In our most recent entry we explored the idea of Israel attacking an Iranian nuclear power plant. We’ve been following up on the issue, reading articles and letters to the editors, among other sources. And throughout our observations, we’ve noticed that in the area of foreign policy, and specifically the war on terror, logical fallacies abound.
Most of us are familiar with logical fallacies. The concept is rooted in correlation and causation, misusing syllogisms, a Greek word meaning conclusion that also describes a method of argumentation developed by Aristotle. In other words, a logical fallacy is drawing illogical conclusions based on an incorrect correlation of facts.
The types of fallacies are copious; one is the Aristotelian “Fallacy of Accident,” which is used today to make the following deduction:
All Arabs are Muslim. Recent terrorism acts have been committed by Muslims. Therefore, all Arabs are terrorists.
From the other side of the spectrum, we have the following fallacy of logic, one we’re hearing more and more of. This conclusion can be attributed to the “Appeal to Fear.” It goes as follows:
The western world fears nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. We attacked Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime had WMD. Such weapons have not been discovered in Iraq, therefore, we should not assume that Iran is aiming to build nuclear weapons.
Though these two example in some ways reflect opposite viewpoints, the methodology is similar and, in both cases, similarly dangerous. This kind of simplistic – and incorrect – deduction does not allow the administration or military personnel the scope in which to analyze what’s happened and develop future strategy. This kind of reasoning does not allow for nuance, for detail, for in-depth knowledge.
One could argue that it is due to a deduction of this kind that we are in the quagmire of Iraq. We fought the First Gulf War, which took place in the Middle East. Weapons inspections followed. We are now fighting a war on terror against Islamic fundamentalists. Therefore, we must oust Saddam Hussein, who we believe is building an arsenal of deadly weapons. This is the “Post Hoc” fallacy, drawing a correlation between something that took place prior – the First Gulf War – and something that followed – the war on terror. Where was the insight into divisions within Iraq, sects within Islam? Where was the knowledge about WMD, about what ties these alleged WMD could potentially have to terrorist cells? Where, in fact, was the evidence linking Saddam to Islamic fundamentalism?
With the specter of Iran’s uranium enriching program looming, let’s hope that this time around, those in Washington are employing a more thorough analysis in forming their policies toward the Middle East.