Surge protector

I heard this on the radio and thought it didn't make any sense.  Even though it's a politician, I'll break with tradition (that's "tradition" by the way, not "rule") and put it up here.  And if you're addicted to "balance," then go find some crazy equivalent howler by Obama so we can talk about that.  It's John McCain criticizing Obama on the surge. 

Oddly enough, my opponent advocates the deployment of two new combat brigades to Afghanistan — in other words, a surge. We're left to wonder how he can deny that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, while at the same time announcing that a surge is just what we need in Afghanistan. I'll leave all these questions for my opponent and his team of 300 foreign policy advisors to work out for themselves. With luck, they'll get their story straight by the time the Obama campaign returns to North America.

The only way this argument would work is if Obama had argued that "surges" (I'm weak on military strategy, but I don't think that's a kind of thing) do not work in principle–which, as far as I know, he didn't. 

I guess I would call this a rather straightforward case of suppressed evidence.  Afghanistan and Iraq are obviously different vis a vis military surging.  Reasons for surging in one place are not reasons for surging in every place.  

27 thoughts on “Surge protector”

  1. Actually, if you look closely at his arguments, what Obama really opposed was deploying French troops away from Afghanistan — he didn’t want to send Serge to Iraq.

  2. I would also add Weak (specious) Analogy; the circumstances in each country are significantly different.

  3. Here is the full argument:
    1. Obama was against Iraq surge.
    2. He was against Iraq surge either because he thinks surges don’t work in principle or because this specific surge will not be successful. 
    3. Iraq surge was successful.
    4. Obama still opposes Iraq surge.
    C1: Since Iraq surge was successful and Obama still opposes the surge, that means that Obama is against surges in principle.
    5. Obama suggests Afghanistan surge.
    C2: Since Obama suggested Afghanistan surge that means he is not against surges in general.

    So, we ended up with a contradiction.

    So here we have it. You can accuse McCain of a false dichotomy if you want; that is, if you can explain on #2 what other explanation would Obama have.
    It seems that Obama’s plan was to attack #3. But that’s changing now. So, to still be against a successful surge is inexplicable.

  4. Nice, but I don’t see where McCain makes that argument.

    I think the claim that the Iraq surge was successful a still in doubt.  Many of those things that the surge was supposed to have achieved have not been achieved.  So it’s a little early for triumphalism in that regard (which is what, by the way, Obama still says).  But that is really an empirical matter whose resolution we can patiently wait for.  Having said that, Iraq and Afghanistan are different countries with different issues–what works in one place does not necessarily work in another.  Some might argue that the basic task of routing (militarily) the Taliban was never achieved, and that the forces necessary to complete that job were diverted elsewhere, etc.

  5. I think the Obama camp is wise to avoid even using the term “the Surge”. A troop escalation does not have to be marketed like this year’s new garish Six Flags waterslide. If I were Obama I’d balk at having to repeat the administration’s sales pitch by using their slogans…

  6. Also, asserting that “the surge was successful” in the absence of substantial supporting evidence and analysis of the multiple factors at play in Iraw is your basic Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy. Things like the “Anbar Awakening” took place before the surge, while the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad neighborhoods was largely unaffected by the surge.

  7. It is true that the GOP has claimed for some time now that the surge is working. However, this is becoming more the consensus among everyone:  AP , CBS, BBC, and so on .
    Here is BBC on the issue: “… overall, the violence countrywide is now at its lowest level since 2003.That, our correspondent says, is in large measure attributed to the US troop “surge”, which began last year and is now coming to an end.”

    So, yes, Gary is right, the GOP used to claim this without any substantial evidence. However, I think things are different today.

  8. 2. He was against Iraq surge either because he thinks surges don’t work in principle or because this specific surge will not be successful.

    C1: Since Iraq surge was successful and Obama still opposes the surge, that means that Obama is against surges in principle.

