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Friday, January 12, 2007

Either/Or's and Iraq

I had been thinking of this very thing, and intending on posting, when I saw Senator John Cornyn (R- Texas) just now on MSNBC perfectly (but unintentionally) encapsulate the error everyone seems to be making regarding the President's so-called 'plan'.

Senator Cornyn said something to the effect of (paraphrasing), 'There are two options here: we can win or we can lose, and we can't win if we don't even try. So I'm in favor of giving the President's plan a try.'

It's amazing to me that grown men who are capable enough to become Senators can make so many logical errors in a single thought - or, even worse, that they have such a low opinion of their constituency and such a loyalty to their party that they can willfully make illogical statements like this in the hopes of passing them off as genuine arguments. I have no idea which is the case here, but I suspect a little of both. I'll only spend time on one of the logical problems with Senator Cornyn's statement.

On July 22, 2005, I made a post on this blog titled "Too Many Either/Or's". This is a case where people are falling into the trap of thinking there are only two alternatives: (1) go with the President's plan, or (2) 'fail' in Iraq. Now I have the chance to take my Either/Or post from 2005 and apply it to real life...

Whenever faced with an either/or situation, or one where you feel cornered by two unattractive alternatives [in this case, sending more troops versus losing in Iraq], consider the following:

1) Question the definitions being used. It could be that the two alternatives aren't really opposed or limiting if each uses a different sense of the same words.

In this case, what do we mean by 'failure' in Iraq? Could the definition of 'failure' also include the loss of even more troops, further escalation of hostilities, and an even more disastrous outcome from troop increases and an extended conflict? In such a case, both apparent options might be a path to failure and not really be an either/or at all.

Conversely, could 'success' mean starting our exit from Iraq, thus pressuring the Iraqi government to get its act together to fill the void, and perhaps deescalate the tensions our very presence is causing? If so, then the apparent 'failure' option may not be anything of the sort.

2) Consider how the either/or's might co-exist or both be true.

As explained above, increasing troops might lead to failure just as a complete and instant withdraw might. Similarly, not increasing them (or even decreasing them) might be a part of a plan that leads to success. The increase/decrease variable and the success/fail variable are not inherently tied together as many presuppose.

3) Could the two alternatives be rooted in a shared principle or motive?

Of course, both of the options with regard to troop levels share the same motive: a stable, free Iraq and a secure America. Efforts to link those proposing one plan or another to other motives are plainly political rhetoric.

4) Think of how the either/or may be the same thing in some sense.

Many would argue that following the President's Plan is the same thing as failure in Iraq. Others would argue that not following the plan is part of a plan for success.

5) Consider whether there really are just two options - try to think of 'third options'.

If we don't increase troop levels, it doesn't mean that our only alternatives are to keep going as we are or withdraw on an artificially quick time table, allowing Iraq to fumble into whatever state it does. There are many more options.

One 'third option' might be the following:

- Increase funding, support, and personnel training and recruiting Iraqi army and police.

- Given the to-be new levels, estimate the maximum rate at which Iraq might be able to increase its levels if really desperate.

- Reduce all U.S. forces at a rate that forces Iraq to hustle to fill the void, but not so fast that they have no hope of it.

- Make exceptions to avoid the disastrous consequence of a forceful coup. This would include leaving a strike force inside the Green Zone, which could be called into action if the very existence of the elected government came into danger of being assaulted or ousted by force. It could also include a continued presence out in the countryside along the Syrian and Iranian border.

The important thing in this 'third option' would be that we get out of the business of walking urban streets, busting down doors, and so on - and yet do not risk the elected government falling by force and still continue training of Iraqi forces and monitoring the borders. There are many other 'third options' which get into details of military tactics, political maneuvering, diplomatic initiatives, unorthodox approaches, and so on.

It could very well be that a troop increase is the best option, but to believe that we are stuck between accepting the President's shift from "stay the course" to "more of the same" or accepting chaos and defeat in Iraq is nonsense. It may be helpful to those pitching the plan, but not very close to the truth of our situation. Of course, we all know that truth ranks low in matters of politics and war.

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