17 June 2004

Disraeli Strikes Again

The Perfesser appears to approve of the latest partisan screed at [name of publication withheld, but you can find it in the Perfesser's note—I just don't want to give this intellectually dishonest bullshit the benefit of a searchable link], which essentially claims that anyone who opposes the Administration's "force only" antiterrorism policy is a traitor. Or language that comes awfully close to that. That particular editorial has three independently compelling flaws that render it nonsense.

The piece implies that only the perfect have the right to criticize US policy. For example, it notes Russia's problems in Chechnya and past profit from Hussein's regime, then implies that Russia therefore may not "lecture" the US on "insensitivity" to the new Iraq government. Perhaps we should dredge up the history of the Swiss pikemen in the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries to claim that Switzerland has no right to object, either. Certainly in this context a critic's own compliance with international law has some relevance—but not the implied absolute bar to validity. Even madmen sometimes speak the truth; and those who have made mistakes, and even continue to make mistakes, do so too.

For its own rhetorical convenience, the piece is not above making up facts. For example, it states that Michael Moore is an acclaimed director and writer who can't tell the truth, only because he hates George III and the "inconvenience" of war. (Aside: Legally, we're not at war until Congress says so. Authorization to use force is not war.) Contrariwise: Mr. Moore can "tell the truth," and he's been acclaimed for a lot longer than this president has been in office, and on issues other than the war on terror. Whether one agrees with all of his conclusions or not, there's a lot of truth stated in Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and others of his works. They aren't perfect; they're uncomfortable; but they're not entirely false as asserted here. (They aren't even particularly misleading in their factual statements and assertions.) The excessive rhetoric thoroughly undermines the validity of the piece's position.

Most tellingly, I'd like somebody to please name (and prove) a single historical example in which treating "terrorism"—and I'll even grant a pretty broad definition thereof—as a "military problem" was sufficient. I'm not aware of one. Ever. While there have been military elements to successful antiterror policies, I'm not aware of a successful one in which the military was dominant, let alone so extreme as is our current policy. My opposition isn't on partisan grounds; I think that the last four administrations screwed this up, and the one before that just didn't have much opportunity to deal with it independently in its two-year existence. My opposition is on factual grounds: that controlling terrorism by force without attention to its root causes, or admission of any part that the one might have in those causes (even if on balance the one is "innocent," as things are never that simple), has never worked. The rhetoric of the article in question, however, indicates precisely the opposite; and, as such, it has a counterfactual basis that does not make for intelligent policy discussion (otherwise called "argument," but that implies a legitimacy of opposition foreign to that particular writer).

So here, I'm afraid, I must disagree with the Perfesser. Strongly. But that doesn't make him a traitor, or even less than honorable; it makes him only of a different opinion from mine. I can't say the same for the individual spouting forth the dreck in the first place, because this is far from the first such instance. The irony that partisanship is exactly what the writer is complaining of—partisanship in opposition to his preferred position—seems to have escaped him. The further irony that judging an argument by the purported credibility of its proponent(s) is at its core the worst form of the ad hominem fallacy, as this particular writer fails to recognize, doesn't need much mention, either.

In the end, though, the article in question reveals a great deal more about the prejudgment of that particular publication than anything else. Its (and the writer's) relentless "you're either completely in agreement with me or you're a partisan commie pinko traitor who does not deserve the right to state an opinion" undercurrent goes much farther toward discrediting its position than do any factual errors. I choose not to read it on a regular basis because I have found wanting its factual credibility and partisanship, let alone its rhetoric and argumentation; but that doesn't mean that it never has anything good to say. Just not this time.