Taking Iraq by the Horn

If forced to, I, too, could come up with a rant on how idiotic it would be to invade Iraq by ourselves, but I would find that kind of appeal insulting to my readers even if a majority of readers, though surely not my readers. are more apt to be moved by emotional appeals than by logical appeals. Let’s face it, it would be tempting to just say “shrub is a dumb bastard” and leave it there, and those who already agreed with us would agree with us. We could all stand around and pat ourselves on the back and say how smart “we” are and how dumb “they” are.

Of course, the problem would still be there, now, wouldn’t it? And our children and our brothers and sisters would still be sent off to die in a foreign land while oil executives continued to cash in on our myopic policies.

In reality, playing to emotions is a deadly game, one more likely to aggravate the problem than to solve it. We need to use logic, not just emotion, to seek answers to the complex problems we face.

Luckily, after reading a number of the ever-burgeoning warblogs, I happened to follow some links on Jeff Ward’s Visible Darkness to discover this treasure of logic by Robert Horn entitled “Traps Of Traditional Logic & Dialectics: What They Are And How To Avoid Them.” Professor Horn introduced some fallacies I hadn’t heard of before. I’ve even bookmarked his page for future reference since it’s unlikely I’ll be able to remember all of these fallacies without occasionally refreshing my memory. If you’re interested in sound reasoning, I recommend you do the same.

In this short paper he describes a number of common fallacies. First, he lists seven traps that derive from mistakes in traditional logic. See if you haven’t found some of them in current arguments about invading Iraq.:

The Forever Changeless Trap. In this trap we think of the current condition as being the same forever.
The Process-Event Trap. This trap leads us into the error of thinking in terms of object-like "events" where we would do better to think in terms of processes.
The Solve It by Redefining It Trap. This could be called the Definition Can Do It Trap in that it attempts to solve problems by redefinition alone.
The Independent Self Trap. In this trap we separate organism from environment, ourselves from our interdependence with others.
The Isolated Problem Trap. In the grip of this trap we regard problems as unconnected to their wider contexts.
The Single Effect Trap. In this trap we think that we can cause a single effect with no "side-effects."
The Exclusive Alternatives Trap. Traditional logic tends to make us think in terms of either-or analysis. Many situations demand that we juggle more than two alternatives.

Many of these fallacies can be found in current arguments about the war, but “The Independent Self Trap” somehow seems most relevant. Horn describes this trap thusly:

If I have fallen into the Independent Self Trap I will imagine that I am totally separate and distinct from other people. I will have forgotten my interconnectedness and interdependence with others. Traditional logic programming tells us a thing can not be itself and something else (A is not not A). The axiom of contradiction emphasizes difference. This trap determines the kind of action that a person or organization takes when it fails to consider the people who will be deeply affected by it.

and he goes on to explain that:

Political leaders who fail to touch base with their allies before making important decisions about vital issues may have fallen into thinking that their country could operate alone, an independent self. While this is possible, alliances suffer from lack of trust, and more subtle and coordinated programs such as major economic policies are more difficult to put into effect. One possibility for avoiding this trap in analysis is to sketch out a list of parties likely to be affected and their likely points of view before approaching the problem.

Ring any bells? Have we heard many details about this side of the argument? Or, has it been largely ignored because of the “argument” that America has been right on recent decisions while Europe has been unable to come up with a unified effort to solve any of the major problems facing us? I wonder how many people who were "right" have ended up divorced, still "right" but very much alone and unhappy?

Horn goes beyond these traditional traps and outlines “six potential dialectic traps:”

The More Is Better Trap. In this trap we assume that anything can be solved by application of more resources.
The Force Can Do It Trap. In the grips of this trap we think in terms only of forcing a solution on the situation.
The Conflicts Create Productive Change Trap. A direct implication of dialectical thought is the idea that you can create change by creating conflict and that conflict will produce beneficial results.
The Inevitable Antagonism Trap. In this trap we assume that there is inevitable conflict between persons, organisms, groups, nation-states.
The No Limits Trap. This trap assumes limitless resources and arenas for action.
The There’s Got to Be a Winner Trap. This trap is the misapplication of the idea of a winner and loser to situations where it is not applicable.

Again, several of these would seem to apply, but one, “The Force Can Do it Trap” jumps to the forefront:

In personal relationships people sometimes think that they will somehow force their affections on someone else; that their persistence and insistence will overcome the resistance of the other. Or that in a difference of opinion the other will back down. (Note: this usually occurs together with the erroneous formal logic assumption that there will be no other consequences, no side effects.) The Force Can Do It Trap is the assumption that we should immediately turn to the use of some form of power or strength to change a situation, other people, or ourselves. As we grow up, we find that exerting our strength on occasion will help us overcome a physical obstacle. We wrestle and push other little kids and they get out of our way. From these simple origins, we generalize a cluster of ways to "force" a solution on a situation.

International relations is the supreme arena where the Force Can Do It Trap is played out. Sovereign nation-states act on the basis of their perceived "vital national interests" with military forces either in direct combat or with threats of the use of force. When uninfluenced by other considerations, this Force Can Do It Trap often leads the country into unanticipated consequences that are often disastrous. Leaders fail to anticipate the opponent’s will to endure. They fail to anticipate the inflationary effect of wars or military buildups on the economy. They sometimes fail to anticipate that a war will be unpopular with the populace upon whom they depend for support. Thus this attitude becomes a trap for those who only anticipate its most immediate favorable consequences. It is a dialectic trap that easily relies on the formal logic Single Effect Trap.

Now, it’s not my goal to oversimplify the argument or put words in Robert Horn’s mouth. I’ll leave that to the conservative warbloggers. In reality, I have no idea how Robert Horn feels about invading Iraq. So, keep in mind that he ends this discussion with the following caveat. (You did read the article yourself, right?)

Nothing in this discussion should be construed to indicate that the author thinks that force should never be used. Force is an appropriate response, for example, in self-defense where no other alternatives are available. We must distinguish dialectical "force" from a more neutral understanding of what we are doing when we "add energy to a situation in the appropriate amount." For example, if you want to get your ideas across, you must speak up. You mobilize the necessary energy, no more and no less. You are not using force in the dialectical sense. Now suppose instead of simply speaking up, you were to shout down someone you viewed as your opponent. You are then using force in the dialectical sense.

Again, I agree with Horn. Although I found it outrageous when Americans supported Iraq in its fight against Iranian-inspired Moslems in its own country, you know, when they used the mustard gas on their own people, I reluctantly supported the first war against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. Like the conservatives, I reluctantly agreed we had to take action against Bin Laden and his organization after the attack on the World Tower. To let that act go unpunished would have sent the wrong message to Islamic radicals and would have encouraged further aggression. But, wasn’t that precisely why the rest of the world joined us in a mutual condemnation?

However, there doesn’t seem to be any smoking gun in our attack on Iraq. Yes, we made a mistake when we didn’t take Saddam out in the first war, but you can’t retry him on the same crime now. That’s against American law isn’t it? If there’s “evidence” enough to support a renewed attack, that evidence certainly hasn’t been presented to the American people. More to the point, it hasn’t been convincing to the leaders of foreign countries, many of whom must have been privy to information too “restricted” to reveal to mere citizens.

If we require a jury of our peers to convict us of a crime, how can we now reasonably argue that it’s enough that We, and we alone, find Saddam guilty while the rest of the international jury says that there is not enough evidence?

If we don’t stand for justice and international law, what do we stand for?

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