Straw Herring

It’s always right to point this sort of thing out. So Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post saves us valuable time:

>Straw Man Watch

>Here’s an astonishing exchange from the Rose Garden on Friday:

>”Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State feels this way, don’t you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you’re following a flawed strategy?”

>Bush’s response was a straw-man argument.

>”THE PRESIDENT: If there’s any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it’s flawed logic. I simply can’t accept that. It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”

>It would have been worthwhile if someone at the news conference had followed up with something like this:

>”In your response to the question about Colin Powell’s statement that ‘the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism’ you made it sound like Powell was saying we were as bad as the terrorists, and you got very angry. But that’s not even remotely what Powell was saying. He’s simply saying that by pretty universal moral standards, your actions are questionable. Could you please respond to that critique, rather than to a made-up one?”

>No one did.

One might argue that this is not a straw man, but rather a red herring. The President has distracted–successfully I might add–the press corps with a completely different argument, one about the moral equivalence of the United States and the terrorists rather than “the moral basis”–our ius in bello–in the war against terrorism. Besides, he never actually claims that he has answered Powell’s objection. Straw man or not, however, Bush’s remarks are deceptive–and it’s a crying shame that no one of those gathered said anything.

2 thoughts on “Straw Herring”

  1. maybe i can argue that what he has actually done is a “false straw herring dichotomy.” everything that comes from the house that is white these days seems a logicall morass, but this response in particular seems to, in addition to the doubly fallacious “straw herring” you’ve indentified, also serve to continue the “with us or against us” meme that has been the mantra of this administration. i would parse it out like so: what the president appears to be saying is that anyone who is against the war is obviously on equal moral footing with the terrorists. in his narrow view there is only the binary opposition of those for the war–his feckless, swooning followers–and those against the war–islamofascists and political progressives who demand accountability from their leaders. there’s no middle ground in his response, no room for rational disagreement with an unjustifiable and poorly planned war effort. there are only hawks and haters.

  2. Whoa! Your resident conservative agrees. There are you happy now? 😉
    Actually I would like to know specifically what the President thinks of Collin Powell’s opinion. This is such a typical politician dodge.

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