September 26, 2002

Trust me, I know what I’m doing…

Michael Kinsley offers his assessment of Bush’s argument for war against Iraq. I want to avoid getting into a pro-con war argument here. Instead, I want to focus on a portion of the argument Kinsley offers. He says that because we lack information about how the administration is drawing its conclusions, we are not

“capable of answering the actual questions at hand: Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to our national and personal security, and is a war to remove him from power the only way to end that threat? So, we must do with a surrogate question: Based on information we do have and issues we are capable of judging, should we trust the leaders who are urging war upon us?”

Kinsley suggests the ulterior-motive arguments for war (revenge for father, “Wag the Dog”) are mostly “entertaining but silly.” He deconstructs the Bush arguments for several more paragraphs before concluding that:

“You would think that if honest and persuasive arguments were available, the administration would offer them. But maybe not.”

Let’s forget for a moment that war is rarely begun on the basis of sound and reasonable argument (honesty is often ignored, too, re: Iraqi soldiers removing babies from incubators). Kinsley’s conclusion is trumped by his own previous question. Arguments are important, but the information that supports those arguments is far more important. An argument without reasons (deduction) or examples (induction) is mere assertion driven by pathos and sold with ethos. Are we the people capable of judging whether to go to war based on the information we have? The answer is clearly: No, because we lack information. But that in itself is not necessarily an argument for or against going to war. A more important question Kinsley raises is: How much say can/should/do we the people have in decisions about going to war?

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