Source (NYT 8/30/04):
Back from vacation, Safire contributes a surprisingly obtuse editorial today. Titled “Four Connected Elections” it meanders from a discussion of recent events in Najaf to Safire’s advice to the Republican party about political strategy. Lacking anything that resembles an argument or even an explanation, one feels crass to nit-pick.
The logical nits need nonetheless to be picked.
George W. Bush comes to the G.O.P convention on the heels of victory in the Najaf primary. . . Not quite an electoral “primary”–the al-Sadr forces prefer bullets to ballots–but the result was political. Nobody now doubts who is the most powerful Shiite leader. And though he cannot publicly express his gratititude to the foreign soldiers who made possible his victory over the abusers of sanctuary, the ayatollah is on the side of a general election soon.
Apparantly, according to Safire, Grand Ayatollah Sistani has joined the Republican party! Even assuming that what Safire
says bears any resemblance to the truth of what occured in Najaf last week, the claim that this represents a “Najaf primary” which endorses George W. Bush conceals, though not particularly well, fallacious reasoning.
The conclusion that Safire wants to suggest to his readers is that George Bush has been endorsed by the majority of Shiites in Iraq, via his functionary Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
He argues this through an analogy between an election and an expression of popular will. Although the restoration of the mosque was not the result of a vote, he detects in the outcome of the negotiations a “political” expression of popular will. It is as though al-Sadr was “voted” out of the mosque and Sistani was voted in.
O.K. so far the analogy seems plausible, even if it is straining a little. Arguments from analogy hold when two things are similar in a number of ways, and it is likely that therefore they also possess some further characteristic in common.
So we must ask, to what degree were the events in Najaf similar to what we consider to be an “election?” Are all political victories analogous to electoral victories? Are all expressions of popular will electoral victories. Does a mob on the street constitute a sign of “popular will?” We need only remember the mobs of Republican staffers that were flown down to Florida in 2000 to present the appearance of public outrage at the “recounts” to recognize the danger of identifying the appearance of public support with the actual existence of public support. The difference between an election and a mob is that unless the Supreme Court overides you, in an election you must actually count the votes. Thus, the essential characteristics of an “election”–what distinguishes from mob rule–are seemingly absent in the Najaf case.
So Najaf can be considerd an election only in the most abstract and weakest sense of the word. Safire’s analogy is false.
But even beyond this basic disanalogy between mob politics under the gun of an occupying army and elections, the inference that Sistani is a Republican apparatchik and that George Bush won a primary in Najaf can only be interpreted as Safire’s subtle comic senee.
Nevertheless, laughter does not constitute analysis. The fallacy here is one of implicit false dilemma. In essence, Safire argues that since Bush wanted al-Sadr out of the mosque and Sistani was able to accomplish this through an expression of popular will among Shiites, the Shiite population has chosen George Bush rather than al-Sadr.
While it is probably true that if politics makes for strange bed-fellows, war makes for desperate bed-fellows, to argue that support for Sistani rather than al-Sadr is support for George Bush and the occupying army rather than al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army” is to take Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us” fallacy and invert it with equally fallacious results: not actually at present shooting at American troops must not be confused with supporting American troops. Opposing the use of a mosque for military purposes, with the attendant massive destruction of the city center, can in no way be interperted as support for those who destroyed the city center.