Islamist malignancy pre-dated 9/11 etc.
c) (implicitly) therefore the “war on terrorism” is not the cause of these acts.

Granting that (a) provides evidence for (b) (unnecessarily of course), it is hard to see that (a) or (b) provides any reason to hold (c). It might provide reason to believe (d) the “war on terror” is not the *sole* cause of these acts (even if it might be the precipitating cause). But that last claim is also uncontroversial I would think.

But setting aside this deceptive argument, Krauthammer wants to use this to explain Europe being “weak” on terrorism.

>One of the reasons Westerners were so unprepared for this wave of Islamist terrorism, not just militarily but psychologically, is sheer disbelief. It shockingly contradicts Western notions of progress.

>Our first response was, therefore, to simply sweep this contradiction under the rug. Put the first World Trade Center bombers on trial and think it will solve the problem. Even today there are many Americans and even more Europeans who believe that after Sept. 11 the United States should just have done Afghanistan — depose the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda’s sanctuary — and gone no further, thinking that would solve the problem.

Again Krauthammer suggests something that he does not actually assert–that the war in Iraq was and is a necessary part of the response to terrorism–and which his argument does nothing to show. Like above, this is a sort of sleight of hand, whereby an argument that might support a particular conclusion is actually being used to suggest the truth of a much stronger conclusion. This is combined in an interesting way with a version of the straw man argument. Presumably very few thought that we should *only* go after Afghanistan and do absolutely nothing else to combat or prevent terrorism. The question has always been whether our intervention in Iraq is contributing to terrorism.

>But the problem is far deeper. It is essentially a civil war within a rival civilization in which the most primitive elements are seeking to gain the upper hand. Sept. 11 forced us to intervene massively in this civil war, which is why we are in Iraq. There, as in Afghanistan, we have enlisted millions of Muslims on the anti-Islamist side.

>But what about the vast majority of European Muslims, the 99 percent who are peace-loving and not engaged in terror? They must also join the fight. They must actively denounce not just — what is obvious — the terrorist attacks, but their source: Islamist ideology and its practitioners.

And here we get the Neo-Con’s penchant for abstractions revealed. Rather than a historically determined political phenomenon, we are treated to a child’s tale of conflicts within and among civilizations. And one wonders whether, in Kruathammer’s mind, all Christians and Jews must denounce not just Christian and Jewish extremist terrorist acts, but the Christian and Jewish fundamentalist ideologies and their practitioners as well.

Smoking or non?

We remarked some time ago that David Brooks of the *New York Times* discovered a new fallacy: the *argumentum pro homine*. It’s a fallacy of relevance akin to the ad hominem argument, though instead of attacking a person, you praise him for traits that have nothing to do with the conclusions you mean to draw about him. One might wonder, however, whether Mr. Brooks employs this sort of praise in a backhanded sort of way. In today’s op-ed, “Mr.Bush, Pick a Genius,” we can’t tell whether Brooks means to malign or praise the poor Michael McConnell, a man who strikes him as a “genius” and a terrific Supreme Court nominee.

>McConnell (whom I have never met) is an honest, judicious scholar. When writing about church and state matters, he begins with the frank admission that religion is a problem in a democracy. Religious people feel a loyalty to God and to the state, and sometimes those loyalties conflict.

To be precise–which is what honest, judicious judicial scholars do–religious people feel a loyalty to what *they* take to be their own religion’s–or better, their own demonination’s–interpretation of Divine requirements. Considering the sheer number and diversity of Christian denominations alone, these loyalties will very likely conflict. The genius, as Brooks describes him, has discovered hot water.

This is all set up for the grand argument.

>So he understands why people from Rousseau and Jefferson on down have believed there should be a wall of separation between church and state.

“Wall of separation” is a suggestive, though wholly and unfortunately imprecise phrase. It’s the kind of phrase that will have the imprecise non-geniuses among us arguing at cross-purposes. In other words, it’s the kind of phrase that cries out for argument, justification, clarification, application, interepretation. But how, one wonders:

>The problem with the Separationist view, he has argued in essays and briefs, is that it’s not *practical.* As government grows and becomes more involved in health, charity, education and culture issues, it begins pushing religion out of those spheres. The Separationist doctrine leads inevitably to discrimination against religion. The state ends up punishing people who are exercising a *constitutional right*. [emphasis added]

It seems like the problem with the separationist view is that it’s *not constitutional*, not that’s it’s not practical. But that’s not the real point. This is:

>McConnell argued that government shouldn’t be *separated* from religion, but, as Madison believed, should be *neutral* about religion. He pointed out that the fire services and the police don’t just protect stores and offices, but churches and synagogues as well. In the same way, he declared in Congressional testimony in 1995, “When speech reflecting a secular viewpoint is permitted, then speech reflecting a religious viewpoint should be permitted on the same basis.” The public square shouldn’t be walled off from religion, but open to a plurality of viewpoints, secular and religious. The state shouldn’t allow school prayer, which privileges religion, but public money should go to religious and secular service agencies alike.

