Thursday, September 14, 2006

Accusations of Treason

From the political left I am starting to see a fallacy that is highly destructive of any meaningful debate on the best course of action to take in Iraq.

The left has long protested the tactic of those who favor the American action in Iraq of equating dissent with treason. These pro-war individuals issued a false dichotomy that said, “Either you support the President’s plan, or you want the terrorists to win.”

Those opposed to action in Iraq have responded by saying, “Dissent is not treason. Saying that the President’s strategy will not work is not ‘pro-terrorist.’ It is ‘pro-having-a-better-strategy-for-fighting-the-terrorist.’

Now, some members of the anti-war faction have adopted their own fallacy. This is a fallacy that says, “If you criticize our opposition to the war in Iraq, then you are accusing us of treason.”

An example of this can be found in a posting on Crooks and Liars called “Jimmy Carter smacks Lieberman – Lieberman’s camp calls him a liar.”

First, former President Jimmy Carter said that Lieberman has equated dissent with the war with supporting terrorists. Lieberman denied that he had he had ever done such a thing. The folks at Crooks and Liars (referencing Atrios said that that they have the proof and offered the following quote:

"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

To the anti-war faction:

The statement, “your plan of withdraw will not work,” is not the same as “you are traitors,” and it is a malicious distortion to say these are the same.

It is perfectly legitimate for me to say, “I recognize that you are as interested in fighting and defeating the terrorists as I am. However, to defeat the terrorists, we need a strategy that actually works. Your strategy will not work. Your strategy will have the effect of being taken as a tremendous victory by the terrorists, improve their moral, aid their recruiting efforts, and leave America in a much worse situation than we are in now. I am not saying that you want these effects. In fact, I am certain that you do not want these effects. However, these effects will come nonetheless, and they will do us harm, whether you intend us to suffer that harm or not.”

Both of these rhetorical tricks – the pro-war faction trick of equating dissent with treason, and the anti-war faction trick of equating anti-war criticism with accusations of treason, are meant to shut down debate for it even starts. They both eliminate the possibility of meaningful discussion by turning the discussion on the best policy to pursue to into a personal attack. A person cannot even open his mouth and say, ‘I have an idea,’ without being accused either of treason, or of making accusations of treason, against all who have different ideas.

We must allow meaningful debate on this topic. To allow meaningful debate, people need to recognize that there is an important difference between saying, “Your plan will have the following bad effects,” and “You are advocating this policy because you want to bring about these bad effects.”

The second statement is an ad hominem fallacy that does more harm than good – it is wrong to make this type of statement without some very good evidence. The first type of statement must be permitted and debated.

Which means that a third type of claim that we must condemn are those by people who take the words of those who make the first type of statement (“My plan is better than your plan.) and twist and distort it into the second type of statement (“You want bad things to happen to this country!”)

Which is what the people at “Crooks and Liars” has done.

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