The Amazing Self-Sustaining Argument

Justin Logan writes:

What I wonder, though, is what it would take for hawks to admit they were wrong. Say, for example, a dirty bomb is set off in Chicago. Say several hundred people die in the melee, there's billions in economic damage, and intrusive new government powers are enacted.

Say that we trace back the attackers to Iraq. They emerged in the aftermath of the invasion, learned the ways of urban counterinsurgency, and melded together into a group that wanted to hit the U.S. where it hurts most. They were mobilized by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and then they organized, recruited, and trained in its aftermath. It's crystal clear that they emerged as a direct result of our policy in that country.

Would the hawks have to say, "Jesus, I really called that one wrong..."

Of course not. It would just be a sign that the more dovish of us don't understand how insidious the enemy is, and how much we need to take the fight to the enemy before he takes it to us. You can amplify any of the aspects of my hypothetical, and the hawks would say the same thing.

So then is there not a sense in which their argument cannot be disproved?

There absolutely, 100%, is. The problem with national security is that, since the War Powers Act (and, in truth, even before), it's been entirely associated with the executive. Because of that, only presidents or presidential candidates have been able to imbue their parties with definition on the subject. Since the Republicans have used a succession of "strong" leaders to puff their foreign policy chests, they already enjoy trust on the subject. Since they already enjoy trust on the subject, any future ills that come from their actions will be tossed aside in favor of the frame that reiterates their moral clarity and strength on national security.

Till Democrats elect a chief executive who presides over a foreign policy crisis and does so with obvious strength and leadership, we'll remain at a disadvantage. Thus far, Democratic definition has come from Carter (weakling) and Clinton (unfocused and unconcerned until his second-term). We squandered our last two chances, and we won't get another until we field a president. And we likely won't do that until we match Republicans on national security. For most Democrats, that's a helluva catch-22. Calling General Clark?

Clarification: I meant that the argument cannot be disproved, as in there's definitely a chance that it's impervious to events our counter-argument. But, as often happens with hastily-written, before-class posts, it made no sense. So I crossed out the line. Clearer now?

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