    Surely, we can’t infer that Obama is against increasing troops “in principle.” A false dichotomy seems to be rearing its head here.

    Off the top of my head: Obama could have opposed the “surge” because (a) he thought that the costs would not outweigh the benefits, b) he thought that the increasing troop numbers at that time was undesirable or unjust c) he thought that goals of that surge were unclear.

    But more generally supporting/opposing the surge in Iraq would be a case of practical reasoning about the best means to a set of stated ends. He might have opposed the “surge” at the outset and still oppose it specifically even if he were to grant that it was a “success” by whatever set of standards without rejecting “surges” as a matter of principle (whatever that might mean).

    There is no reasonable contradiction between opposing the “surge” in Iraq and supporting an increase in troops in Afghanistan, unless as you point out someone held the seemingly bizarre view that “increasing troop numbers beyond initial deployment is always wrong.”

  9. Generally we should be able to criticize practical inferences (1. End X is desirable 2. Means Y will bring about X. 3. Therefore we should do y.) on the basis of at least the following grounds;

    1. The end is not desirable.
    2. The means is not the best means to that end.
    3. The means is not related to the end in the appropriate way (will not bring about the end?).
    4. There are other ends that qualify the desirability of the end.

    I would guess that O.’s criticism of the “surge” is a combination of 2, 3, and 4. McCain claims that he was wrong about 3. Perhaps. Though the causal argument must be given to avoid the post hoc danger. But it might still be the criticisms of the surge on the basis of 2 or 4 are available to O.

  10. Now, Colin, don’t quote me on this but didn’t Obama say: “Surge will not work” therefore we should not have it? This does not sound like any kind of a combination. It was just a matter of an educated guess. It will not work. Well, it worked.

  11. Well, we’d have to look at relevant texts, transcripts, etc. But certainly even if he said “I oppose the surge, because the surge will not work” this does not entail “I oppose the surge only because the surge will not work.” This latter is what your construction of McCain’s argument needs I think.

    One might hold the view that “I oppose the surge because it seems really unlikely that it will work” and when the surge works, still consistently hold that other surges might be desirable because they are more likely to work.

    One might also hold the view that “I oppose the surge because it will not work” and “I oppose the surge because it is not the best way of achieving security” etc. without stating these latter.

    Your construction of the argument (the dichotomy) requires some sort of exclusion between specific rejection/principled rejection and the identification of not working with the specific. Neither of these seems right to me, so I don’t think you can generate the contradiction because you can’t generate the claim that O. must reject surges as a matter of principle (once again, whatever that might mean).

  12. Now now BN.  To say the surge has worked so triumphantly shouldn’t we talk about those specific things the surge was meant to have achieved and whether they have been achieved?  No one can deny that Iraq is a less violent place than it was before.  Does this mean the “surge” or rather the “temporary escalation” has “worked.”  Not by a long shot.

    Keep in mind also that Obama didn’t just say “surge won’t work.”  He probably also, as Colin as suggested, said why he thought that.

  13. Well … let’s hear what Obama actually said before the surge:
    January 10, 2007
    January 14, 2007

    Obama clearly states that a surge will not produce any difference on the ground; also, he actually claims that it might do the reverse.

    So, yes jcasey, he did not just say it will not work, he said it will make things worst.

  14. Wow BN.  “Morning Joe,” awesome.  Nice taking out of context there.  We can play “gotcha ” by quote-picking all day long, but it doesn’t advance the discussion.  The question before the house, if I’m not mistaken, is whether Obama is against “surges” qua “surges.”

