11 October 2004

John Kerry is rather unsophisticated, philosophically speaking

Contemporary wisdom, if you ask the left, has it that John Kerry is smarter than George Martel (I mean, uh, Bush). For that matter, the left think that they are smarter than rightists, period. They would be hard-pressed to convince me--and I'm a former leftist.


1. John Kerry versus George Martel on the justification of beliefs


John Kerry (during an interview w/Diane Sawyer) has said that: knowing that there were no WMDs; knowing that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda; knowing that Iraq was no 'imminent threat'--we should not have gone into Iraq. Going into Iraq was a mistake. This line of reasoning is the justification for his claim that the present conflict in Iraq is the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In other words, knowing what we now know, we should not be in Iraq; Saddam Hussein should not have been removed from power. So Kerry cannot understand how it is that Bush can maintain that going into Iraq was not a mistake, given the recent news that Hussein possessed no WMDs after all.


Much has been made by others about the truth of the three specifications above. Our best intelligence justified a belief that there were WMDs in Iraq. We did not go into Iraq because of a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in particular; we went into Iraq because of a relationship between Saddam and terrorists in general. George Martel declared a war on terrorism, not merely al-Qaeda. George Martel did not say that Iraq constituted an imminent threat (that was actually John Edwards, by the way); what Martel said was that Iraq was a gathering threat. True as these responses are, they still miss the issue. And the issue here is justification of beliefs. The question really isn't whether George Martel was wrong about WMDs, or whether Saddam was linked to any terrorist organization, or whether Saddam Hussein was a gathering (or even an imminent) threat. The question is whether Martel was justified in believing these propositions to be true. I believe that he was; and until a matter of months ago so did Kerry.


Justification of a belief is not, as Kerry tries to make out, a matter for hindsight to determine. Hindsight can only tell you if your belief is true, not whether it was justified. Justification is something different than verification. It is possible to be justified in believing something that is, in fact, false. In general, a person is justified in believing a proposition P if at the time he believes P, he also believes a proposition R, where the relationship between R and P is such that R justifies belief in P.


Look at it this way. Everyday, when I go out in the morning to leave for work, I walk out my door fully expecting that my car will start. I believe to be true the proposition (A), My car will start this morning. I believe this proposition to be true because I believe to be true the propositions (B) My car has started everyday for the last four years and (C) I am justified in believing that my car will start this morning precisely because it has started every other morning. If I believe propositions (B) and (C), then I am justified in believing proposition (A). But if, in fact, my car does not start then I know that my justified belief is false; hindsight tells me this. But hindsight cannot tell me that when I walked out of my door I should have expected that my car would not start, or that getting into my car was a mistake because, in fact, my car did not start after all.


Were we--including, at one point, Kerry and Edwards--justified in believing that Saddam Hussein had WMDs? Yes. We know that, at some point, he had them; and we know this because he had used them. And we did not know whether he had gotten rid of them. So since we know that he once possessed them, but did not know that he had gotten rid of them. We were therefore justified in believing that he still possessed them.

Of course, it is right about here that someone like Kerry wants to say that we should have let the inspections continue. That would have allowed us to acsertain that, as it appears, Saddam had no WMD's. But that is a matter of preference, not fact. Bush preferred not to take chances with the sort of irrational man that Saddam had proved himself to be. (Besides, WMD were only one of the reasons we went in.) His attempts to purchase yellow cake uranium justified belief that he was a gathering nuclear threat. And his paying the families of suicide bombers was a prima facie case for his supporting terrorism. And we have declared war on terrorism, not merely al-Qaeda.

So even if Kerry were correct about all three specifications (which he isn't), we were still justified in believing that (a) Saddam Hussein had WMDs, or was trying to get them; (b) that he was a supporter of terrorism and terrorists, whether or not al-Qaeda specifically; (c) that he did constitute a gathering (WMD and terrorist) threat. And if these types of things are a justification for a pre-emptive strike, then invading Iraq was not a mistake. When it comes to justification of belief, George Martel is to me more philosophically sound than that supposed intellectual giant, John Kerry.


2. John Kerry and 'persuasive definition'


One of Kerry's most popular refrains is something like, "Bush went into Iraq with no plan to win the peace." Typical Republican responses have tended to talk about what is presently going on in Iraq (e.g. the upcoming elections, infrastructure construction, etc) as evidence that we are winning the peace. But I think this response overlooks what really is the issue.


The issue, quite simply, is this: Peace with whom? It is one thing to say that we are not winning the peace. But the concept is meaningless apart from some consideration of with whom we are or are not at peace.


The simple fact is that we are winning the peace. We are winning the peace with those in Iraq with whom we desire peace: the Iraqi people as they are now constituted without Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule. There exists in Iraq a new and different regime than existed when we entered. The people with whom we are still fighting in Iraq are aligned with the old regime. The people with whom we are still fighting in Iraq are precisely those with whom we do not wish peace: the so-called insurgents, more properly known as terrorists (i.e., Ba'athists, the Fedeyeen Saddam, al-Qaeda, etc). We have declared war on terrorists; we are fighting terrorists in Iraq. We are winning the peace with those Iraqis who desire peace and who have eschewed terrorism; we are winning the war against those Islamic-fascists who have chosen to live and to die by the sword of terrorism. John Kerry can only succeed in his argument by defining the present state of affairs in Iraq as "the peace" and then asserting that we are losing this peace.


