Either Cast-or Oil?

Either/or: A common logical fallacy that squashes fruitful debate concerning the so-called “Global War on Terror.” Logicians sometimes refer to it as a “false disjunction” or the “either-or” fallacy in which the range of real options are oversimplified and reduced to two possible “logical,” but false, choices.

Since 9/11, we've been bombarded with so many either/or's and other absurdities it numbs the mind. We're talking flea-market variety. A fallacious bazaar.

We either fight the “terrorists” over there or we fight them over here -- on the “Homeland.” (That word is just downright creepy).

We either “cut and run” or “stay the course.” Either you're with us or against us.

Either intelligence through torture or no intelligence at all.

What all of these frequently-flung fallacies have in common is the goal of “winning.” But what does winning mean? The obvious way to win is the genocide “solution” -- either slowly through occupation and re-population or by way of WMD, i.e., turning the place into glass with nukes.

I haven't come across a better layman's primer on this whole amoral business than the one provided by war nerd Gary Brecher. Assuming the nuclear option isn't on the table, there's three known ways of beating a guerrilla insurgency: “targeted assassination, bribery and starting a civil war between insurgent factions. They've all been used successfully; they've all failed, too, and sometimes with real Frankenstein results.” “Simplest and safest is bribery. I don't know why we don't do it more often. Almost makes me believe the guys running things are secret war nerds themselves, because otherwise they'd do bribery as a way of bringing down 'rogue states' all the time. Just do the math. Right now…the official cost of Iraq is around $340 billion. Suppose we'd just bombed Iraq with dollars; we'd be the heroes of the world, and every family in Iraq would be -- are you ready for this? -- $70,000 richer. That would make Iraq one of the richest countries in the world.” The rest of what he says isn't appropriate for a family newspaper, but you get the idea.

As I see it, the amoral pragmatic problem with assassination is that the insurgency doesn't appear to have a hierarchical organization. That's why killing the “leaders” hasn't worked. Saddam is captured and it's Mission-Accomplished jig-dancing time in Saddam's old palaces. Insurgency grows. Saddam's sons are killed and their dead bodies are plastered across TV screens and newspapers. Insurgency spreads. Zarqawi. Same routine. Same results.

Apparently, Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has been reading Brecher. “I don't think there are any good options. There are no bonbons on the menu for Iraq. It's just which brand of castor oil you want to take,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some say if U.S. troops withdraw, Iraq would descend into chaos. For the sake of argument, let's pretend Iraq isn't already in chaos and I'll also put aside the arrogance of it all. (You think the Iraqis aren't smart enough to figure out how to fix their own country? They're smart enough to figure out how to lure the greatest military power in world history into a quagmire). Who's to say there would be a different outcome if we leave in five, 10, 20 years?

If you think fomenting a civil war is winning, then you and the president are right. We are “winning.” We just need to keep on “winning” until, well, after Bush is out of office.

Others say, if U.S. troops exit, Iran will fill the vacuum. Seems to me Iran already filled the vacuum -- the minute we removed the more secular Sunnis from power and installed a Shia-dominated government with ties to Iranian mullahs that transcend novel Western ideas about nation-states. Besides, as the popular vernacular has it, domino theories are so Vietnam War era.

OK, “realists,” which brand of castor oil do you want to take? Genocide? A guerrilla-multiplying assassination campaign? Bombing Baghdad with bucks? Or, the course we're on now -- managing a civil war?

Personally, I don't like any of these options. I'm more concerned with hearts and minds. Not that things can't get to an either/or point, as in either nonviolence or nonexistence?


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