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Statements Justifying the Bad Guys:

Throughout these posts, I've criticized both those who expressly support the Iraqi insurgency, and those who justify their actions. My original post quoted an OpinionJournal piece that did this: The piece gave examples of people justifying the insurgents, and then spoke broadly of "Westerners who side with the 'Iraqi resistance' against America and its allies." I understood "side with" as referring both to express support and to the justification of the insurgents. But just to be explicit, in the update and in later posts I made clear that I was speaking of both categories.

Why do I treat the two similarly? Well, imagine that we were talking not about the Iraqi insurgents, but about anti-abortion terrorists, or violent Klansmen or neo-nazis, or other murderers. And say someone said things like:

Well, you've got to understand the situation: The Southern resistance fighters see outsiders trying to control how they live, trying to destroy cultural institutions that have existed for decades, and taking the side of one ethnic group against another. It makes sense that they lashed out against those three Northerners who came down to impose their Northern views on Southern whites.

Imagine that instead of unborn babies, the law allowed the killing of Jews or the disabled or the poor. Wouldn't many of us join the resistance, and be willing to kill those who are doing the killing, and to save innocent lives? We've always depended on resistances to get rid of oppressors.

It is simple. If someone in the building right in front of you kills an unborn baby without any reason but that it's convenient to do so, what you will do? You retaliate. It's what I'd do. It's probably what you'd do too.

Sure, as to each of the statements one could come up with some interpretation that suggests the speaker doesn't really support the killing. Maybe they're just impartial observers of human nature, offering useful psychological insights.

Or maybe not. It seems to me that in such situations, we can quite reasonably infer that the person really is in substantial measure on the side of the bad guys — maybe not completely (people's views are often ambivalent), but to a considerable extent.

Of course one shouldn't draw such an inference lightly: As I mentioned in my previous post, one certainly shouldn't infer sympathy with the killers simply from a criticism of the other's policies. "Abortion is murder" isn't the same as "Anti-abortion terrorism is justified." "The war in Iraq is wrong" isn't the same as "the insurgents' killings are justified." But when a statement goes much further, for instance analogizing the killers to respected people (e.g., the French resistance, the Minutemen), or suggesting that we'd do the same (and rightly so) in a situation that the speaker is suggesting is morally equivalent or at least quite similar, then it seems to me perfectly legitimate to lump such justifications together with outright support.

Still more to come shortly.

Eric (mail) (www):
Let's be specific, Eugene.

If I were to say that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq looks to some in the Arab world as the most recent episode in a thousand-year-old series of non-Muslim efforts to assert control over Muslim lands--much, incidentally, as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did--would that make me a "bad guy?"
8.15.2005 3:07pm
B. B. (mail):
I think a distinction needs to be made between 'justifying' the actions and offering some explanations for the actions. Understanding is hardly saying that what the insurgents do is A-OK. I think it's very important for any chance of success to have reasonable explanations as to why the insurgents are doing what they do (and not the ridiculous and vague "they hate freedom" garbage that seems to be the stock answer of many). Liken it to a good lawyer's job -- to win your argument in court, you have to understand the reasoning of the other side and be able to deal with it appropriately. Likewise, we need to understand what exactly is going on with those who continue their attacks. To discuss such things hardly is "justification" of their actions, it's the only smart thing to do if we expect to have even a chance at success. In other words, know your enemy.

And I'm betting that the insurgents think of themselves a lot like the Minutemen, misguided though their thoughts may be seeing as most Iraqis aren't too ticked that Saddam is gone and would probably just assume the insurgents cut it out so Iraq can get itself back up and running and get rid of the US troops by making it unnecessary for them to be there.
8.15.2005 3:19pm
Dread Justice Roberts:
>>It seems to me that in such situations, we can quite reasonably infer that the person really is in substantial measure on the side of the bad guys -- maybe not completely (people's views are often ambivalently), but to a considerable extent.