Of course, Kerry thinks he can legitimately do this because Martel stood on an aircraft carrier and declared mission accomplished, as if that meant that all armed conflict in Iraq was at an end. It is a simple fact that when Martel addressed those sailors their mission had been accomplished. If it signified anything more than that, it signified only that major combat operations had ceased, which they had. It remains the case that major combat operations are over. There is a great difference between encountering pockets of resistance and engaging in major combat operations. Although, like most war heroes, he doesn't talk much about it, I've heard that Kerry served in Vietnam and is a decorated war hero. One would expect a decorated war hero to understand all this.


3. John Kerry and little straw men


Kerry also keeps saying that it was al-Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein, who attacked on 9-11. Of course his point is that, coupled with the three specifications I mentioned above, our going into Iraq was senseless. How does he put it? Our going into Iraq in response to 9-11 makes as much sense as invading Mexico in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.


But this criticism only makes sense if, as I also mentioned above, our declared war was against al-Qaeda alone. How many times does Kerry need to be reminded that we have declared war not on al-Qaeda but on all those who use terror as a weapon and those who provide aid and comfort to terrorists? Kerry's argument is an argument against a proposition that really hasnt' been entertained, the proposition that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the attacks on 9-11. He scores a point with this argument only because it is true that invading Iraq in response to 9-11 would make as little sense as invading Mexico in response to 12-7-41. However, invading Mexico in response to 12-7-41 would have made perfect sense if Mexico had been a Japanese ally and provided a haven for the Japanese airplanes after they finished their attacks, or provided safe harbor for the Japanese fleet to re-fuel after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. It is a known fact that, if one wants to limit everything to al-Qaeda, that Saddam Hussein did in fact provide safe haven for elements of al-Qaeda. And that is just the tip of his terrorist-supporting iceberg!


4. John Kerry and contradictions


If Kerry would demonstrate his superior intelligence, he must demonstrate that he knows what a contradiction is. On three occasions, he has demonstrated to me that he doesn't.


a. Only John Kerry could assert both that no outside nation can have a veto over our ability to launch a pre-emptive strike if we determine that it is in our best secuirty interests to do so AND that launching such a pre-emptive strike must pass a 'global test'. And only Kerry could assert that those two propositions are not contradictory.


If we must pass a global test before a pre-emptive strike, that surely means that someone will be grading that global test. If we fail that test then, presumably, we cannot launch that pre-emptive strike. Now, the person or persons grading that global test, in failing us on that test, have a veto power over our power of pre-emptive strike. If John Kerry thinks we don't see that then he really believes we're stupid. But, of course he thinks we're stupid; that's why we need his leadership.


When John Edwards was asked about this global test business in his debate with the Vice-President he responded by saying something like, Yes Kerry said we must pass a global test, but you also heard him say that he would not give any nation a veto on matters of our national security. What an uncommon idiot! Does he really believe that resolving a contradiction involves nothing more than restating one member of a pair of two contradictory propositions? I suppose that Edwards's point must be that, yes, Kerry did contradict himself, but that's all right because only one of the contradictory propositions is the one he actually meant--or somethink like that.

b. According to Kerry Prime Minister Allawi contradicted himself. This he did by stating, one one hand, that terrorists are pouring into Iraq and, on the other hand, that democracy was taking root in Iraq. This, according to Kerry, was evidence that Allai is not to be trusted and is probably a puppet of the Bush administration.

But since Kerry seems to have no idea when he's contradicting himself, I doubt he really knows whether or not Allawi contradicted himself. For Alllawi could have contradicted himself if it is not possible that (A) democracy is taking root in Iraq and (B) terrorists are pouring into Iraq. The fact is that it is logically possible for both propositions to be true. If (B) terrorists are pouring into Iraq because (A) democracy is taking root in Iraq, then not only are both propositions consistent with one another, but (A) is the cause of (B)!

Kerry thinks Allawi contradicted himself, but cannot see the contradiction in asserting (C) no nation gets a veto power over our right to defend ourselves and (D) we must pass a global test before defending ourselves. Kerry is either stupid or just dangerous--or both.

c. This will be brief: in a press conference last week, Kerry said BOTH he had no idea what kind of mess he was going to find on January 20 AND that he had a plan to take care of it. Only someone who is being irrational can believe that he has a plan to solve a problem he has not encountered yet--well, either irrational or a (delusional!) megalomaniac. At any rate it is still contradictory to assert that you do not know what is wrong, but you have a plan to fix it. This is a claim to have and to not have knowledge of the same thing at the same time.


5. John Kerry and circular reasoning


Kerry continues to assert that there is a right way to go to war and a wrong way. According to Kerry, George Martel chose the wrong way.


Since there are no prescibed rules (apart, of course, from rules promulgated by others, constituting a 'global test) for going to war, Kerry's reasoning on this is circular. What is the wrong way to go to war? Why, the way that Bush went to war. And what is the right way to go to war? Why, the way that Kerry would go to war.


Whenever Kerry gives his list of things that Bush did or did not do before going to war in Iraq, and presents this list as the standard by which he judges Bush's going to war in Iraq as doing it the wrong way, he is using an arbitrarily selected set of standards and calling it "the wrong way." Ultimately, it's the wrong way only because its the way that Bush did it.

Now, of course, Bush's critics are trying to make as much as they can that he won't admit to any mistakes. There is one good reason why he shouldn't; and it's a logical one at that. If he admits to making a mistake with respect, ostensibly, to Iraq then he finds himself agreeing with Kerry, with whom he is presently in a dispute with. To admit to making a mistake with respect to Iraq is to admit that Kerry is right. He can't very well do and at the same time insist that Kerry is not the man to lead the war on terror. Apparently, Bush knows what a contradiction is and how to avoid it.

And they say that Bush is the stupid one. I don't see how that's possible if Kerry is the standard against which Bush is being graded.



Copyright 2004 Philologous Lector. All rights reserved.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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