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.
2 thoughts on “Binge and surge”
if there’s a problem with their arguments, you can fix that, or at lest assess it, but, as Greenwald says of Kagan, when they blindly cling to demonstrably flawed conclusions and then argue for the truth of said conclusions, there’s nothing left to do. you can’t fix stupid.
I agree with your assessment here, Phillip. Instead of forumalting a position from evidence, he’s done the reverse here. He’s begun with the position that the Surge is working and has gone around searching for some soundbites that might affirm it. Classic case of confirmation bias. He does not pause to consider another proposition that this evidence might affirm. Either the vast majority of the media is purposefully ignoring positive news about Iraq for political purposes or else their is no good news to report. This is an issue I’ve been detecting all over conservative media circles. For some reason, many have come to believe that papers such as the New York Times enjoy posting obituraries of dead soldiers. The media hasn’t jumped on board with this because of the continuned casualities and terror in the streets of Iraq. Not being able to recognize such confirmation bias is utter stupidity on his part…
Comments are closed.