Fallacies and War: Misleading a Nervous America to the Wrong Conclusion

Originally published by CommonDreams.org on Friday, February 28, 2003

I love America. I feel extremely lucky to have been born in this country into a middle-class family. I get very angry when my America gets abused and my way of life challenged by the actions of the politicians running the government. For this week's column, I'm turning serious to discuss some of the empty arguments given by the current administration as a pretext for war.

When facts are not available or convenient, there are many tricks one can use to present an argument. Here are a few examples of tactics the current administration is using to convince you and the world that invading Iraq is necessary.

One of the favorite methods of the current administration is a false dilemma. This is when only two choices are given when, in reality, there are more options. Right after 9/11 you heard, "You are either with us or against us," in the fight against terrorism. Actually, countries can be both against terrorism and not an ally of the U.S. More recently, many countries are showing that they are both against a pre-emptive war and against the current Iraqi regime.

We are also hearing we must attack Iraq or Saddam will develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and threaten the world if we do nothing. Other options of monitoring with inspectors and containment are just flatly discounted. Are we to believe that Saddam could develop nuclear weapons while the world has him under a microscope?

Just recently, the President suggested the U.N. should vote for war or face irrelevance. The U.N. will not disappear just because most of its member countries disagree with George W. Bush. If debate and disagreement spelled the end of deliberative bodies, the U.S. Congress would have vanished long ago.

Another arguing device is the argument from ignorance. This involves claiming that what hasn't been disproven must be true. We hear Iraq hasn't shown that they do not have WMD, therefore they do. The real burden of proof is on the party making the claim. The U.S. and/or U.N. must prove that Iraq has WMD. It is impossible for Iraq to prove that they don't.

An argument portraying a series of increasingly bad events is called a slippery slope. This is used effectively by gun-control opponents who suggest handgun registration will eventually lead to government confiscation of all guns. On Iraq, we hear how Saddam will develop WMDs and give them to terrorists who will then use them on America. While this is one possible chain of events, it hardly justifies a pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation.

The response to this has been that the proof or smoking gun can't be in the form of a mushroom cloud over an American city. This is more slippery slope with a false dilemma and a whole lot of fear-mongering. There are effective ways to find proof of WMD and destroy them before it comes to such a dramatic conclusion.

Criticizing a person or group instead of an issue is called an ad hominem attack. The current talk about France by many Americans is a perfect example. It is not only childish, it distracts from the real issues. France is not obligated to go along with every American idea because we saved them from Nazi Germany 60 years ago.

President Bush also often calls Saddam Hussein a murderous, evil man who can't be trusted. While true, this name-calling does not prove that Saddam has any ability to threaten the world.

Another common device we are seeing is a fallacy of exclusion. Colin Powell and President Bush have both talked about aluminum tubes being used for uranium enrichment for use in nuclear weapons. They always fail to mention that according to U.N. nuclear inspectors the tubes were actually conventional rocket artillery casings. They also mention Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980's. They again leave out that we supported Iraq at that time in their war against Iran, and basically ignored the use of WMDs at that time.

Colin Powell also claimed the most recent audio tape from Osama bin Laden showed a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. They have been suggesting this since 9/11, but still haven't provided any real evidence. Osama said that he stands with the Iraqi people while referring to Hussein as an "infidel." Also, as most people know, the majority of the perpetrators of 9/11 were from our "ally" Saudi Arabia.

Arguing a claim is true based on someone being an expert on the subject is known as an appeal to authority. In our case, the experts are defectors from Iraq. Powell claimed defectors reported there were 18 mobile biological weapons labs cruising around Iraq. First, these defector's stories are suspect due to their obvious dislike of Iraq. I'm sure they would be happy to tell the U.S. what they wanted to hear if it hastened the destruction of the Iraqi regime and they could return to their homeland. More to the point, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said his men had examined some of the trucks and found them to be food-testing labs.

So, with out any real evidence, what's left? Saddam is bad?

Is that all? I realize war has become relatively easy for the US, especially when we are facing such a remarkably weak adversary and few American lives are at risk. But why war, and why now when there are still peaceful means for disarming Saddam Hussein?

Why is the Bush Administration using these deceptive techniques to rush us into a war with Iraq?

Is there any solid evidence that Iraq still processes weapons of mass destruction and has ties with terrorist groups? A few audio tapes and fuzzy satellite photos are not proof. All we hear is the same anecdotal evidence repeated over and over again.

President Bush has said that if Saddam and his generals "take innocent life, if they destroy infrastructure, they will be held accountable as war criminals." Isn't the United States about to take innocent life and destroy infrastructure?

There was immense goodwill for America after 9/11, with even a French newspaper proclaiming "We are all Americans!" Now America is viewed with suspicion, fear and anger. When millions of the world's citizens protest American aggression, why does our president just shrug?

Despite what you have been told by this administration, the ends do not justify the means. While the goals of disarming Saddam and helping Iraq become free and democratic are certainly good, war is not the right way to make that happen.

There is no imminent threat and no need to throw away international law and diplomacy. We should not risk the lives of our troops and kill thousands and thousands of Iraqi men, women and children because of one man.

Sometimes war is a horrible necessity.

This is not one of those times.

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