  15. For some reason I thought that the goal in Iraq was to eventually reduce our troop presence, with the the Iraqi military taking over pacification duty in our stead. The opposite seems to have occurred. A reduction in violence, of course, is a desirable outcome, but it is not the ultimate goal (nor is it clear that the reduction in violence is solely due to more U.S. troops, but I’ll grant that). To determine whether the “surge” has worked, we need to see what Iraq looks like without a massive U.S. military presence. Declaring the “surge” a success is a bit premature considering that the conditions for success depend on the Iraqi government’s ability to keep its own country orderly and peaceful. Perhaps the “surge” has laid the groundwork for the Iraqi government’s impending popular legitimacy, but until that time comes, we can (should?) say nothing more about our increased troop presence in the region (with respect to “success” in Iraq) other than that it correlates with a reduction in violence.

  16. jcasey, you are right … this could on forever; however, the “gotcha” by quote-picking was not started by me. Maybe you should stick to your tradition and avoid politicians’ quotes completely.
    Also, this is turning in some political debate that is pointless here (that’s my fault). We should stick with the arguments and their form.  So, I kind of see the point of this post, but then again I think there’s enough and better material there to be analyzed. Just a quick question though: is Obama wrong about anything and did he ever something stupid. Probably not, right?

  17. Funny BN.  First, if you’re suggesting I was quote picking by using a pre-prepared radio address of McCain (and citing the whole passage), then I would be very surprised–McCain and his advisors had all of the time in the world to assemble that argument.  It was my contention that what they came up with stunk big time.   Second, Scarborough’s picking Obama one-liners (out of context) that don’t even relate to the point he is trying to make (if you listen closely) is another matter entirely.  Finally, I think I remember challenging the reader to offer up some equally bad argument (bad in the logical sense) from Obama.  I’m not aware of any, but then again, I haven’t really been looking.  I should add the caveat that your failure to find them (should you not find them) wouldn’t constitute an endorsement for Obama.

  18. Here are two: Obama Polishes His Resume Obama’s Work Claim

    Anyway, I’m not here to defend McCain. I thought that an argument can be made on some of the same lines McCain started.
    And it seemed that there were 2 objections to my form of argument:
    1. the surge is not a success
    2. false dichotomy : Colin points that out “But certainly even if he said “I oppose the surge, because the surge will not work” this does not entail “I oppose the surge only because the surge will not work.””

    Here’s a transcript of Obama’s interview: [Sept. 2007]

    Rose: Sen. Obama, give me your assessment of what’s happened in the Congress with the testimony of Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and do you accept their judgment about what is going on on the ground in Iraq?
    Obama: Well, after hearing two days of testimony, let’s be clear on exactly what they said. That after putting an additional 30,000 troops in, far longer and more troops than the president had initially said, we have gone from a horrendous situation of violence in Iraq to the same intolerable levels of violence that we had back in June of 2006. So, essentially, after all this we’re back where we were 15 months ago. And what has not happened is any movement with respect to the sort of political accommodations among the various factions, the Shia, the Sunni, and Kurds that were the rationale for surge and that ultimately is going to be what stabilizes Iraq. So, I think it is fair to say that the president has simply tried to gain another six months to continue on the same course that he’s been on for several years now. It is a course that will not succeed. It is a course that is exacting an enormous toll on the American people, enormous toll on our troops who have performed brilliantly and done everything that’s been asked of them and is not making us more safe because it continues to put strains on our military and prevents us from tackling al-Qaida in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    And here’s Gen. Petraeus on Apr 4 2008

    To argue #1(the surge is not a success) you need to define first what does success mean. We can say that success can simply be defined as better than before, less violence, more stable, more Iraqi troops and so on… Or you can argue that success means bringing all the troops home. It all comes down to the expectations. Is is the same as before? Probably not. Is it better? Probably.
    To argue #2 Obama makes 3 claims about the surge: “it will not succeed” , “it’s expensive” and “it takes away from dealing with Afganistan and Pakistan”.
    So Colin is right, it is not only that it will not succeed. So, my argument is guilty of a false dichotomy. However, it can be argued that Obama was wrong about all of his 3 claims: 1. it was a success 2. the toll on our troops would’ve been greater if they had to slowly reduce the number 3. Maybe now it’s a good idea to deal with Afganistan; however, at the time, Iraq was on the brink of a civil war.

