We pulled the following from the comments of Mr.Mayo. It's an analysis of Bush's speech mentioned here. Here’s what i caught: >“The issue on the economy is a big issue in any campaign. And I want the people of this district to know, plain and simple, that if Richard’s opponent wins, your taxes will go up. Make no mistake about it. The Democrat Party is anxious to get their hands on your money.” False cause with perhaps a little ad hominem abusive thrown in at the end. >“The key issue in this campaign is the security of the United States of America. You got to understand a lot of my thinking about the world changed on September the 11th, 2001. I make a lot of decisions on your behalf, and many of those decisions were affected by the fact that we lost nearly 3,000 of our citizens, 3,000 innocent lives on our soil on that fateful day. I vowed then, and I’ve vowed ever since, to use every national asset at my disposal to protect the American people.” Perhaps it’s a reach, but there seems to be bit of suppressed evidence here, namely that the war he is positing as protecting the American people has claimed more American lives than did September 11th. If he’s going to cite the loss of lives on 9/11 as the basis for his war, then he’s ignoring the fact that the war has cost more than 9/11, monetarily and in lives lost. >“You can’t negotiate with these people. You cannot hope that they will go away. I like to remind people, therapy isn’t going to work. The best way to deal with these folks is to bring them to justice before they hurt America again. “ Classic Bushman (can i coin that term in place of the strawman? he uses the thing so often maybe it should bear his name). Has anyone proposed negotiating with Al Queda? Or having a “therapy” session with Bush, Cheney, Osama, and Zawahiri down at Bob Newhart’s office? Do we need to be “reminded” of this? Does he seriously believe this?! He’s created a whole new genre of political discourse. Rather than distort the argument of his opponent, he creates a whole new opponent along with the argument. >“Our fellow citizens ought to listen to the words of Osama bin Laden, and Mr. Zawahiri, who is his number two in al Qaeda. They have clearly stated that Iraq is a central front in their war against us. “ Again, suppressing the evidence. Islamism was strictly nefas in Saddam’s Iraq; then we march in, guns blazing, Texas-style and turn it into a breeding ground for terrorism. Yet once again, he pretends there was no antecedent cause to Iraq’s becoming Osama’s recruiting poster. >“Al Qaeda’s leadership has told us loud and clear in their own words their ambitions are to develop new safe haven from which to launch attacks.” Now he’s Bushmanning Osama! They don’t want to create a “safe haven” in Iraq, for the simple reason that they already have a safe haven in the Afghnai/Pakistani borderlands, which was made possible at least in part because we couldn’t press our attack there because we were gearing up for an invasion of Iraq. They just want to point to Iraq and say to disenfranchised Muslim youth,”Look! We were right all along! They do want to come over here and take your land, your oil, and your religion.” >“The House Democrat Leader summed up her party’s approach to the midterm elections. She said this — and I quote — she said this election “should not be about national security.” I strongly disagree. The security of this country comes first, as far as I’m concerned. And this government, with supporters like Richard Pombo, will do everything we can to protect you. (Applause.) Of course, to give the Leader some credit, given her party’s record on national security, I can see why she feels that way. (Laughter.) I wouldn’t want to be talking about the record, either. “ Ad Hominem Circumstantial. Perhaps what Pelosi really meant is there might be other pertinent issues that should occupy the campaign slate, but then again, she’s just saying that because she’s a Democrat and they can’t talk national security, because their poor record in this area predisposes them to focus on other areas.

How many angels tend petunias on the head of a pin?

Although I intended another installment of the Krugman challenge, I couldn’t resist when I saw Charles Krauthammer taking a page from the Tobacco industry to defend his cherished invasion of Iraq.
>The question posed — does the Iraq war increase or decrease the world supply of jihadists? — is itself an exercise in counting angels on the head of a pin. Any answer would require a complex calculation involving dozens of unmeasurable factors, as well as construction of a complete alternate history of the world had the U.S. invasion of 2003 not happened.

Krauthammer gives us the standard spin control on the NIE (we should remember that that E stands for estimate)–that the question whether the invasion of Iraq increased the numbered of Jihadist can’t be answered. Krauthammer claims

>Any answer would require a complex calculation involving dozens of unmeasurable factors, as well as construction of a complete alternate history of the world had the U.S. invasion of 2003 not happened.

