Friday, October 01, 2004

Last Night's Debate and the Diversion Argument

Who won the presidential debate last night? That depends on what you mean by ‘win.’

If the winner of a presidential debate is the one who comes across more ‘presidential,’ then I say that Senator Kerry won. His measured phrases, his unflappability, his gravitas made the actual president look less ‘presidential’ by contrast. But if the winner of a debate is the one with the better arguments, then I give the palm to George Bush. The main fault I saw with Kerry was his tired invocation of a really bad argument. I’ll call it the Diversion Argument. It may be set forth as follows.

1. The sole purpose of the war on terror is to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack, in particular, Osama bin Laden.
2. Saddam Hussein’s regime had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
Therefore
3. The war in Iraq constituted a diversion from the war on terror, rather than a part of it.


If we add a further premise to (1) and (2), we arrive at a strengthened Diversion Argument:

4. The only good reason for toppling Saddam’s regime would have been his sponsorship of the 9/11 attack.
Therefore
5. The war in Iraq was both unjustified and constituted a diversion from the war on terror.


I’ve constructed these arguments so that the conclusions follow from the premises. So the question of the arguments' soundness rides on the truth/falsity of the premises (1), (2), and (4).

Ad (1). I don’t need to belabor the point that this premise – which is usually just tacitly assumed rather than explicitly stated – is needed to make the Diversion Argument work. The premise, however, is false. The war on terror is a war against Islamic terrorists, first and foremost. Of course, there are non-Muslim terrorists, e.g., Basque terrorists, but the threat they pose is negligible as compared to the threat posed by the Muslim variety. It would be an egregious error to identify the war on terror with the task of bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack. Even worse is the mistake that Kerry made during his speech, namely identifying the war on terror with the task of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden.

Think about it. If Osama were captured tomorrow, would the war on terror end? Of course not. For all we know, Osama is dead. It doesn’t much matter whether he is the al-Qaeda head, or al-Zawahiri, or al-Zarqawi, or anyone else. It is also self-evident that the war on terror cannot be identified with the task of destroying the al-Qaeda network. For it is only one Islamo-terrorist outfit.

The war on terror is not solely about Osama, or solely about the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, or solely about al-Qaeda; the war is about Islamo-terrorism as such. This problem did not begin on 9/11. I t has a history going back AT LEAST to the September 1972 attacks in Munich. There have been many attacks against American interests and against the interests of America’s allies. There is no need to trot out the list since it is well known. Given this, it makes no sense to identify the war on terror with anything so specific as the task of capturing Osama. But that is what libs and lefties do ad nauseam.

Well, suppose someone concedes all this and tries a different Diversion Argument:

1*. The sole purpose of the war on terror is to defeat worldwide Islamo-terrorism.
2*. Saddam Hussein’s regime had nothing to do with worldwide Islamo-terrorism.
Therefore
3. The war in Iraq constituted a diversion from the war on terror, rather than a part of it.


Now the problem is that (2*) is false. We know that Saddam directly supported Islamo-terrorists, since we know that he supported, with large sums of money, the families of Palestinian Arab suicide-bombers.

Ad (2). The truth of (2) is reasonably surmised, and detail cases have been made for it. But suppose ex concessis that (2) is false. The obvious falsity of (1) suffices to condemn the Diversion Argument.

Ad (4). This is false, since there were several reasons for toppling Saddam’s regime which added up to a strong case against him. There is no need to trot these out once again since my point on the present occasion is simply to show that the Diversion Argument fails.