  19. The original point: The argument–the really crappy argument–McCain made was that Obama cannot be for one surge and against another.  That’s dumb.  McCain’s point was a logical one–it’s inconsistent to support one surge but not another.  When I asked for a similar thing by Obama, I meant a logical error.  You have pointed to embellishments of his record.  I would have added to those that he shouldn’t say I “passed” anything.  He sponsored, voted for, argued for, etc.  But I would hasten to point out to the (in my opinion very disappointing–no not because they criticize Obama), that just because one does not sponsor a bill does not mean one doesn’t work for its passage.  But that’s another point.  For another discussion in another place. 

    The question of the success of the surge has to do, as you correctly point out, with metrics.  The metric of success was political movement on a number of fronts (which is how the supporters of the surge defined success at the beginning)–as Obama says above.  That there is less violence, of course, is something we can all be happy about, but that was not the only thing the surge was about.  Not even Henry Kissinger (see here) is willing to say its a “success.”  Kissinger does make one important point, however–regardless of your view of the success of the troop escalation, the facts on the ground have changed, and the Iraqis have made it clear they want us out.

  20. And adding to the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc argument (violence eventually decreased after the surge) we have the argumentum ad populum (everyone agrees that the surge was a “success.”)

    Any argument that can logically justify the cause/effect claims involved will necessarily have to involve some high level statistical analysis that can — if not conclusively, at least arguably — eliminate the other factors at play in Iraq over this period of time as being substantive contributors to the decrease in violence. No such analysis has appeared anywhere within the limited scope of my inquiring mind.

    Instead, what we seem to have is an “argumentum ad repetitum“* — rather akin to how Raymond Chandler described Ernest Hemingway: Just keep saying the same thing over and over again until everyone figures that, whatever you’re saying, it must be brilliant.

    (Ya’ know, it may even be true. But until some real analysis is forthcoming, it ain’t logical.)

    *If mutilated non-Latin is good enough for Angelina Jolie …

  21. Gary, it’s an argumentum ad populum only if the majority has no authority on the issue.
    If I argue that Colgate is the best toothpaste for your teeth because most of kids think so, that will be an argumentum ad populum.
    If I argue that Colgate is the best toothpaste for your teeth because most of the dentist think so, that’s not an argumentum ad populum.
    I think Gen. Petraeus, the ambassador and others have some authority to speak on the issue.
    Also, like we (jcasey & I)  agreed, it comes down to how do you define success.

  22. <h4>…don’t quote me on this but didn’t Obama say: “Surge will not work” therefore we should not have it? [BN]</h4>
    Based on the video of Obama’s comments, he was doubtful that 20,000 additional troops would make any difference in Iraq. Many uniformed officers and retired military said the same thing at the time, so it wasn’t a "bizarre" analysis of the situation.

  23. That last part of the Obama URL should be: /obama(UNDERSCORE)urges(UNDERSCORE)diplomacy(UNDERSCORE)surge(UNDERSCORE)in.php

    The “preview” button here does not work for me (and I assume that underscores cause some formatting.

  24. More from Obama:

    “The stated purpose of the surge was to enable Iraq’s leaders to reconcile. But as the recent report from the Government Accountability Office confirms, the Iraqis are not reconciling. Our troops fight and die in the 120 degree heat to give Iraq’s leaders space to agree, but they aren’t filling it. They are not moving beyond their centuries-old sectarian conflicts, they are falling further back into them.

    “We hear a lot about how violence is down in parts of Anbar province. But this has little to do with the surge – it’s because Sunni tribal leaders made a political decision to turn against al Qaeda in Iraq. This only underscores the point – the solution in Iraq is political, it is not military.”

    I am sure I could find more of Obama’s own words about the surge; obviously, guessing and assuming what someone means or thinks is illogical and no valid conclusions can come from it.

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