(An analysis of Sen. Biden’s “analysis” here.)
1. It presents what it finds troubling very specifically at the beginning of the article, thus narrowing the scope of the larger problem of Iraq.
If it tried to discuss more than sectarian violence, but also throw in concerns about troop safety, budget matters, whether or not the whole project was right, etc. – if it tried to do all that, it would deluge us readers with information and be in a position to bully us, much like the Senator from Delaware or any of the other people we vote into office.
2. It attempts to discuss a good that might be occurring, real or perceived. It could be that the money we pour into Iraq is just creating Potemkin facades of stability. But it could also be that what is being built is real.
3. Expanding on #2, it makes the strongest possible case for the mere existence of the good. It does not pretend that what is bad is not happening. Instead, it asserts the bad is obvious, and that’s a fair argument given the climate of opinion.
It makes the strongest case for the “good” on an appeal to authority. It asserts that the generals know better than we, and that the generals are saying there is success of a sort.
4. It then moves to the strongest possible objection to the appeal to authority, which is that perhaps authority is not to be trusted, since pronouncements of victory have been given before. To back up the authority, specific incidents are cited in the context of the argument (are you listening, elected officials? This means you, Sen. Biden):
In Mosul, which once hosted 21,000 US soldiers in the city, now only a single battalion, in the mid-hundreds, remains inside the city, matched by an equivalent drop in attacks. And it is not only in Mosul that security is improving. The sense that things are getting better is reflected in Nineveh Province. In two years US troop levels around Tal Afar, once the heartland of al-Qaeda, have been reduced from 6,000 to 1,200.The general trend for acts of violence – despite some spikes – also has been steadily decreasing. Indeed, until Jamil Salem Jamil detonated his human bomb there had not been a suicide vest attack in Tal Afar since 14 January.
5. It presents a credible enough case that what it is asserting is utter nonsense. It argues that conditions in Baghdad might have worsened. It argues that attackers might have shifted to villages and infrastructure, and their strength cannot be underestimated. It argues that the government is not doing enough to help the gains that might have been made.
You might ask what the relevance of the points under #5 is. It is actually the most crucial part of any argument about politics. Politics is about this life – there are no absolute instantiations of good and bad under the firmament of the heavens. To pretend that one has some value that is unchallengeable in its formulation, let alone its implementation, is ridiculous. But values at some point cannot be compromised.
Much of the debate regarding Iraq has happened, though, with no sense of value. The sentiment against the war is mainly tied to “war is bad because people die and it takes forever and we could lose.” That’s not a debate over values – that’s a debate over an empirical matter, the efficacy of our actions (it should be noted that this empirical “reasoning,” which stems from complacency, is being used by radicals who hate the very concept of war to create a populist movement that might make it impossible to ever have a foreign policy again).
So if one is making an argument about “facts,” then one has to admit that all the facts presented could be wrong, and outline where one thinks the strongest challenges to one’s view about the facts could lie.
This is an excellent article, and commendations should be given to the Guardian for running it. It is excellent because while it might be ultimately wrong, it gets at the spirit we need to have truth, the self-skepticism that makes knowing what is true worthwhile. Most of us just want to be right to bully others, and this article is a far cry from that.