Friday, February 04, 2005

Philosophical Obtuseness

Paul McLeary reviews Benjamin Barber's Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy for the San Francisco Chronicle. According to McLeary, Barber
is a political philosopher of the highest order, he is also an astute student of practical politics, having advised a host of governments and politicians over his career and acted as an unofficial adviser and part-time speech doctor to Bill Clinton.
Now that we know where Barber is coming from, let's examine the quality of his philosophy:

One possibly unintended consequence of the "preventative war" doctrine advocated by the Bush administration, Barber points out, is the potential for the erosion of long-held international norms. If we claim the right to attack a nation that at some point may be a threat to us, what will stop India from invading Pakistan using the same logic, or any other nation using the same rationale to launch a strike against a rival state?

Barber must have flunked or forgotten elementary logic. The idea that one nation (India in Barber's example) might preemptively invade another nation because the U.S. invaded Iraq is a glowing example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, that is, "the logical fallacy of believing that temporal succession implies a causal relation." Many nations have -- and will yet -- invade other nations preemptively. The example of the United States and Iraq is neither here nor there.

In fact, there is no other way for a war to begin than through preemption. One side starts the shooting either because it wants something the other side has (e.g., territory or valuable resources), because it fears that the other side will shoot first, because the other side has done something provocative or heinous, or because it wants to keep the other side from becoming a formidable foe. Barber is simply trying to draw a line where no line can be drawn.

The relevant criterion -- which Barber and others on the left don't want to acknowledge -- is whether the invasion of Iraq serves the interests of U.S. citizens in the long run. Leftists just don't seem to care about that. Instead, Barber emits the usual leftist drivel about the outmoded use of brute force, the roots of terrorism in economic and political alienation, and worse:
More often than not, Barber says, the United States is more interested in setting up free markets than it is in promoting democracy, worsening social inequality and disenfranchising the local population.
Right. We invaded Iraq so that Iraqis could have McJobs, not to free Iraq from the grip of Saddam's notably anti-Shiite regime in which wealth and power flowed to a small fraction of the populace. Does Saddam's demise make the Middle East and the world safer for Americans and American interests? You bet, but that's a win-win situation. And there's nothing wrong with that -- unless you're a hair-shirt leftist philosopher who doesn't understand economics, much less logic.

Does the example of Saddam's demise strike fear in the hearts of other despots, whose nuclear saber-rattling is on a par with whistling in a graveyard? You bet. Their only hope for survival is that leftist logic will somehow prevail. Not for four more years, fellows, if then.