So, for instance, we can quite reasonably infer that President Bush and Major General Joseph Taluto are to a considerable extent on the side of the bad guys?

"[T]hey're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either." G. W. Bush

A senior US military chief has admitted "good, honest" Iraqis are fighting American forces. Major General Joseph Taluto said he could understand why some ordinary people would take up arms against the US military because "they're offended by our presence".

Link
8.15.2005 3:19pm
ecwingen:
The argument here is just wrong on its face. The discussion of abortion clinic bombers' motivations is one I've used, almost exactly as written above, in my political science classes. Why? Because I think it important that studnts learn to understand the motives of political actors, no matter how insane or unreasonable those motives might seem to me. Do I support bombing abortion clinics? Of course not. Do I understand how those who believe abortion is murder justify doing it? Absolutely. Do I support killing American soldiers? Of course not. DO I understand why many normal Iraqi's might want to do so? Of course I do.

In the case of Iraq, I think it obtuse for us to pretend the insurgents don't have excellent justifications for their own actions, and incredibly stupid not to try and empathize with those justifications. How else are we to defeat them, or even recognize the strategic implications of their motives so we can determine counter-strategies? The alternative is the utter lack of discernment that led some in the current administration to think that the Iraqi's would welcome us with flowers and praise for invading their country. Some did, just as some in Iran or Syria or North Korea might. But a moment of thoughtful empathy might help us understand that most people are rather unreflective nationalists when it comes to invasions of their county, and are likely to fight back, even if the invaders are objectively acting in the interest of the citizens of the country being invaded!

The comments in this post, it seems to me, get at a much deeper problem. Volokh appears unable to distinguish understanding from supporting, at least when addressing issues about which he has already decided. I understand that impulse (I find it repellent when I inhabit and explicate the motives of positions I abhor), but I also think it utterly inappropriate to democratic citizenship, and certainly an obstruction to effective teaching.
8.15.2005 3:21pm
Dread Justice Roberts:
But when a statement goes much further, for instance analogizing the killers to respected people (e.g., the French resistance, the Minutemen), or suggesting that we'd do the same (and rightly so) in a situation that the speaker is suggesting is morally equivalent or at least quite similar, then it seems to me perfectly legitimate to lump such justifications together with outright support.

Again, G.W. Bush, at least, fits the above.
8.15.2005 3:22pm
spencere (mail):
Let me try an analogy.

As an investor if I look at the economic evidence and conclude the stock market is going to go down it does
not mean that I want it to happen or that I believe the stock market is a bad thing.

As an American I looked at what Bush &Co. were planning on doing in Iraq and reached an objective conclusion that he would fail and that we would end up in a protracted guerilla that would massive damage US foreign policy and leave the US worse off.

So I opposed the war. I said the US is making a major mistake and will suffer for it.

Does this make me a bad American or unpatriotic?

I would argue that the people that made the poor decision to rush into a war unprepared and the people that give this decision unquestioned support are the real true
enemies of the US.
8.15.2005 3:45pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Spencere.

You miss a point. If your conclusion about the stock market's decline is both widely communicated and believed, it will add negative pressure to the prices. Other factors may intervene, but the result of your conclusion and communication will be negative despite your motivations.
The same goes for Iraq. Your conclusion may be as objective and disinterested as it is possible for a conclusion to be, yet it adds to the terrorists' idea that if they hang in there, kill enough Americans, they can win.
The only way your point can be valid is if, having come to your conclusion, you keep your mouth shut.
Spare me the First Amendment crap--he said pre-emptively--I am not talking about your rights but about the effects.
8.15.2005 4:03pm
ecwingen:
Aubrey, I don't know what theory of markets you espouse, but for most mainstream economists and free market advocates, what you've said is not just an error, but actively dangerous. You say:

If your conclusion about the stock market's decline is both widely communicated and believed, it will add negative pressure to the prices.

and conclude that he should shut up. But markets only work well if they aggregrate information well; in fact, a central justification for markets is that they better embody the wisdom of disparate individual than any one person can. The mechanism requires good information. If people who recognize weaknesses in the current market don't share that information, the market can't correct for the problem, and eventually we are all worse off. Only someonw who doesn't believe in free markets would advocate silence as you do.

