Mouthpiece for the terrorists?

Kerry’s claims about his ability to garner the support of foreign leaders has engendered healthy skepticism and some unhealthy sneering. Whether Dick Cheney’s demand that Kerry reveal the names of the foreign leaders who would prefer to see change in the White House (not exactly a difficult list to guess at), or the general disbelief that Kerry will be able to persuade foreign nations to place their troops in the increasingly hell like conditions of Iraq, Kerry, remarkably, has managed to seem less convincing on the intuitively obvious criterion of being less disliked by the rest of the world than the incumbent. It boggles the mind that the Kerry campaign could need to run defense on this.

The need for this defense is, in part, the result of some of our most prominent pundits. Charles Krauthammer has added an interesting twist to these attacks on Kerry’s qualifications on foreign policy in today’s Washington Post [(Source: WaPo 09/24/04]( In essence, Krauthammer argues that John Kerry is less able than President Bush to keep our friends and allies–that is, to pursue American interests abroad.

The occasion that prompts this concern is the upcoming election in the only country that has “joined the United States in the foxhole in every war in the past 100 years,” Australia.

> This is a critical election not only for Australia but also for the United States. Think of the effect on America, its front-line soldiers and its coalition partners if one of its closest allies turns tail and runs.

(We should note in passing that Australia’s 800 troops comprise about .2% of the forces on the ground, ranking beneath the Netherlands and the Ukraine.)

Nevertheless, bringing down the coalition by weakening Australia’s resolve is part of the terrorist plot:

> The terrorists are well aware of this potential effect. Everyone knows about the train bombings in Madrid that succeeded in bringing down a pro-American government and led to Spain’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. But few here noticed that this month’s car bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia, was designed to have precisely the same effect.

>The terrorists’ objective is to intimidate all countries allied with America. Make them bleed and tell them this is the price they pay for being a U.S. ally. The implication is obvious: Abandon America and buy your safety.

So far, there is little to question in the logic of Krauthammer’s representation of the intentions of some terrorists.

>That is what the terrorists are saying. Why is the Kerry campaign saying the same thing? “John Kerry’s campaign has warned Australians that the Howard Government’s support for the US in Iraq has made them a bigger target for international terrorists.” So reports the Weekend Australian (Sept. 18).

Kerry and the terrorists are speaking with one voice! The rhetorical effect of this move is stunning. Krauthammer is suggesting that Kerry’s message is in agreement with the terrorists. Before we can evaluate the rest of this argument we must ask, what does it mean to say that “the Kerry campaign is saying the same thing?”

First the terrorists are implicitly arguing:

1. Australia does not want to be the victim of terrorist attacks.
2. If Australia does not withdraw from Iraq we will attack them.
3. It is in Australia’s interest to withdraw from Iraq.

On the surface, this looks like an argument involving the appeal to fear or force. (It is not, I think, a logically fallacious argument on account of its “appeal to force.” The tricky thing about the fallacy “to the stick” (“This is true, or I will hit you with my stick”) is that sometimes force is not used to claim something is true, but only to sway the rational calculation of the listener. This does not necessarily make the argument fallacious. It may be immoral (or illegal) but not necessarily fallacious. More on this sometime later.) Nevertheless the terrorists are certainly making a threat.

But threats and reporting of threats are two different “speech acts.” If I tell you, “Do not cut across my neighbor’s property because he shoots trespassers,” it is obviously not “saying the same thing” as “do no cut across my property or I will shoot you.”

Krauthammer ignores or conceals the difference between these two “speech acts” in order to create the impression that Kerry and the terrorists agree, and that Kerry is somehow complicit in the threat that the terrorists are making. This is, as it stands, a fairly silly argument, and a transparent ad hominem fallacy resting on a fallacy of ambiguity.

It only becomes something to take seriously when we add some additional premises that show that when Kerry says this, he is being disloyal to our allies. When we make this additional inference we reach a nice clear ad hominem argument.

1. Kerry argues that Australia is less safe for its participation in the occupation of Iraq.
2. Kerry trivializes our allies’ “great political courage.”
3. It is disloyal to our allies to trivialize their sacrifice.
4. Therefore, Kerry is disloyal to our allies.

In fact, as this analysis shows, the first premise (and hence the first 3/4 of the editorial) is entirely spurious to the actual argument that Krauthammer is making (remove it and the argument stands such as it is). It has the effect of rhetorically preparing the ground for the attack on Kerry’s character through the conflation revealed above.

The justification of the second premise above is:

>[Kerry] calls these allies the “coalition of the coerced and the bribed.” This snide and reckless put-down more than undermines our best friends abroad. It demonstrates the cynicism of Kerry’s promise to broaden our coalition in Iraq. If this is how Kerry repays America’s closest allies — ridiculing the likes of Tony Blair and John Howard — who does he think is going to step up tomorrow to be America’s friend?

This would seem to be a question about the ultimate motivation of our coalition partners. When Kerry claims that they were “coerced and bribed” he suggests that they did not join the coalition virtuously, out of their abiding love of the U.S., but out of a more self-interested calculation. Or more importantly it is to say that the countries of the world did not, as perhaps they did in 1991, decide on independent grounds that this war was in both their individual and collective interest. Whether pointing this out is a mark of “disloyalty” is not immediately apparent.

What Krauthammer really needs to argue is that Kerry cannot strengthen the United States diplomatically. This would involve substantive argument that considers Kerry’s proposals, such as they are, and asks whether we will be more or less disliked by the rest of the world under Kerry’s proposals than under President Bush’s. In the last few sentences, Krauthammer considers this question.

>Kerry abuses America’s closest friends while courting those, like Germany and France, that have deliberately undermined America before, during and after the war. What lessons are leaders abroad to draw from this when President Kerry asks them — pretty please in his most mellifluous French — to put themselves on the line for the United States?

Leaving aside the abusive *ad hominem* aside (presumably Krauthammer thinks that speaking “mellifluous French” is some sort of character flaw–if so, I don’t want to be good), the argument comes down to the claim:

  • Foreign countries will not contribute to the rebuilding effort in Iraq under Kerry because they will see that he has snubbed other allies.

Whether this is true or not I cannot determine. But when all is said and done this is the limit of the substantive argument of Krauthammer’s editorial.

I would like to end by pointing to Jessica Matthews editorial in the Washington Post yesterday [Source: WaPo 09/23/04]( which contained three concrete proposals for changing our policy in Iraq that would plausibly address some of the motivations of the insurgents: a promise by the administration (backed-up by “transparent mechanism” not to profit from Iraqi oil; removal of the U.S. embassy from Baghdad and distancing of U.S. policy and the provisional government’s policy; pledge not to permanently base troops in Iraq and cessation of construction on the 14 bases currently planned.)

One thought on “Mouthpiece for the terrorists?”

Comments are closed.