The rest of the article spins out the evidence for this view in the usual fashion–cherry picking cases of misguided or confused local officials discriminating against religious people. We’ve all heard these cases, so we won’t bother going through them in order to point out that much more than these anecdotes would be needed to demonstrate systematic religious discrimination.

But back to the point, notice how “neutral” is an interpretation of “separated.” And notice also how this view is supported by one wickedly specious analogy–the fire department and police have fairly well-defined objectives–property and life. Nonetheless, the problem with McConnell’s view is that he falsely contrasts secular with religious. “Secular” is not religious, or any particular religion; it is not another religion alongside the many religions. Some might even claim that “secular” is a kind of “neutrality” with regard to religion.

“Public” word games and the Establishment Clause

In yesterday’s Washington Post, William Raspberry ceded the job of thinking about the relationship between church and state to Kevin “Seamus” Hasson of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (Source: WaPo 7/11/05).

According to Hasson, the “problem” with the decision in McCreary County, Kentucky, et al. v. ACLU of Kentucky et al., is that it considers the intention motivating governmental displays of religious objects in deciding whether they violate the first amendment’s establishment clause (Source: Findlaw).

Hasson, like many religious conservatives attempting to find an anti-religious stance in governmental neutrality, when there is little reason to find it, he simply asserts it. For example, he argues against the test for religious purpose as follows:

>”The ‘predominantly religious’ test suggests that anything not predominantly secular must be religious. It in fact has strong anti -religious overtones.”

If it is the case that “secular” here means “non-religious” then, yes, anything not predominantly non-religious must be predominantly religious. How one finds “strong anti-religious overtones” in this tautologically true sentence, however, is a bit mysterious.

But his purpose is to assert that the requirement of neutrality leads precisely to this hostility–not, of course, on the basis of any evidence or argument:

>”There’s nothing in common sense — and certainly nothing in the First Amendment — that requires government hostility to publicly expressed religion, which is where the requirement that government be ‘secular’ takes you,” he says.

Everyone would, I take it, grant that the first amendment does not requires the government to be hostile to publicly expressed religion (since it is, in fact, designed to guarantee that possibility). It obviously does not follow, however, that the “requirement that government be ‘secular’ implies such a hostility (at least not without considerable argument that Hasson neglects to offer). One might as well argue that because umpires are required to maintain neutrality betwen the teams that they are therefore hostile to the teams.

But Raspberry opines:

>Hasson is not just playing word games. He thinks the notion that religion should be expressed only in private — and never in the context of government — is a serious misreading of human nature.

But Raspberry’s protestation aside, we can easily see that Hasson is in fact just “playing word games”–specifically, he is confusing, whether deliberately or not, two senses of “public” (and so also two senses of “private”).

>We don’t believe in private because we don’t live in private,” . . .”This has always been the case. We believe, so we daub paint on prehistoric cave walls, spend generations building cathedrals, sculpt the David, compose the ‘Messiah’ and write ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ The personal thing to do is, and always has been, not to keep our beliefs private but to express them in culture. . . . It’s how we’re made.”

In one sense, the word means something like displayed/occuring socially (as in, “public drunkenness”)and in the other it means displayed/occuring socially by the government (as in, “public works”). Certainly public (as in drunkenness) religious displays should be protected by the courts. But the First Amendment seems to, fairly clearly, require that the government not engage in public (as in works) displays of religious establishment. And, as the courts have reasonably argued, the display of the ten commandments for non-predominantly secular purposes amounts to such a public establishment.

But Hasson isn’t finished trying to muddy the waters:

>”Religion has a natural role in culture — almost like ethnicity. And both, being categories over which people have killed each other, require scrutiny. But isn’t it interesting that our courts are never clogged with Anglophiles trying to enjoin St. Patrick’s Day parades, or with whites and Asians trying to stop Black History Month? Mayors can — and do — wear green on March 17, while taking no position on the relative merits of being Irish. It should be the same with Christmas and Hanukah.”

This is clearly a bad analogy. Certainly mayors wear green and crosses or whatever else they as individuals would like publicly (as in drunkeness) to display. Setting aside that the holiday is a secular one for most participants–they cannot, establish it as a public (as in works) holiday.