Sometimes appealing to the people isn’t fallacious

For once in his life, Jonah Goldberg is confused. He doesn’t see how sometimes you can be for something, and sometimes against something like that thing. So it’s inconstent, he charges, that Democrats favored multilateralism on Iraq and criticized Bush for unilateralism, but on North Korea, they seem to favor the opposite. Never mind that Bush isn’t consistent (and the justification of that inconsistency is Goldberg’s point). Somewhere along the way to making that claim he makes the following attempt to identify the ad populum fallacy (or the appeal to the people):

>Initially, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) chief complaint against the Iraq war was that President Bush didn’t build a giant multinational coalition like his dad did, as if the argument for war depended on whether Belize and Burkina Faso agreed with us.

>If it was right to topple Saddam Hussein, it was right even if no one else agreed. And if it was wrong, then it was wrong even if the world was on our side. Lynch mobs aren’t right because they have numbers on their side, and men who stand up to them aren’t wrong because they stand alone.

Goldberg isn’t guilty of the fallacy–he just falsely accuses someone else of it. First, Kerry’s complaint was not with the justification for war (as Goldberg wrongly alleges) but with the means of going about it. For Kerry to be guilty of the ad populum fallacy here, he would have to say the truth of the charges (or the cogency of the justification) relied on the collective assent of the “mob.”

Second, one central tenet of just war theory is “reasonable probability of success.” Even though I can’t remember anyone arguing this, our go-it-nearly-alone strategy (as well as the sheer incompetence of our leadership) weakened the justification for going to war. So it’s just wrong to say that “it’s right to topple Saddam even if no one agreed.” It’s right to try to topple Saddam when you can topple Saddam (and besides–what was the war all about anyway? Toppling Saddam wasn’t the only justification or goal of the war, or so I seem to remember. . . ) with reasonable probability of not making things worse. Going it alone increased the chances of making things worse than Saddam. And to that extent, the collective assent of the mob matters.