Logical fallacies fail in the face of Iraq reality

Television "reality" shows, much the rage for the past several seasons, pale in comparison to the real events occurring in Iraq. However, those orchestrating the war are as devoid of understanding of the true nature of events and their probable outcomes as their TV counterparts. The arguments they present for continuing the war are replete with inaccurate statements and logical fallacies.

The lack of sound reasoning on the part of pundits and so-called "beltway experts" continues to wreak havoc on Iraqi civilians, American soldiers, and the entire world. Neoconservatives demonstrate the same erroneous logic regarding war as they have in economics and the social sphere (we'll save those other topic areas for another discussion).

Many supporters of the invasion of Iraq have retrospectively changed their positions about their original premise for war yet continue to suffer from the same lack of clarity of mind that led to faulty analysis and assessment in the first place. As Aristotle, a man who understood logical reasoning, once wrote, "There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man."

Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning. They are defects in an argument that causes it to be invalid, unsound or weak. The most common group - formal fallacies - are those deductive arguments that appear reasonable but are in fact structurally invalid. For example:

1. All humans are mammals. (premise)
2. All dogs are mammals. (premise)
3. All humans are dogs. (conclusion)

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof provides an excellent example of the type of logical fallacies that have become all too present in considering what should be done next in Iraq. In a recent column (Saving the Iraq Children (November 27, 2004) he draws attention to the troubling situation of deteriorating health in that country, but his main issue is to attack those who oppose the war.

Kirstof uses disingenuous arguments to continue to justify the continued occupation of Iraq while attacking those who work for peace. He states that the biggest risk to Iraqis come from "the small but growing contingent on the left that wants to bring our troops home now" and follows this premise with the following supporting data:
· The recent report by the Lancet that "risk of death by violence was 58 times greater after the war than before, and infant mortality also nearly doubled."
· A report, in the Washington Post, that "acute malnutrition among children under 5 soared to 7.7 percent this year from 4 percent before the war."

From this data, Kristof takes a big leap to conclude that the that the worsening health situation is a result of a worsening security situation and he sets the stage for his second (unstated) premise, that the U.S. occupies Iraq in order to improve the security situation in that country.

Kristof's first fallacy - a hasty generalization - is one of the most common, and it usually results from a lack of knowledge. Hasty generalizations based on incomplete or inaccurate information lead to another type of logical fallacy - joint effect - where one thing is held to cause another when in fact both are effects of a single underlying cause. For example, there is ample data to suggest that both the worsening health situation and increasing security problems can be laid to the feet of American mismanagement of energy which affects everything from the delivery of supplies to clean water and refrigeration of medicines.

During the past year both oil and electrical production have improved. At the same time, less is flowing to the Iraqi people than it did under UN sanctions before the war. Now there are mile-long lines to purchase gasoline and frequent electrical outages even today, 20 months after the occupation began. Output has improved even while insurgents have tried to disrupt supplies, so what gives? Why is a growing gap between production and supply?

An internal study by the US Army found that the 135,000 US troops and their foreign contractors, laden with airconditioners, widescreen televisions, and hummers, are using more of Iraq's energy resources than the country can support. This is having a disastrous effect on the health of Iraqis … much more than the security situation. An example of this was provided earlier this year in the City of Hilla, near Babylon.

American journalist Dahr Jamail visited that city and spoke with Salmam Kadel, Chief Engineer of the city's water treatment plant. The Engineer said that before the before and even during the invasion there was plenty of fresh water for his community. However, soon after Americans arrived in Baghdad electricity to Hilla became more sporadic…making pumps unusable. After that residents had to rely on water from dirty streams. Dysentery, cholera, nausea, diarrhea, and other water-born illnesses quickly spread. "It was much better before the invasion. We had 24 hours running water then. Now we are drinking this garbage because it is all we have," said Kadel.

Much of the analysis of the reality of Iraq is based not on knowledge about the situation in that country but on faulty assumptions about conditions there, particularly by apologists for military intervention.

Like Kristof those who supported going to war in the first place disingenuously proceed to argue "if U.S. troops leave Iraq too soon, the country will simply fall apart" and the health situation will become worse. Those who support war in all of its inherent ferocity of death and destruction try to disguise their motives under the mantle of humanitarian intervention. "It would be inhuman to abandon them now."

Notwithstanding, the greatest falsehood presented by those who favor staying in Iraq is to proclaim a false dilemma, giving two choices (either stay or it will fall apart) when there are many other options. Statements such as a "US withdrawal would lead to 'anarchy, terrorism, and starvation'" are not only egregious assumptions but also non sequiturs when there's greater weight of evidence that those things have actually increased as a result of America's occupation. One could more easily argue that the burden of supporting 135,000 (soon to be 150,000) foreign troops and their entourage is the primary contributing factor to the worsening situation and the sooner the US leaves the better.

Now is a time when wiser heads, not those that got us in the situation in the first place, must prevail. The situation in Iraq will not improve without correct thinking. And unlike reality TV, real lives are at stake in this drama.

Peace - Charlie

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