There’s a technique of argumentation I call “burying the answer in the assumptions” where you frame a problem in such a way that the conclusions are forgone. I’m very careful of that style of discussion in my day job, because lots of it involves leading groups of people toward a consensus and I want to make sure it’s a genuine one.
Kevin Drum has a post up on the delusions of the pro-war crowd, and I’ll suggest that he’s neatly buried the answer in his assumptions:
OK, I know this is partly tongue in cheek. But as near as I can tell there are real answers:
1. They don’t believe Bush has fucked up the war. They think that most of the bad news from Iraq is just an invention of the anti-military liberal media.
2. To the extent that we are doing badly, they think it’s the fault of liberals who are undermining morale by criticizing the war.
3. Following up on #2, their biggest complaint with Bush isn’t that the war is going badly, but that it isn’t broad enough and brutal enough. If only we’d take the gloves off and stop fighting like liberal pussies, we’d be doing OK.
Yes, this is delusional. But they don’t think it’s Bush who has screwed up their war, it’s liberals. There is nothing that will ever change their minds about this.
Hmmm. Let me suggest an alternate way of looking at the question.
Why don’t the pro-war folks criticize Bush more? Well, in no small part because we know that any criticism of him will be used by opponents of the war to knock him down, and there is no one standing in line behind him who’s expressed any interest in doing anything except ending the war by giving up.
I’ll also suggest that each of Kevin’s charges really would be the basis for an interesting discussion instead of a backhanded dismissal.
Well, how is the war going? It’s complicated to figure out, and many of the indicators are certainly negative – but there are also positive indicators. How about the question of how it’s going and how we’d know? Kevin et alia pretty consistently dismiss any challenge to the CW on how the war is going as ‘political spin’ and the problem is that when you do that, there’s no way to sit down and try and sort out how to measure what’s really going on.
Well, given that it’s an insurgency, and that public stances matter because in part it’s a matter of convincing a population at risk that we’re serious about protecting them, so yes there is some cost to be borne in the perception of our seriousness because powerful interests are tugging at our sleeve and trying to pull us back from the table. So no, I reject the notion that calling for withdrawal or redeployment or whatever is treasonous or a betrayal – but I also reject the notion that it has no consequences in the conduct of the war.
Finally, well…yes, most counterinsurgencies are won by a combination of brutality and kindness. Do we have the right combination? I’m honestly not sure. I know we can get a lot more brutal, and that many folks – Iraqis in Iraq – are critical of us for not being brutal enough. But to take that question completely off the table once again contains the answer in the assumptions.
And I think that’s a bad thing, and not only because the answer Kevin is pushing for is one I disagree with. The path out of the kind of insane polarization we see in this country isn’t in dismissive handwaving (or flagwaving), it’s in good, solid argument. Let’shave some.