Kudlow The Strawman

Okay, for anyone who doesn’t remember English Lit 101, let’s take a quick journey to remember what a “strawman” is.  Commenters, take note.

A strawman argument is used when someone is arguing against something.  Instead of directly arguing the point, the person making their argument establishes a weaker point and then attacks that weaker point so as to create the illusion of winning the debate.  Dictionary.com defines this device as such:

2.  a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted

It’s called a strawman because, like a strawman (that one assumes isn’t sturdily attached to some strong wood), the fabricated argument is easy to knock down.

Providing a marvelous example for us would be one Larry Kudlow from the Corner:

What Is the Cost of Freedom?   [Larry Kudlow]


Surprise, surprise. Having failed to penetrate General Petraeus’s story about the great improvements on the ground in Iraq, liberals are now trying to make the case that the cost of the Iraq war may have somehow undermined the economy, and even caused the current slowdown. What complete and utter nonsense.

First point: The U.S. has spent roughly $750 billion for the five-year war. Sure, that’s a lot of money. But run the numbers and the total cost works out to a miniscule 1 percent of the $63 trillion GDP over that time period. It’s miniscule.

More important, the real question we ought to be asking ourselves is what is the cost of freedom? While the Left refuses to acknowledge it, the undeniable fact is that the United States homeland has not been attacked since September 11. Meanwhile, over in Iraq, al Qaeda and other extremist terrorist groups have been utterly routed by U.S. forces. It’s another fact the Left hates to acknowledge.

Oh, and let’s not forget the post hoc ergo propter hoc which we’ll deal with also.  Now Cactus at Angry Bear pretty handily deals with the economic stuff which I freely admit I’ve always been and will likely always be a little weak on.  The short of it seems to be that Kudlow is pulling numbers straight out of his ass.


But the strawman argument comes in at about the point where Kudlow starts talking about the economy in the first place.  Actually it’s before that where he claims that we on the left have failed to, “penetrate General Petraeus’s story about the great improvements on the ground in Iraq.”


How so?


I think I still have some valid points on Iraq that could use some addressing, you know, actual arguments and not weak old strawmen (note: As Angry Bear points out, Kudlow can’t even knock down his own strawmen.  Pretty pathetic really, especially for someone who gets paid to do this.  I’m an amateur, Larry, what’s your excuse?)


Case in point, if the surge is such a great success, how come political reconciliation (you know, the original goal of the Surge) still eludes us?  Or, how come the Iraqi military is still capable of getting slapped around by anti-American nationalist Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi army?  If the improvements are so grand, what’s with the 45 day waiting period on drawing down more troops, or leaving troops in excess of pre-surge levels (140,000) in Iraq?


Now before I get too far, into this, I wanted to express an opinion that our friend Mark reminded me of yesterday.  As much as it may seem like it, I do not pass judgement on General Petraeus.  The man’s a soldier thrust into a politician’s position.  His is not to say a thing can or cannot be done, his is simply to grind away at an order until it’s rescinded or accomplished.  I truly expect him to follow the orders of the Commander in Chief, and if asked, explain what must be done in order for him to continue following that order.


To that effect, improvements in Iraqi security are good, but largely irrelevant to the argument at hand, as are reductions in violence.  I am eternally grateful that fewer people have died over the preceding months.  But the fact that this all collapses if we pull our troops out now is indicative of a total lack of progress through no fault of the military.


They’ve done their job.  The fault lies with American politicians who foolishly think it is the job of the American military to act as the security guards for hand picked Iraqi politicians.


Now, we’ll move on to the next part of Kudlow’s argument which is not only a strawman, deflecting again away from the realities on the ground in favor of some metaphysical freedom loving pap, but also the “we haven’t been hit since 9/11” routine also qualifies as fallacious post hoc ergo propter hoc argument.


Post hoc ergo propter hoc translates (roughly) as “It’s followed by a thing, therefore it is caused by that thing.”  It’s a particularly devious argument because it looks so similar to the logically valid “if/then” type argument.  Sort of like how coral snakes and scarlet king snakes look alike, but only the former is actually poisonous.


Here, the idea that we’ve not suffered a major 9/11 attack on our soil is a direct result of Bush’s anti-terrorism policies is laughable because we can say something similar about the time before it.  Not since Pearl Harbor have we suffered such a catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil from a foreign enemy.  Does that mean that all the presidents between now and then were also brilliant anti-terrorism minds?  Does that mean that Jimmy Carter was an anti-terrorism GOD?


Absolutely not.  It means that we haven’t suffered major terrorism attacks on our soil outside of September 11th, 2001.  Bush’s anti-terrorism policies might have something to do with it, but one should also take into account that under Bush, the global threat of terrorism has only increased.  But in general, the attacks on September 11th mean that on that day all the right safeguards failed, while the bad guys succeeded where they needed to; no more, no less.


The other particularly fallacious aspect of this argument is that it implies that no other approach would be better.  Personally, I think reducing the threat of terrorism globally and not just on our soil might be a great way to go about it.  Not handing terrorists a soapbox and a recruiting poster by invading Middle East countries and making it easy for us to be characterized as great Western devils might be another good idea.  Also, perhaps putting a little time, effort, and money (the geopolitical version of tender loving care) into communities across the globe to prevent them from becoming ripe terrorist recruiting grounds might also be an effective way of combatting terrorism.


These are just a few of many suggestions.


Under this president, however, we’ll never know.  The flaw with this part of Kudlow’s argument is that there is no tested counter arguments.  Yes, we’ve prevented thus far another 9/11, but this at the cost of more lives than were taken on that terrible day.


I would go on, but to do so would be to knock down more of Kudlow’s own strawmen, point out more fallacious argumentative devices, and then discuss the actual arguments at hand, but really, I got better things to do with my time.


More on Petraeus testimony at memeorandum: The Reaction, American Power, The Moderate Voice, FITSNews For Now, FP Passport, QandO, Outside The Beltway, The Lede, Crooks and Liars, American Street, The Caucus and Truthdig

4 Responses to “Kudlow The Strawman”

  1. Excellent points.

    And Mr. Kudlow conveniently forgets the anthrax attacks that came right after September 11, 2001, and killed several people? Wouldn’t you call those terrorist attacks? What about the snipers in Virginia? What about the shootings at Virgina Tech? Weren’t those “terrorist attacks?” Oh, but those were from people inside the country, not foreigners. But Mr. Kudlow doesn’t differentiate; “While the Left refuses to acknowledge it, the undeniable fact is that the United States homeland has not been attacked since September 11.”

    The reason we don’t acknowledge it is because it’s not true.

  2. Very very good points, Bobby. Damn, I forgot about the Anthrax scare, good catch.

  3. Mark says:

    If Kudlow thinks he’s such a great free market economist, he would have done well to read this WaPo commentary by a far, far greater free market economist. (Hint: it’s not Paul Krugman).

    That commentary gives a much better picture of how devastating the Iraq War has been economically. And it’s not even written by a leftist!

  4. heheheehe…


    Unfortunately there’s little solace in knowing he’s a mo-ron.

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