When I agree with someone on a political issue and I see him getting a bit carried away with his rhetoric, it’s easy to overlook. But when I disagree with someone on an issue, especially when we have essentially opposite opinions on a heated emotional issue, excesses of rhetoric really rub me the wrong way. After a while of dealing with it, poor argumentation starts to grate. Rational adults should be able to discuss an issue reasonably and dispassionately without resorting to illogic and ad hominem.
I consider myself very conservative, therefore I generally agree with my fellow conservatives. When I disagree with them it is often over degree, not direction. However, I have long been a noninterventionist conservative on foreign policy, and thus I frequently find myself at odds with my fellow conservatives when it comes to geopolitics. For the record, I don’t concede that there is anything conservative about interventionism, but that is for a different essay.
This has definitely been the case of late with the rise of ISIS, the negotiations with Iran, and the Netanyahu visit. For now, I’ll confine my observations to Iran, about which I have recently found myself engaged in several heated exchanges in various venues with people I likely generally agree with on most issues.
It is one thing to have a difference of opinion on a matter. It is also possible for people to disagree about the facts related to an issue, or to have a different take on facts that are agreed upon. It is another thing, however, to engage in bad argumentation. An argument is wrong when it gets the facts wrong, is inaccurate, or incorrect. An argument that employs bad argumentation is a bad argument, regardless of all else.
So, for example, I believe the U.S. should be neutral on the question of Irish unification. It’s not our problem. It’s not our concern. That does not, however, mean that I must hate Irish Catholics or that I am a shill for the Brits. As a Protestant I have certain sympathies, but I don’t think my sympathies should translate into official U.S. policy. But outside of certain circles, my advocacy of neutrality on the matter of Irish unification would not provoke those sorts of inflammatory charges. That the US should be neutral on a matter that is between two other countries likely strikes most people as common sense.
Take, however, the very analogous situation of Israel and the Palestinians and the broader relation of Israel to her Middle East neighbors. There my fellow noninterventionists and I also recommend the common sense position of US neutrality and disengagement, but the mere suggestion of this in the ongoing debate over Iran is very likely to brings immediate charges that the advocate of neutrality must hate Israel, love “Muzzies”, and is probably an “anti-Semite”. This is flawed logic. The conclusion is unwarranted because the premise is flawed. Of course someone recommending neutrality could in fact hate Israel, love Muslims, and be an anti-Semite, but these conclusions are not necessarily true and cannot be drawn simply from the advocacy of a particular policy position.
Daily I see on Facebook, or in my inbox, or in headlines at supposedly conservative websites that Obama must be a closeted Muslim who hates Israel and the U.S. and wants to see both destroyed because he is trying to reach a deal with Iran. I am no apologist for Obama who has been way too interventionist for my taste, and I don’t concede the legitimacy of the negotiations to begin with. I’m not sure how one sovereign nation with nuclear weapons and nuclear energy gets to tell another sovereign nation that they can’t have either, nor do I have any desire for the U.S. to play the role of global gun controller. That said, it is conceivable that Obama really thinks a deal with Iran is in the best interests of the U.S., as do most respondents to opinion surveys, and that he isn’t really a secret Muslim who hates Israel. These absurdly over-the-top declarations are unworthy of rational adults and mark the people who repeat them as intellectually unserious. I sure hope my fellow conservatives aren’t equally as irrational when they argue for tax and spending cuts, on which we agree.
No self-respecting conservative would tolerate without objection the charge from politically correct liberals that advocating the abolition of affirmative action and quotas means one hates minorities and must be a racist. Nor would they tolerate without objection the similar charge from like quarters that disputing the often repeated statistics with regard to sexual assaults on campus must mean one supports “rape culture”. But in both cases the liberal is making the same logically flawed argument that interventionists make when they definitively ascribe a certain mindset to a political or cultural opinion. If they can’t see this, they are either dense or aren’t thinking about it hard enough.
The hysteria related to the call for U.S. neutrality in the Middle East vs. the lack of hysteria related to the call for neutrality on Irish reunification (outside certain small circles) is clearly a reflection of the emotional investment of said hysterics in maintaining our current posture that is anything but neutral, rational, objective analysis of the issue. Interventionists should cite facts, challenge assertions, and dispute opinions. This is what debate is. But please spare me the flawed logic and ad hominem that so characterizes the debate today. It does not reflect well on your side.