Saturday, December 11, 2004

Playing on the same field and the cost of admission.

I've been warned repeatedly to avoid a cross-blog debate, but I can't engage in real dialog with people who hold different views if I never respond to the direct questions and comments those folks have. I feel it's clear that we desperately need some meaningful dialog these days, so I'm diving in.

You'll need some background here. The blog in question is Bob James: A View from the Left and here's some full disclosure - he's my brother. Feel free to disregard that fact because its largely irrelvant to our political views and discourse. Just thought you should know. In any case, the entry that started this whole thing is here, regarding President Karzai's inauguration. The specific bit of the entry that prompted my comment was this:

::::::::I can't help but wonder, though, why this story isn't playing itself out in Iraq? And please, don't bother blaming the media. The facts remain that there are bombings and shootings and kidnappings and murders by the dozens, every day. Yes there are good stories coming out of Iraq, too. New schools, more cars on the roads (this is good??), weapons caches destroyed. But how many new schools does it take to erase Fallujah? Afghanistan never saw this kind of post-war period. It behooves us to ask why, and not be satisfied with the pat answer that "Al Quaeda" is to blame for everything. If you're going to be honest at all you have to acknowledge that there have been mishandlings and bad planning at the highest levels of the US government. Mistakes. The fact that no one in this administration can admit to any disgusts me.::::::::

My comment was:

::::::::Short answer: Iraq isn't Afghanistan. Perhaps the Islamic fundamentalist forces didn't put up a fight in Afghanistan because they didn't have the right assets, or underestimated US resolve and capability. Perhaps seeing the success there has made them more desperate to stop the change of another country in their region to a more democratic society. Perhaps Iraq's superior infrastructure simply allows more attacks. Maybe all the above.

I'm unsure what you want out of the administration. If President Bush came out and said "Yes, we mishandled certain aspects of the war and had some bad planning" that would satisfy you? If I'm going to be honest at all, here, I have to say I suspect you and others who oppose the administration are pressing for him to say the war as a whole was a mistake. Am I correct?
::::::::

The comments section of his blog (and mine, by the way) enforces a 1000-character limit which is far too short to mount any kind of significant reply. That's one of the reasons I don't tend to engage in long discussions in the comments here. (That's not usually a problem - I don't get a whole lot of comments, anyway.) So, rather than reply in the comments section, a new blog was written to address my comment. You'll find that one here. What you'll find is an affirmative answer: he - and, by extension, a large group of other folks who oppose this administration - would absolutely not be satisfied with President Bush saying "Yes, we mishandled certain aspects of the war and..." etc. And yes, they do want him to stand up and say the war as a whole is a mistake. (Give them the shot at rubbing the genie's lamp and I'm sure they'd like to follow that up with his immediate and public resignation and surrender to the Hague so he can plead guilty to war crimes while also admitting publicly that he stole both elections and there's only 10 people who voted for him anyway. But admitting he's a filthy liar who waged illegal war will suffice.) This being a busy week, I didn't have time to put together a blog here responding to his response and I intended to do that this weekend. Knowing that this is the blogosphere and linking to original info is key, I was going to set aside some significant time to put the links together to challenge his assertion in the so-called "logical" method, meaning sticking to the "rules" of argumentation. For those of you not educated in the matter, here's the prime directive:

If the form of the argument is valid, and the premises are true, you must accept the conclusion if you wish to be rational on the topic.

The classic categorical syllogism goes like this: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal. Those first 2 parts are the premises and the last one is the conclusion. The form of the argument is valid (the category "men" is completed contained in the category "mortal", so any member of "men" is also a member of "mortal" - completely valid) and the premises are true (Socrates is a man and all men are mortal). That means, if you wish to be rational, you must accept the conclusion that Socrates is mortal. Painless, yes? Opposing any argument comes down to either successfully questioning the form of the argument or the truth of the premises. If any of the premises are false, then the conclusion isn't.... well, conclusive. No amount of wishing makes it so and if the argument isn't conclusive, it's not irrational to not be convinced.

So what does this have to do with this blog? Well, I was going to address the basic concept of "Bush lied." This is the heart and soul of the argument that the war was and remains a mistake; that Bush knew that Iraq posed no threat. And what did he lie about? Why, the WMD, of course, which we haven't found in Iraq to date. In quantities, they mean, since we've clearly found chemical weapons there and places where - it appears - they were being produced. I had plans to cite the intelligence agencies of Britain, Australia, Russia, France, Germany, etc., etc., etc., who saw the intel we did and also concluded that Saddam had WMD. He clearly did have them, used them in war and on his own citizens, and didn't have scrupples about subsidizing terrorist activities. I thought to question the veracity of the premise that Bush lied and, if they couldn't prove it, demonstrate that their conclusions that flowed from that premise would remain inconclusive. In reading commentary on that recent post, I was treated to more of the same and, frankly, it discouraged me from even discussing further. After leaving a note of my own, I decided to press on anyway and only then noticed what was in the comment by the blog's author himself. Have a look:

::::::::Actually, Bush could say, "Yeah, maybe I did lie. Prove it." And there's nothing we could do. You can't impeach without proof of wrongdoing, and he's just going to lock all the files from his presidency away for the next 76 years after he gets out of office. He'll be long dead before we can tell what really happened, much less make him pay for it. By then, the GOP will hold a shocked hand to its collective breast and gasp, "We had no idea!"::::::::

Did you catch it? No, not the part about how everyone in the GOP is either so stone-cold stupid that we can't recognize when we're being duped or so blatantly evil that we're part of the cover up. It's the part where the admission comes up that they have no proof that the President lied. Read that again. They know there's no evidence that the President lied about anything. None. And they know it. (Crying out "conspiracy" and pointing to yet more unsubstantiated "files" that are getting locked away - they say - isn't proof that there's any evidence there, either.) Doesn't get in the way of their declaring it factual anyway and then proceeding to use unsubstantiated accusations as premises for further conclusion, mind you. Square that with rational argumentation, if you can. Here's a hint: you can't. Which means they're not interested in convincing people not already convinced. And that, ladies & gentlemen, is the end of the show.

Incidentally, I am confident that if someone showed up at the workplace of all these folks who say Bush lied and can't prove it and accused those same people of lying about their job, those folks would want the accusers to prove it. If those accusers didn't have any proof, they'd be invited to take a hike at the very least.

So, nothing the President can say except that the war as a whole is a mistake and that he lied and is a very, very bad man will satisfy them. The President doesn't believe the war was a mistake and therefore won't say so. So why bother to talk about any mistakes at all? What good would it do to say that certain aspects of the war have been mishandled when - by their own admission - that's not "good enough"? If that's not good enough, why say it? They complain that the President "can't admit" to the mistakes. Considering that they wouldn't care, why should he?

I guess that's the end of my involvement in the argument. I don't like to waste my time and if rational argument technique isn't going to be at least slightly adhered to, that's what it would be. Until someone can come up with a speck of a shred of evidence that Bush knew emphatically that what he was saying wasn't so, then he didn't lie about it. Feel free to drop me a note if that changes.