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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2003


Mistrust: the misguided basis of the anti-war movement
I don't think I've heard this said yet, so I feel justified in suggesting it: the anti-war movement, here and abroad, is based fundamentally on mistrust. Here's an example--go read Bill Whittle's wonderful essay if you haven't already (it has nothing to do with my own post, really, but bear with me). Then read the comments--or at least scroll down until you get to the comments of one Bill St. James--one of those ridiculously arrogant, well spoken trolls that like to use phrases like "a bloodthirsty choir disguised as a thoughtful forum for ideas." He seems to be a good representative of his view on the whole, and he argues fairly well, albeit remarkably bombastically--though I find that to be a common theme--and at any rate, he's the one who started me thinking on this.

The premise of 90% of the anti-war crowd is that Bush is lying--Iraq isn't a threat, he doesn't care about the Iraqi people, it's all about oil, or all about politics, or all about settling old scores, or all about American hegemony, or something of the sort. BSJ, for example, claims that "this invasion is all about a desperate attempt to hang on to a standard of living that this planet doesn't seem likely to sustain," to the exclusion of every other possible reason. Now, the ramifications of this are huge, of course. This would mean that either there is a concerted effort among leaders as varied as George W. Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Bill Clinton, Dick Gephardt and Colin Powell to mislead the world about their intentions, or that someone (or someones) are in the background, plotting and making their puppets dance to whatever tune they desire. I recognize that this is the favored position of many of those who oppose the war--but I also realize that this is a fringe position, and it is a fringe position for a very good reason. The fact is that, looking back on history, every war America fought in the 20th century was fought for the very reasons that it was claimed they were, and no evidence has surfaced to the contrary. In fact, the only American wars that I can think of fought for disingenuous reasons was the Mexican-American War, and possibly the Spanish-American War. Everything else has been fought for the same reasons it has been pitched--other reasons have been thrown in for good measure of course, but they were additional reasons, not replacements for the reasons given.

History has shown that America entered WWI both to protect American ships from unrestricted submarine warfare, and to counter an autocratic German militarism that threatened America's allies. Once you strip the rhetoric and propaganda down to their bare bones, these were also the reasons given for it. WWII was fought to counter a similar threat, now not only to American allies, but to America itself, as shown by Pearl Harbor. Again, these were the same reasons given at the time. The Korean War and the Vietnam wars were each fought to prevent the spread of communism--the leaders at the time were genuinely concerned with the Domino Effect, and genuinely saw communism as a threat, and told the American people so. Again, for both wars, the actual reasons were the same as the reasons given. Things get murkier in Gulf War I, as there is obviously the accusation that we fought it to secure the Kuwaiti oil for American consumption, and those who believe that this war is all about oil are likely to believe the same about that war, but most sensible people, I think, would agree that it was just as much about protecting an ally from a malevolent invader. Perhaps oil was a reason, but it was certainly not the only reason. Even Clinton's half-hearted military actions appeared to befor the very reasons given--like GWI, it is impossible to say historically, as not nearly enough time has passed. Even the remarkably suspicious impeachment day missile attacks could be said to have had the stated motives of national security involved somewhere.

But, regardless of these smaller incidents, the fact is that none of the wars of the 20st century have been disingenuous to the extent that so many claim this war is. There may be those who disagree with me, but I don't think their arguments will stand up to serious historical scrutiny. If there were ulterior motives to the century's major wars, then whoever held these motives did a remarkable job of hiding any evidence of them. This means, I would suggest, that the burden of proof is on those who accuse the President, and so many others, of ulterior motives this time around.

Their line of reasoning, as I see it, goes like this.
*Bush says the war is about X and Y.
*Bush is untrustworthy, therefore X and Y are false, or. X and Y are false, therefore Bush is untrustworthy (either works, and both are used).
*Therefore, the war is not about X or Y.

*Bush desires Z
*Bush sees war as the most efficient way to gain Z.
*Therefore, the war is about Z.

This is a fallacious line of reasoning, due to the faulty assumptions made over the course of it--not necessarily the facts mentioned, but the judgements about Bush's character. This is, however, all too often what arguments against the war devolve into--a mistrust of Bush. But don't take my word for it: let's look at these assumptions, in no particular order.

