Null sequitur

Mitt Romney at the third Republican debate:

>MR. FAHEY: Thanks, Wolf.

>Governor Romney, I wanted to start by asking you a question on which every American has formed an opinion. We’ve lost 3,400 troops; civilian casualties are even higher, and the Iraqi government does not appear ready to provide for the security of its own country. Knowing everything you know right now, was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?

>MR. ROMNEY: Well, the question is kind of a non sequitur, if you will, and what I mean by that — or a null set. And that is that if you’re saying let’s turn back the clock, and Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn’t be in the conflict we’re in. But he didn’t do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in. I supported the president’s decision based on what we knew at that time. I think we were underprepared and underplanned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein.

>By the way, Harry Reid was wrong. We did not lose the war in Iraq. And that’s not the sort of thing you say when you have men and women in harm’s way.

>We did, however, not do a great job after we knocked down Saddam Hussein and won the war to take him down, and his military. And at this stage, the right thing for us to do is to see if we can possibly stabilize the central government in Iraq so that they can have stability and so we can bring our troops home as soon as possible.

>Not to do that adds an enormous potential risk that the whole region could be embroiled in a regional conflict.

Jon Stewart (I’ll update when I can get an official transcript):

>Jon: Uh, that’s not a non sequitur. A non sequitur would be “We have lost 3400 troops so far in Iraq. Do you believe unicycles to be furniture?”

Sweet misericordia

According to Bill Kristol, you’re not a criminal if you “seek to do what is right for the country” or “work closely” with the President.

>Will Bush pardon Libby? Apparently not–even if it means a man who worked closely with him and sought tirelessly to do what was right for the country goes to prison. Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, noting that the appeals process was underway, said, “Given that and in keeping with what we have said in the past, the president has not intervened so far in any other criminal matter and he is going to decline to do so now.”

>So much for loyalty, or decency, or courage. For President Bush, loyalty is apparently a one-way street; decency is something he’s for as long as he doesn’t have to take any
risks in its behalf; and courage–well, that’s nowhere to be seen. Many of us used to respect President Bush. Can one respect him still?

And after all that Bush has done and failed to do, this is the reason Bill Kristol loses respect for him.


David Brooks in 2004:

Come on people, let’s get a grip. This week, Chicken Littles like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were ranting that Iraq is another Vietnam. Pundits and sages were spinning a whole series of mutually exclusive disaster scenarios: Civil war! A nationwide rebellion! Maybe we should calm down a bit.

David Brooks today:

Iraqi society has continued to fracture and is so incoherent that it can’t even have a proper civil war any more. As Gareth Stansfield wrote in a Chatham House report last month, what’s happening in Iraq is not one civil war or one insurgency. Instead, Iraq is home to many little civil wars and many little insurgencies that are fighting for local power. Even groups like the Mahdi Army are splitting.

Civil war

Almost two years ago, a “guest blogger” in the Washington Post made the claim that Iraq was not in a civil war, because civil wars tend to be more bloody than what he had seen. He might as well have said that Civil Wars tend to be more old-timey, with lambchops, fiddles, and morphine. The number of people dead and the violence involved don’t make them any less of a civil war.

Someone ought to tell Robert Kagan. He writes:

>It is what’s wrong with this story, however, that makes it so irresponsible. The fact is that, contrary to so many predictions, Iraq has not descended into civil war. Political bargaining continues. Signs of life are returning to Baghdad and elsewhere. Many Sunnis are fighting al-Qaeda terrorist groups, not their Shiite neighbors. And sectarian violence is down by about 50 percent since December.

So, evidence of a civil war includes (1) decreased violence; (2) some Sunnis fighting al-Qaeda groups; and (3) diminished sectarian violence.

Some might think a civil war has less stringent requirements:

>”Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter’s ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain.” (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, “Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)

Does Iraq qualify?

>The definition focuses on three main dimensions of civil war: that it is fought within a country rather than between states; that it is fought between insurgent forces and the state; and that the insurgent forces offer effective resistance.

>The Iraqi central government is pitted against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance. Some 50 distinct cells, spanning the political spectrum from secular Arab nationalists to religious fundamentalists, direct the activities of at least 20,000 to 30,000 part-time guerrillas, and perhaps many more. They strike regularly throughout seven key center-north provinces, including Baghdad, which at 6 million persons contains a fourth of the inhabitants of Iraq. In civil wars, the violence is staccato and almost random. Journalists or bloggers who visit Iraq and find bustling bazaars and brisk traffic are often fooled by their naiveté into thinking that the violence has been exaggerated. But it should be remembered that boys went swimming and fished not far from where the battle of Gettysburg was being fought in the U.S. Civil War. Guerrilla violence does not need to be omnipresent to effectively disrupt the society.

Seems so.

Update: Reuters.

Liberalism is dumb

Yesterday, George Will made his case for “conservatism.” This mainly involves making the case against Mayor Quimby, the corrupt and degenerate mayor of the fictional town of Springfield on the Simpsons. For in making the case for conservatism, Will presumes there is only one alternative–his. There may indeed be two major parties, but hardly anyone at this point can claim that they divide along the lines Will suggests–one is for freedom, the other for equality. The one that ought to be for freedom–the conservative one–openly advocates the rollback of plain-language constitutional guarantees; while the one that’s for equality over freedom, often comes out for freedom over equality. If we had more patience with this, we’d say what Will means is the freedom of individuals (which includes corporations, but not unions of workers) to make money without government restraint; but not the freedom of individuals to seek redress through the courts. Someone else can make that case. We’d just like to point out the silly straw man, and consequent false dichotomy. Someone really ought to make the case for “conservatism” in a way that does not presuppose some dumb-ass liberal view. Liberalism after all has its John Rawls.

Here’s the straw man:

>Liberals tend, however, to infer unequal opportunities from the fact of unequal outcomes. Hence liberalism’s goal of achieving greater equality of condition leads to a larger scope for interventionist government to circumscribe the market’s role in allocating wealth and opportunity. Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government.

>Hence liberals’ hostility to school choice programs that challenge public education’s semimonopoly. Hence hostility to private accounts funded by a portion of each individual’s Social Security taxes. Hence their fear of health savings accounts (individuals who buy high-deductible health insurance become eligible for tax-preferred savings accounts from which they pay their routine medical expenses — just as car owners do not buy insurance to cover oil changes). Hence liberals’ advocacy of government responsibility for — and, inevitably, rationing of — health care, which is 16 percent of the economy and rising.

>Steadily enlarging dependence on government accords with liberalism’s ethic of common provision, and with the liberal party’s interest in pleasing its most powerful faction — public employees and their unions. Conservatism’s rejoinder should be that the argument about whether there ought to be a welfare state is over. Today’s proper debate is about the modalities by which entitlements are delivered. Modalities matter, because some encourage and others discourage attributes and attitudes — a future orientation, self-reliance, individual responsibility for healthy living — that are essential for dignified living in an economically vibrant society that a welfare state, ravenous for revenue in an aging society, requires.

Right. Now the false dichotomy:

>This reasoning is congruent with conservatism’s argument that excessively benevolent government is not a benefactor, and that capitalism does not merely make people better off, it makes them better. Liberalism once argued that large corporate entities of industrial capitalism degraded individuals by breeding dependence, passivity and servility. Conservatism challenges liberalism’s blindness about the comparable dangers from the biggest social entity, government.

Liberals pro-government. Government bad. Conservatives anti-government. Anti-government good. Conservatism good.