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Either Or

May 18th, 2008

From Andrew Sullivan’s “Dissent of the Day,” an excellent example of the “Either/Or” Fallacy:

I believe – and have for some time – that the struggle we face is as much between those of us who believe that there is evil in the world and it cannot – will not – go away with appeasement and those who believe that if we can just find the right words that those who hate us will all of a sudden change their ways OR of we just leave them alone “they” will leave us alone.

See? To this person, you have two choices: expect hostile nations to be implacable enemies, or expect them to be inconsequential. Diplomacy is not about changing a bitter foe into a nice guy, it’s about working things out enough so that things get better instead of worse. It might be a way of making a deal, where both parties compromise so that neither is satisfied, but both are satisfied enough so that war can be averted. Sometimes it’s about showing people on both sides the views, needs, fears, and necessities of the other, and finding a way to make them mesh in a peaceful manner. Or sometimes, diplomacy is, as Wynn Catlin said, “the art of saying ‘nice doggie!’ until you can find a rock.”

The writer’s words line up nicely with the Bush philosophy–“If you’re not with us, then you’re against us.” The enemy will never behave, so don’t even try–they must be defeated, anything else is coddling. No middle ground. No compromise. In other words, no diplomacy. That’s why they reach for Hitler, and not Gorbachev, as their example–Hitler fits their bill perfectly. And that explains so many of this administration’s abject failures. Not just abroad, but at home as well–there is no room for compromise with Republicans, or at least so little that it makes almost no difference.

It also, however, describes the foreign policy mindset of the right wing. It’s why they hate the United Nations, and instead want something like McCain’s “League of Democracies,” which is shorthand for “a bunch of countries that will do whatever we want them to do and give use more credibility.” In other words, another “Coalition of the Willing.” The United Nations is hated by conservatives because it does not always do the bidding of the United States. It’s why right-wingers demand that any multi-national force where American soldiers are serving must be led by American officers–the idea of American soldiers under foreign command is appalling to them, but they think it natural that soldiers of other countries would serve happily under our command.

It is the quintessential Ugly American, the xenophobe venturing abroad. We are the sole arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. Do what we say or else. We will not respect you, but you had better respect us; we are the natural leaders of the world. It is nationalism, it is arrogance, it is ego and a lack of compassion.

Time for a change.

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  1. Tim Kane
    May 19th, 2008 at 01:05 | #1

    I don’t have a problem with a league of democracies. But that shouldn’t do away with the United Nations. Maybe there could be a separate caucus in the UN for Democracies to form. Actually, I think there should be ‘mini-assemblies’ for all kinds of particular discussions. But that’s more a reflection of pro-negotiation, us versus them.

    The commenter reflects the simplistic American attitude of Good v Evil – which the descendant from the old republican Isolationist view. They both reflect a basic ignorance of sophisticated topics, and try to boil them down to simplistic things.

    When I taught middle school in Korea I made sure that my students watched the movie Wizard of Oz, and asked them to keep in mind what this movie says about how Americans think. Good versus Evil, the world inside of Kansas (a metaphor for the whole country) is black and white, simple, understandable, and one should not easily leave ones own back yard. The world out side Kansas, is colorful, at times beautiful and filled with mystery and even the good characters have character flaws. Dorothy enters this world with naivety and simplistic moral character intrinsic to Kansas, and though unsophisticate and naive, with the help of some allies, manages to slay two evil Witches and tame a wayword Wizard and ridding the allies of their character flaws along the way.

    That movie is how America views the world. Especially in the 20th century when we left Kansas, and killed two witches (Nazi’s and Nationalist in Germany and Japan) and tamed Russia (for a while) and managed to solve the character flaws of our Allies, such as Britain and France. The movie, in 1939 some how managed to anticipate all that – which I believe is why it has had such power and hold over Americans, and other’s even. (It also seems to have the same basic plot line as Lord of the Rings – complete with moving trees and witches and wizards, at 1/6th the time commitment).

    Anyway the comment from Sullivan’s web site reflects the view that outside of Kansas there’s good and evil and the witches need to be slain, except when a Dems in office then we need to stay in Kansas and not engage in nation building, the Dems not being trust worthy because they don’t recognize evil etc…

  2. ykw
    May 19th, 2008 at 02:33 | #2

    Let’s look at Iran for a moment. The US Gov’t says that we want them to stop enriching uranium, and until them, we are going to fuss at them and not give them anything. That’s our policy. Enriching uranium is the sticking point. Some say we will not talk to them. My view is that we do talk, yet our talk has hit a stalemate. Also, we are now in a phase where we put pressure on them by saying, “they are evil”, and “we need to stand up to them”. This is all about that sticking point.

  3. Tim Kane
    May 19th, 2008 at 10:48 | #3


    We created the imperative for them to go nuclear. How? First Bush says Iran, Iraq and North Korea are an axis of Evil, even though Iran and Iraq were mortal enemies at the time. Then we invade one of those axis of evil, Iraq. Now if you are Iran or Iraq, or any other country for that matter, that doesn’t want to become a pawn of U.S. fire power, if you want to maintain your independence how do you do it?

    Keep in mind the U.S. military budget is greater than the rest of the world’s combined. A nation like Iraq has the GNP of, say Indiana. There is only one choice, and that’s to pursue nuclear weapons. If you have Nukes, the U.S. has to respect you.

    These people don’t want to be bullied around. We got a president who likes to bully. So they’re going nuclear.

    That’s what happens when you don’t negotiate. You paint people into a corner, and then they react the only way they can.

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