Bush desires Z: Let's take Z here from the above assertion "this invasion is all about a desperate attempt to hang on to a standard of living that this planet doesn't seem likely to sustain." So, Z="a standard of living that this planet doesn't seem likely to sustain." This is, of course, a debateable object. Most conservatives would suggest that Z does not exist. That, in fact, this planet seems plenty likely to sustain our standard of living, because the American standard of living is due more to the ingenuity of the American people than to the benevolent sustinance of the planet. You can agree or disagree with that statement, but the fact is that Bush is a conservative, and no doubt holds a similar view--this wipes out the possibility that Bush can truly desire Z, if he doesn't believe that Z exists. In order to keep this assumption, an anti-war leftist must assert that Bush, in fact, agrees with them about the state of the planet and its natural resources, despite all evidence to the contrary. To conclude that Bush, unlike nearly all who support him, agrees with a remarkably leftist assumption such as that given above, seems bizarre, and fatally damages the assumption.

Bush sees war as the most efficient way to gain Z: Now, more levelheaded anti-war voices may not go so far, and may just say that Z is just oil, without BSJ's ideological baggage. But then, this next assumption seems fatally flawed. Again, many conservatives see a war as a remarkably poor way to get oil. Why go to the immense expense of the war, when we could simply drop sanctions and buy the stupid oil? Again, why would Bush disagree with this? The reason generally given is that conservatives, such as myself, are but sheep, deluded by propaganda, and that Bush and his oil cronies really think war is the best way to get oil, but they are lying--that is to say, Bush is not trustworthy. Which brings us to the other assumptions:

X and Y are false, therefore Bush is untrustworthy: This seems fair--based on the evidence given, Bush is not trustworthy, which supports the above accusations. But who is it that believes X and Y are false? Well, let's say that X is "American security" and Y is "freedom for the Iraqi people." Those who think that these are false generally insist that Saddam has no ties to Al-Quaeda, has never attacked the US, and therefore does not threaten national security, and that the Iraqi people don't want or shouldn't have American-style freedom forced on them. But again, those who typically think these things are not conservative, and not Bush. Again, this assumption requires the additional assumption that Bush agrees with the Left that X and Y are false--which there is no reason to presume that he does. If I, for example, believe that X and Y are true, why shouldn't Bush?

Bush is untrustworthy, therefore X and Y are false: This is the main credo and base assumption of many who oppose the war. And, bizarre as it may seem at first glance to someone who does trust Bush, it is the most valid of the above assumptions. If someone really is untrustworthy, it makes sense to surmise that the things they assert are false--this is, for example, why no one belives a word that comes out of the Iraqi Information Minister's mouth. The statement could be expanded to read, "because of actions A, B and C, Bush is untrustworthy, therefore X and Y are false." A, B and C may be any number of things, but they probably include the whole Florida mess, and the pure and simple fact that Bush is a Republican and a conservative. They may include the less partisan fact that Bush is a politician, and they are not to be trusted--but, as described above, all the major military undertakings of the 20th century were ordered by politicians, but, as we can see in retrospect, were also undertaken for the very reasons given. That makes the only levelheaded possibility for an A, B or C fly out the window, which leaves us with standard partisan mistrust.

And that is, sadly, what the opposition to the war comes down to. And, to be fair, that's what much opposition to Clinton's military actions came down to as well. And George H. W. Bush's. And Reagan's. And Carter's. And so on down the line. Now, plenty of wars and military actions have legitimate arguments against them--there are even valid arguments against this war. But, they do not follow the pattern described above. Instead, they are arguments about the worth of X and Y, or the chances of them happening. You can legitimately argue that Saddam does not pose a threat to American security, or that the threat he poses is not enough to necessitate a war, or that a war will, in fact, be detrimental to American security, just as those who legitimately argued against the Vietnam War would have said the same things about North Vietnam and the Domino theory. In fact, these legitimate arguments are often present right next to the illegitimate arguments above--BSJ, for example, does this, but, like so many, his basic assumptions about Bush's motives are already flawed, and overwhelm what might otherwise be good arguments.

This is why the anti-war movement is being ignored by 70% of America. Most of their arguments are based, not on logic, reason or facts, but a mistrust of a specific group of people--Bush and his cabinet, let's say--who hold to a certain ideology that they disagree with. And, more absurdly, the reason they mistrust, rather than simply disagree with Bush, is because they assume that, in actuality, he doesn't hold to the beliefs he claims, but to the beliefs they do.

This combination of arrogance, intellectual laziness and paranoia certainly afflicts more than the anti-war movement, and more than the Left in general. Republicans and conservatives in general have been, and continue to be, at fault as well. But the fact is that the anti-war movement is currently the loudest and most vehement purveyor of this sort of thing, and doesn't even seem to notice it. As someone who disgrees with even the legitimate arguments against the war (an argument can be legitimate and still be wrong), I'm very comfortable with this. But you'd think that there would be those who would be a bit less comfortable with it, and I wonder why they seem so very quiet.
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