The same goes for politics. If all of us who see flaws in the administrtions policies and motives just shut up, there isn't any way for correction to occur in the political marketplace.
8.15.2005 4:16pm
Justin (mail):
"Critics of the war should certainly not let themselves be browbeaten by false imputations that they support the other side." - Volokh (today)

that's good reason to think that at least some voters -- quite likely not even a majority in their district, but a substantial matter -- endorse their views. Likewise, while I'm hesitant to infer much from comments by random posters on various Internet fora, the presence of those comments, coupled with the views expressed by more prominent people, suggests that there is a considerable number of people who take this position. - Volokh (today)

Grade: F
8.15.2005 4:18pm
alkali (mail):
Well, imagine that we were talking not about the Iraqi insurgents, but about anti-abortion terrorists, or violent Klansmen or neo-nazis, or other murderers.

The legitimacy of this argumentative move seems to be at the heart of the disagreement.

"[A]nti-abortion terrorists, or violent Klansmen or neo-nazis" operate on the fringes of society. They are delusional and cultish. There's no real prospect that they will take over our society, but they can do a lot of damage. Because they are delusional, we couldn't negotiate with them even if we wanted to; all we can do is oppose them until they disperse.

The French Resistance and the Minutemen were underground organizations in which the majority of the populace did not participate, but they did not operate on the fringes of society. Nor did the populace at large consider them to be delusional. Their goal was to take control of their respective societies, and they had a reasonable chance of succeeding.

If you think the Iraqi insurgents are like neo-Nazis, that suggests one strategy for proceeding in Iraq. If you think they are like the French Resistance, that suggests another strategy. Ruling the latter comparison out of bounds a priori forecloses that argument.
8.15.2005 4:41pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ecwingen. Didn't I say to forget the First Amendment crap?

I didn't say you should keep your mouth shut, although it probably seems useful to you to pretend I did. Herewith a lesson in motivation imputation: Did he read it too fast so that he didn't understand it and thinks I said people should shut up? Or is he smart enough to know better and thought it would help his argument to misrepresent what I said?
I go for number 2, on account of he doesn't seem careless.
See how it works?

What I said was that the earlier poster's motivation cannot be without effect unless he keeps his mouth shut about his conclusions. If he speaks, he has an effect. The effect is independent of his motivation, whatever it may be. However, we can look at the likely effect and see if it squares with the claimed motivation. Fits? Doesn't fit? If it doesn't fit, what does that mean?
8.15.2005 5:05pm
ecwingen:
Aubrey,

I don't think I'm misrepresenting what you said, but I am disagreeing with your account of the implications of your argument. Reaching a different conclusion from the same initial premise does not imply misreading; rather, that's the core of rational argument. And I disagreed on pragmatic grounds, not "first amendment crap" (though I happen to think it isn't crap but the thing that makes democracy superior to other forms of government -- still, irrelevant to my point).

Clearly speech acts have effects. You claim that the effect of speaking one's legitimately reasoned conclusions about the motivations of our enemies in Iraq will ultimately help them and hurt us. I say that you are wrong. Failing to accurately understand and thus accurately counter our enemies will harm both our soldiers and our long term goals. So I say, speak up, and hope someone with the ability to help us plan our strategy more effectively hears you. And I say that as someone who vocally supported the war and who has a brother fighting it, not some sort of pacifist.

