Category Archives: False Cause


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.

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.

Five years

Five years and no attacks. Yesterday Tim Russert asks Dick Cheney whether the 300 billion we’ve spent on Iraq might have been better spent on homeland security. Cheney responds:

>Well, Tim, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of securing the nation against terrorists. You know, we’re here on the fifth anniversary, and there has not been another attack on the United States. And that’s not an accident, because we’ve done a hell of a job here at home, in terms of homeland security, in terms of the terrorist surveillance program we’ve put in place, in terms of the financial tracking program we put in place, and because of our detainee policy, where we, in fact, were able to interrogate captured terrorists to get the kind of intelligence that has allowed us to disrupt…

Russert actually follows up on that question (imagine that). Cheney is quite specifically alleging a causal connection between the most controversial of the adminstration’s policies and the absence of terrorist attacks on our soil. It’s hardly clear, however, that any were planned or attempted. And we’ll likely not be in the near future in a position to know that for certain. But Cheney makes it fairly clear that he has no specific knowledge of authentic disrupted plots. If he did, he’d probably tell us. Because they’ve been telling us about disrupted plots (that didn’t turn out to be plots at all) for five years.

But there’s certainly evidence that al Qaeda has other plans. But more fundamentally, Cheney should be careful what he wishes for. If he wants to take credit for absence, then he better be ready to take responsibility if it happens again on his watch.


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.

The wrong trousers

Many conservative pundits have begun marching to the steady drumbeat for another war. Who will it be? Syria, or Iran, or both? Whoever it will be, it won’t be places where actual terrorists are and the reasons will be certainly be all wrong. One reason, one dishonestly asserted in the absence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is that democratization of the Middle East will end terrorism. So, Victor Hanson argues that the US should support democracy in the Middle East (by something more forceful than words). A noble goal, but the first reason he offers for it is this:

>First, Islamic terrorism has a global reach. Even just a few operatives are able to destroy the foundations of Western air travel, finance and civic trust.

Whatever this has to do with democracy he does not say. No amount of democracy (say that enjoyed by the citizens of Great Britain) can stop a few crazies from blowing up some trains and buses and planes. Besides, the causes of Islamic terrorism, as far as we have been able to tell, don’t have a whole lot to do with their lack of a representative forms of government. And it’s a gross oversimplification to lump all of Islamic terrorism (read any terrorism in the Middle East) into one category. Consider, for instance, the difference between Sunni and Shiite, for starters, then add the difference between the locally directed terrorist versus the one with global interests.

And to complete the revision of history, he claims that

>In truth, fostering democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq was not our first, but last choice. What the U.S. is trying to do in the Middle East is costly, easily made fun of and unappreciated. But constitutional government is one course that might someday free Middle Easterners from kidnappings, suicide bombers and dictators in sunglasses.

It is easy to make fun of what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially since it has done so little to free *anyone*–least of all the Iraqi and the Afghanis–from kidnappings and suicide bombers.

Lessons unlearned

Nobody can stop neocons from gloating about the irrefutable successes of their policies. Not even a chorus of generals and other military types. Not even reality itself can stop them from learning all of the wrong lessons.

Some might remember the triumphalist claims made about the “Cedar Revolution” a while ago. We do–see here for more. Back then Charles Krauthammer, belligerent neocon, claimed that the Lebanese kicking Syria out was the product of our grand strategy of democratizing the Middle East.

Not so. But because he and others don’t get it, we’ll go over the basic idea again.

Today he repeats the same claim, and continues to fail to draw the right conclusion:

>What is most at stake, from the American perspective, is Lebanon. Lebanon was the most encouraging achievement of the democratization project launched with great risk with the invasion of Iraq. The Beirut Spring, the liberation from Syrian rule and the election of a pro-Western government marked the high point (together with the first Iraqi election, which inspired the events in Lebanon) of the Bush doctrine.

>Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have been working assiduously to reverse that great advance. Hezbollah insinuated itself into the government. The investigation of Syria for the murder of Rafiq Hariri has stalled. And now, with the psychological success of the war with Israel, Hezbollah may soon become the dominant force in all of Lebanon. In the south, the Lebanese army will be taking orders from Hezbollah. Hezbollah is not just returning to being a “state within a state.” It is becoming the state, with the Siniora government reduced to acting as its front.

The obvious lesson from this is be careful what you wish for, it might get you. Democracy, as we are learning painfullly in Iraq, sometimes produces results you can’t be happy with. The result in this case is a newly energized and democratically elected Hezbollah. All made possible by our glorious invasion of Iraq.

Honest Abe made me do it

The art of historical analogy is tricky and as such subject to dishonest manipulation. On that score, historian Victor Davis Hanson writes:

>The Bush administration can also use history to show that, despite what detractors say, its techniques aren’t so unreasonable. It’s worth reminding the American public that Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and shut down newspapers; that Woodrow Wilson imprisoned prominent dissenters like Eugene Debs; and that Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-American citizens and secret military tribunals for German saboteurs (six of whom were executed) and allowed the coverup of military catastrophes (such as the hundreds killed during training exercises for the Normandy landings).

>In other words, there’s an advantage to providing historical perspective by engaging one’s critics and answering their charges.

There’s a causal and analogical argument here. While Hanson does not say that the above mentioned things relate causally to the various military victories, he certainly suggests as much. While sorting out the causuality of these various claims might merit more serious attention, I think it’s plain to most mildly historically minded people that these claims are false. Interning Japanese and other Axis-related americans didn’t advance us militarily nor did executing German saboteurs (they were already captured). Covering up military disasters such as the one mentioned were done for purposes of concealing our plans (not our foolishness). Such things are obvious from even the most superficial History Channel surfing.

More pernicious is the suggestion that these situations are analogous to the present day. They’re not. Since they didn’t advance the cause then, analogous actions don’t advance it now.

One final point. Coming from a professor, such straw man arguments are shameful:

>The public, for example, should be informed that the accusation that the U.S. went into Iraq for oil (“no blood for oil,” as the slogan goes) is not merely inaccurate, but crazy. For starters, gas prices skyrocketed once we induced risky change in the Middle East. How does that benefit the American people? Meanwhile, because of the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s energy sector has been purged of corruption (such as the UN’s scandal-plagued oil-for-food program).

Such sloganeering inflames the passions but doesn’t constitute argument. Everyone knows that. The real arguments against attacking Iraq (not the protest march slogans) at the time were legion. It turns out, in fact, that many of those arguments were correct.

But while we’re on the subject of oil, at least one administration official (but certainly more) suggested–I think it was Paul Wolfowitz–that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the reconstruction. How are we to have interpreted that? The consequences to the Iraqi oil industry which Hanson mentions were clearly not the ones offered to the American public when the administration rolled out its new September 2003 product line. It is false to suggest otherwise.

My way or the highway

After a brief excursus on the wonders of–get this–taxpayer funded interstate highways (what he would in other circumstances call “welfare”) George Will concludes:

>American scolds blame the IHS and the automobile for everything from obesity (fried food at every interchange) to desperate housewives (isolated in distant suburbs without sidewalks).

I’m beginning to think he just can’t help himself: every view of his must be presented against a completely ridiculous alternative. In what could have been an innocuous piece about the virtues of highways, turns out to be whiny piece about people who would suggest they aren’t an unqualified good:

>This senator who did so much to put postwar America on roads suitable to bigger, more powerful cars was Al Gore Sr. His son may consider this marriage of concrete and the internal combustion engine sinful, but Tennessee’s per capita income, which was just 70 percent of the national average in 1956, today is 90 percent.

So, Al Gore, who has foolishly and sanctimoniously suggested we might rethink our dependence on fossil fuels (an inexhaustible resource), simultaneously betrays his father, his home state, his country and reason. The only way to account for Tennessee’s prosperity–and the only way it could have happened, and thus the only way it can be maintained–is with bigger and more fuel-guzzling cars.

Even crazed environmentalists appreciate the freedom of the open road (well maintained with tax dollars), perhaps they just don’t think it should be the only way to get around.