But that simply is not true. We estimate the effects of all sorts of things based on complex calculations with estimates of factors that are difficult to “measure” precisely and the consideration of alternate scenarios. Most policy papers are rife with precisely these sorts of answers. This is akin to the Tobacco industry defense of cigarette smoking: Establish an unreasonable level of certainty required to answer the question and then criticize every argument that fails to reach that level of certainty. This might be a sub-type of the fallacy appeal to ignorance. Strictly speaking the appeal to ignorance should conclude that the NIE is false, but Krauthammer is in effect arguing that since we can’t know with certainty and precision, we can’t have any reason to believe one answer or the other.

>Ah, but those seers in the U.S. “intelligence community,” speaking through a leaked National Intelligence Estimate — the most famous previous NIE, mind you, concluded that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, slam-dunk — have peered deep into the hypothetical past and found the answer.

The argument seems to be even stronger if you can question the accuracy of your opponents other studies. Thus, people sometimes argue that scientists have changed their minds about what is healthy over time. And since they disagree with themselves we have no reason to believe that their current claims are justified. Unquestionably the intelligence community make mistakes–and in this case one that facilitated 20,000+ American casualties–but that is not an argument against these conclusions. It is a sort of ad hominem argument that calls into question the credibility of the arguers rather than the argument itself. Sometimes these sorts of arguments are justified, but it isn’t clear that because the intelligence community made a mistake about invading Iraq that we should reject all subsequent intelligence estimates. (And one wonders whether Krauthammer would make the same argument below when he agrees with part of the NIE).
>Everyone seems to have forgotten that Iraq was already an Islamist cause celebre and rallying cry long before 2003. When Osama bin Laden issued his declaration of war against America in 1998, his two principal justifications for the jihad that exploded upon us on Sept. 11, 2001, centered on Iraq: America’s alleged killing of more than 1 million Iraqis through the post-Gulf War sanctions and, even worse, the desecration of Islam’s holiest cities of Mecca and Medina by the garrisoning of infidel U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia (as post-Gulf War protection from the continuing threat of invasion by Hussein).

Here Krauthammer argues that the NIE is wrong that Iraq has become a cause celebre for Islamists because it already was one before 2003. This is equivocating. Where the NIE claims that Iraq is a cause celebre in the sense of bringing thousands of foreign fighters to attack American trooops in Iraq, Krauthammer reads cause celebre as reason to attack America. Iraq may have been a rallying point within the Islamist anti-American rhetoric prior to 2003, but it is only since the invasion that it has been a reason for thousands of foreign fighters to leave their homes to attack American troops.

>Moreover, does anyone imagine that had the jihadists in Iraq remained home they would now be tending petunias rather than plotting terror attacks?

But, Krauthammer ultimately likes part of the NIE–the part that says that we must defeat the Jihadists in Iraq after having attracted them there. This he think is the new justification for the continued presence of American troops in Iraq. After having created thousands of Jihadists who would otherwise be “growing petunias” at home, we must stay until we kill them or they might go home to grow petunias.

>It is clear that one of the reasons we have gone an astonishing five years without a second attack on the American homeland is that the most dedicated and virulent jihadists have gone to Iraq to fight us, as was said during World War I, “over there.”

Subjunctive arguments

The political media we try to analyze need not be limited to the op-ed pages of the major dailies. Last weekend I watched the Gitmo: The New Rules of War, a 2005 documentary by Swedish filmmakers Erik Gandini and Tariq Saleh. Now, I wouldn’t want to say that a documentary can be exhaustively or perhaps even adequately analyzed by logic alone. Nevertheless, there are clearly inferences made or suggested that can and should be judged by logic.

The narrator states in the opening minutes of the film “We have come here because we want to know what is really going on in Guantanamo.” They discover (apparently to their surprise) that hidden cameras are not going to be possible and that they are not going to gain access to Camp Delta.

Their second route for information–a Swedish citizen named Mehdi Ghezali, held for two years–frustrated their intentions by refusing to say virtually anything to the press or to the filmmakers (though he has since written a book in Swedish).

At this point, the film makes the entirely reasonable criticism that the prisoners in Guantanamo are neither afforded the protections of the Geneva Convention as prisoners of war nor afforded the civil rights protection of civilian prisoner. This, they point out, results from the American interest in interrogating these detainees for extended periods of time–something that would not be possible if they were accorded either of these status (4th declension? or statuses?”).

