Friday, April 16, 2004

The Really BIG Problem? Too Many People Just Can't THINK

The NYT, in spite of its reputation as "liberal", nonetheless provides daily gems of right-wing "reasoning". In the April 15 edition we were treated to this from a Paul Berman Op-Ed piece:

"But everyone who feels drawn to that conclusion [we would have been better off staying out of Iraq altogether] had better acknowledge its full meaning: the unavoidable implication that we would be better off today with Saddam Hussein in power; better off with economic sanctions still strangling the Iraqi people; better off with American army bases still occupying Saudi soil (Osama bin Laden's original grievance against us); and better off without the progress on weapons proliferation in the Muslim world (unless you believe in the sheer-coincidence theory, in which case, you think that progress would have happened willy-nilly). That is a pretty horrifying set of alternatives."

Now I don't want to brag, but I could have seen through this piece of pathetic misdirection in high school. I come from a VERY small town (about 2000 people), my high school graduating class numbered 82, and the nearest city was 50 miles away. But even out in the boonies, we studied LOGIC--something that pundits and editorial writers apparently are completely unfamiliar with. The most popular form of poor thinking is displayed in grand style in the excerpt above--false dilemma.

For those of you with the same kind of university education (or is that now an oxymoron?) as many published writers and popular wags, this means offering (usually) only two choices when, in simple and plain point of fact, there are many. This form of unreasoning relies upon the ignorance if not stupidity of the American people to make a point. Let's take this illogical--dare I say stupid--paragraph apart.

1) "the unavoidable implication that we would be better off today with Saddam Hussein in power"

OK. This means that either the US invades Iraq with over 100,000 troops and enters into a protracted and bloody occupation of a foreign land OR Saddam Hussein remains in power. The obvious idea that there were in fact many, many other steps the US could have taken to topple Saddam is not permitted to enter our thinking. No--either we invade Iraq OR Saddam stays in power. He cannot be taken out by bombs, Special Ops, a popular uprising, a military coup, or any of the other ways that bloody tyrants have been deposed over time. Nope--either the US invades Iraq or Saddam stays.

2) "better off with economic sanctions still strangling the Iraqi people;"

Apparently we had no choice whatsoever but to impose economic sanctions exactly as we did. Berman apparently is willing to admit that economic sanctions were devastating to Iraq while at the same time arguing from the Neocon perspective that Iraq was a grave and looming threat to the world's greatest military power 6000 miles away. If he is trying somehow to argue that the Oil for Food Program was not working, that is a far different argument--and the remedies are legion, only one of which is a full-scale invasion.

3) "better off with American army bases still occupying Saudi soil (Osama bin Laden's original grievance against us); "

So, unless we invade Iraq we HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO LEAVE BASES IN SAUDI ARABIA! This one is particularly galling. Why? Why? Why? Other than protecting Saudi oil fields (from their owners), what strategic value do air bases in Saudia Arabia have? And just what sort of air strike or mission could have been launched from those bases that could not have been launched from the largest aircraft carriers on the planet? What kind of tactical missions could they accomplish that could not be handled with cruise missiles or high altitude long range bombers? If Turkey is a NATO ally and a member of the European Union, why (given just cause) could the US not mount missions into that region from Turkey?

4) "and better off without the progress on weapons proliferation in the Muslim world (unless you believe in the sheer-coincidence theory, in which case, you think that progress would have happened willy-nilly)."

Once again--why should we conclude that ONLY the invasion of Iraq could bring about "progress on weapons proliferation in the Muslim world"? And how can he write this drivel in the aftermath of the revelations about A. Q. Khan and his nuke secrets bazaar? Are we to believe that $100 billion US dollars and the loss of thousands of lives* was the ONLY way to get Qaddafi to come clean? And, while we're discussing logic, I must point out that no one has established the supposed "cause and effect" relationship between the Libyan leader's abandoning weapons programs and the US invasion of Iraq. Colonel Qaddafi offered over $2 billion to settle the Pan Am 103 hijacking case on May 29, 2002! That's right--more than 10 months BEFORE the US Iraq invasion, Libya was already kowtowing to the US and Britain. If Qaddafi ever stated publicly that the Iraq invasion frightened him into giving up WMD, I have never read it--yet this unproven assertion is now being offered as an after-the-fact major justification for US miltary action.

The simple and pervasive (and offensive) cases of false dilemma are so common when anyone in the Bush Administration talks, that it's trivial to point them out:

"You're either with us or against us!" -- Sounds like the Sharks and the Jets or the Bloods and Crips, but it is a logical fallacy: false dilemma.

"America--Love it or Leave it!" -- Usually employed by someone who thinks that flying a flag is the pinnacle of partiotism and disagreeing with the president is treasonous.

"The terrorists didn't tell us EXACTLY where, when, or how they were going to strike, so there was nothing we could do." -- Maybe taking the entire month of August 2001 off without even meeting with the DCI after two months of heightened terror alerts and numerous warnings of impending attacks was not the best course. But concluding that there was NOTHING you COULD do because you did nothing is beyond insultingly stupid. Even common ordinary everyday people, Mr. Bush, (the kind you think of as patriotic cannon fodder) install home security systems and alarms in case someone attempts to break in SOME DAY, even though thieves do not tell them EXACTLY when, where, and how they will do it.

Not all lying is simple falsehood. No, good lying is designed to confuse you and then make you feel good about coming to entirely the wrong conclusion. And politicians--all of them--are very good at it. So, come November 2004 and you are forced to pick from a limited slate of candidates for POTUS (not false dilemma but a dilemma nonetheless), keep in mind that even though all of them lie, not all lies are equal. Count the dead, the disenfranchised, the poor, the incarcerated, the angry, the hungry, the tax loopholes, the deficit dollars, the broken promises, and then decide which liar to vote for.


* As of April 156, 2004, there have been 794 coalition deaths, 691 Americans, 59 Britons, five Bulgarians, one Dane, one Estonian, 17 Italians, two Poles, one Salvadoran, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and five Ukrainians, in the war as of April 15, 2004.

Civilian deaths in Iraq are ESTIMATED (the US does not "do body counts") at between 8875 and 10725.


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