Category Archives: non causa pro causa

Triumph of the appearance of will

Maybe this isn’t a new line, but it strikes me as entertaining nonetheless. Bush & co have frequently asserted that we’re sending messages by our behavior here to both the troops and the enemy, as if the enemy would cower at hearing belligerent rhetoric and the troops would actually be supported by removable magnetic bumper stickers. Now the Iraqis have joined in the game:

>Much of the violence in Iraq last year was the outward manifestation of Iraqis realizing that the United States was an increasingly irrelevant force. Since shortly after the 2003 invasion, U.S. forces demonstrated an inability to protect anyone consistently. Iraqis watched as America became divided over the war and its merits, a split that culminated in the Democrats’ congressional victories in November. It gradually became clear to Iraqis that the United States was going to leave Iraq in a shambles. Their government did not appear capable of providing security, so many Iraqis reasoned that they would have to choose sides to survive.

>Joining a militia thus became a rational choice. The sectarian fighting and the intra-Sunni and intra-Shiite violence that spiked last year occurred as various armed groups positioned themselves to take power and Iraqis scrambled to find ways to protect themselves.

It’s all the fault of Democrats failing to appear resolute:

>While debate over a war’s merits — and whether to withdraw — is a sign of a healthy democracy, Iraq unfortunately highlights many of the difficulties a democracy faces in a long-term counterinsurgency or nation-building campaign. Such debate can be detrimental to the battle for perceptions. Having linked its future to an antiwar stance, the Democratic Congress has in effect told Iraqis that they are best off joining militias, because the dissolution of Iraq is only going to accelerate.

In the face of such partisan Democracy, we can hardly blame the Bush administration’s incompetence:

>Mismanagement by the Bush administration and an unquestioning Republican Congress may have set the stage for the sectarian violence of 2006, but Democratic efforts to pull out troops, cut off support or link support to unattainable benchmarks have been equally damaging to attempts to get militias and insurgents to lay down their arms.

You see, we have to want it.

Non causa

It’s good to be skeptical of the press. There may be reasons to approach press reports of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) with caution, but flying into speculative refutation is deeply confused. In that spirit, Robert Kagan attempts a futile recasting of the role of the Iraq war in the war on terrorism:

>For instance, what specifically does it mean to say that the Iraq war has worsened the “terrorism threat”? Presumably, the NIE’s authors would admit that this is speculation rather than a statement of fact, since the facts suggest otherwise. Before the Iraq war, the United States suffered a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing and destruction of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the Iraq war started, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks against the United States. That doesn’t mean the threat has diminished because of the Iraq war, but it does place the burden of proof on those who argue that it has increased.

Notice that Kagan–a Washington Post columnist–suggests that the absence of successful attacks against the United States in the wake of the Iraq war is a matter of causal significance. It would have to be, if the burden has shifted onto those who suggest it has.

But that’s crazy talk. For, (1) according to the adminstration, Iraq is full of terrorists attacking (successfully) the United States (much like they did the USS Cole); (2) There were no terrorists in Iraq before the war (and Saddam had no ties–ask Bush–to al Qaeda); (3) Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11; (4) there have been terrorist attacks of the al Qaeda variety all over the world–including Iraq and Afghanistan.

In light of these very obvious and well known facts, the only way Kagan could approach a causal claim is by construing “terrorist attack” in a way that excludes anything that has happened since the Iraq war (and in the Iraq war or in the war in Afghanistan). And so he would have to equivocate on “terrorist attack” so as to render it meaningless.

But even he were right about the meaning of “terrorist attack”, there is nothing to suggest that the Iraq war has a causal relation to the absence of such attacks (as he very strongly implies). At best, as he says, it has no relation. If it has no relation, then the burden has not shifted on to the opposing side (each side may have the same burden of proof). The burden, Kagan ought to note, lies with the one, like him, who asserts the causal claim.

But the truly silly thing about this argument is that Kagan hasn’t seen the NIE either. So his criticism is purely of the speculative variety. The very sort he accuses others of advancing.


We return again briefly to this mistaken application of the term “fascism” to a vast array of groups with different objectives and goals. Here’s the funny thing. Just as some correctly pointed out that you can’t engage in warfare against a technique–the war on terror–you can’t engage in warfare on a misapplied political adjective. V.D.Hanson writes,

>The common denominators are extremist views of the Koran (thus the term Islamic), and the goal of seeing authoritarianism imposed at the state level by force (thus the notion of fascism). The pairing of the two words conveys a precise message: The old fascism is back, but now driven by a radical fundamentalist creed of Islam.

In the first place, as a factual matter, Iran, al-Qaeda, Syria, and sundry terrorists have little common cause outside of their intense dislike for us or some of our friends–Israel for instance and, oddly, Saudi Arabia. Their client terrorist groups are directed at their own local interests. Al qaeda has local interests as well–the overthrow of the corrupt Saudi monarchy (which is supported by our military). Syria is baathist and decidedly secular (like Iraq *was*), with internal islamist enemies (the muslim brotherhood). These are commonly known facts–or they ought to be.

But more fundamentally, you can no more go to war against fascism than you can go to war against terrorism. Fascism is a political ideology (like Hegel on steroids). Military weapons, which islamo-fascist-utterers urge upon various and sundry targets, cannot kill the idea, only the person with the idea. But it’s not the idea that bothers us–otherwise we’d wage war on Jerry Falwell–it’s the violent way of achieving the idea. And that brings us back to the war on terror (a method). War is waged–so people who’ve participated it in have told me–against nation-states. Ignorant of this fact, Hanson argues:

>And appeasement–treating the first World Trade Center bombing as a mere criminal justice matter or virtually ignoring the attack on the USS Cole–only spurred on further aggression.

So the legalistic Clinton administration–what with its parsing of words and all–spurred further aggression! Perhaps someone ought to point out to Hanson that the current enemies (except the new specious ones Hanson is recruiting–Iran and Syria) are *not* nation-states. More basically, however, reacting with our military is just exactly what they want, as endless experts have pointed out. They are waging a war of ideas. The idea is violence. What a wonderful dream Iraq has turned out to be for them. For they know that no amount of blowing someone up with convince him that democracy works. Being blown up can only convince him that blowing people up works; being terrorized that terror works. This is how one loses a war of ideas.