But such a position would not make for an interesting documentary. Instead, the filmmakers attempt to link the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo with the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. They suggest that the pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib can be used to infer how prisoners are treated inside Camp Delta. Their case rests on the following claims:

  1. The change of the commandant at Camp Delta to General Miller, replacing Brig. General Rick Baccus–reputedly because he opposed the list of unconventional interrogation techniques. Baccus’ unwillingness to comment on these events, the filmmakers seem to suggest, is a result of some sort of pressure from the military.
  2. The memo that requests permission in October 2002 to use techniques such as forcing prisoners to stand naked, lengthen interrogation sessions (to 20 hours), take advantage of prisoner phobias. (They ignore the subsequent history of this issue–the techniques were at first approved by Secretary Rumsfeld and then approval was retracted for many after criticism of the policy by military lawyers.)
  3. The fact that the Major General Miller was later sent to Iraq in August 2002 to advise concerning interrogation techniques. (Though supposedly he presented the interrogation techniques from Guantano as an example of policy and indicated the difference in situations between Iraq (as an occupied territory) and Guantanamo).
  4. “Some say these methods originated in Guantanamo, but we just haven’t seen the pictures.” (The scene immediately following this quote, contains accusations that rap music, Fleetwood mac, and sex are used to crack prisoners at Guantanamo.)

Even granting the truth of all of these claims, this argument can at best only weakly suggest anything about how detainees were treated in Guantanamo. (I am certainly not denying that human rights abuse were or are committed in Camp Delta (there are documented and prosecuted cases) only that the evidence used by these filmmakers to suggest that it is likely that it is ocurring is not adequate. In each case, the filmmakers fail to appeal to any direct evidence of the treatment in Guantanamo, and they ignore the more detailed investigations of three major comissions (e.g. Schlesinger Commission).

The argument,such as it is, commits several fallacies I think–ignoring evidence, appeal to questionable authorities, and oversimplified cause. The abuses photographed at Abu Ghraib seem to have arisen in part because of peculiarities of the local situation (lack of adequate resources for example). Although there are undoubtedly similarities in interrogation techniques, the inference that the filmmakers want us to make seems inadequately justified by the argument presented.

Sometimes filmmakers claim that they are merely documenting the facts and leave it up to the viewer to make the inferences. This seems to me (in the abstract at least) either disingenuous or naive. Although the filmmakers prefer to couch their assertions in the subjunctive rather than the indicative mood, this doesn’t really allow them to escape–they must still show that the conclusions are rendered more likely than not by their evidence. Many viewers will probably find the film “biased” which may or may not be a failing in a documentary film. The problems, however, run deeper than this. The filmmakers fail to make the argument needed to persuade the viewer of the plausiblity of their subjunctive speculation.

Do it yourself

Let’s see if anyone can identify this one from our Dear Leader:

>The stakes in this election couldn’t be more clear. If you don’t think we should be listening in on the terrorist, then you ought to vote for the Democrats. If you want your government to continue listening in when al Qaeda planners are making phone calls into the United States, then you vote Republican. (Applause.)

If you find any in the rest of the speech, let us know as well.

Glistening man

There are two problems with the following claim in George Will’s op-ed today.

>Some will regard “State of Denial” as Katrina between hard covers, a snapshot of dysfunctional government. But it is largely just a glimpse of government, disheartening as that fact may be to those who regard government as a glistening scalpel for administering social transformation.

First, Woodward’s point is that “State of Denial” is a portrait of a particular dysfunctional government–the Bush administration. Those who regard the book that way have read it. The extreme and unwarranted conclusion–though the one that fits Will’s perpetual narrative–is one of the failure of any government. The point of the book, it seems, is an easier one for Woodward to justify: These are the costs to a government that ignores warnings of terrorist attacks, attacks nations who did not attack it without enough troops or a plan for occupation and reconstruction, wastes thousands of lives, depletes its military, drives itself into debt, ruins relations with its allies, exacerbates the root cause of terrorism and lies about it all along the way. How many administrations fit that description?

Second, who are those who claim that goverment of its very nature is a “glistening scalpel for administering social transformation”? Are these real, or are these only slightly more elegantly defined straw men?