You can disagree, as I suspect you do. But please don't imply I'm not reading you accurately.
8.15.2005 5:23pm
Jimbeaux (mail):
ecwingen,
But we do run the risk that our efforts to understand their justifications will simply look like "projection." I say this because the "insurgents" or "minutemen" or "patriots" or whatever you wanna call them don't seem to have any political agenda beyond killing civilians and constructing a worldwide caliphate. Or at least they haven't been particularly successful at PR. I mean, I've heard vague references to "crusaders" and whatnot, but do we really know what these people want? At least the abortion-bombers (and Charles Manson, for that matter) had a clear objective.
8.15.2005 5:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ecwingen

If you have a hot idea that will help us, send Rummy an e-mail.
If you have a pessimistic view of things and spread them around...the effect is different.
It is impossible to say that publicly-stated views of pessimism don't encourage the terrorists. I don't say they "help" the terrorists, since it would be better for all of us, including them, if they quit now. So encouraging them to hang on isn't necessarily "helping" them.
The point is that, since the end of WW II, the only important terrain in a war involving the US is the six inches between the ears of the American voter. Our enemies work hard at assessing the status of that terrain, of the effects of their efforts. If they think they are on the right path, they will be encouraged to persevere.
This isn't new to you and the advice, which is that if you want to have a conclusion, keep it to yourself or it will have an effect (which you may or may not like, and may or may not admit seeking).
You have a right to have an effect, but not a right to be considered innocent if the effect seems determined to be in opposition to our aims.
And your motivation doesn't matter a hoot.
But, then, we're not talking exclusively about your motivation.
We're talking about people who are considerably more obnoxious than offering good advice.
8.15.2005 5:40pm
DL (mail):
I tend not to think that people writing this sort of explanation of a faction's viewpoint agree with that faction, merely because I tend to compose such viewpoint-explanations all the time about every person and faction I encounter, sort of a running monologue of "here's how they see themselves."

This doesn't mean I agree with absolutely everyone - it just means I like to try to understand how they are motivated.

I suspect I would write something very similar about the Iraqi, were I to attempt it, and something just as sympathetic about the forces arrayed to oust Saddam Hussein. Not only that, but also about the folks who tried to stop the battle before it started, and about the Iraqis who welcomed the US&allies as their liberators. It still doesn't tell you which side I agree with.
8.15.2005 5:40pm
ecwingen:
Jimbeaux,

Why do you think they have no political agenda? It's fairly clear that those fighting the coalition in Iraq have multiple agendas. Some want to restablish a Sunni government, others to create a Shia dominated Islamic Republic, others to engage the U.S. in battle, some for martyrdom, and some out of a sense that their territory has been occupied. If anything, it's a surfeit of motives, which is part of the problem we are having defeating them.

So, assuming the insurgents are not spending much time reading internet posts and would be fighting us no matter what morons like Mike Moore have to say, isn't it important for us to figure out why they are fighting? It is especially dangerous to just throw up our hands and say they're inscrutable; failure to understand the enemy always leads to defeat. If we can't "really know what these people want," then we will have that much more trouble winning.
8.15.2005 5:41pm
ecwingen:
So you and I agree, Aubrey. Opinions have effects and people should be held accountable for them. But that doesn't mean people who support the war as currently conducted are exempt from such responsibility. If the current strategy is mistaken and will, in the long run, harm American interests, then supporting that strategy is wrong, and the person doing so is undermining American interests.

The point, simply, is that you are trying to reach a conclusion (people who doubt the current strategy should shut up or they cannot "be considered innocent if the effect seems determined to be in opposition to our aims") that cannot be attained from your premise, unless you add the further premise that the way the war is being fought right now is the best way to fight it. If it isn't (and there is substantial disagreement about this even among moderate Republicans like myself) then shutting up doesn't follow. In fact, you have an obligation to voice such concern, and if you don't, you are acting "in opposition to our aims."

The same goes for people whose motives are perhaps objectively anti-American, since, as you say, motivation doesn't matter. If they are telling us something useful that will help us understand the enemy and defeat them, I want to hear it.
8.15.2005 5:52pm
Justin (mail):
So Aubrey, what you are saying is that

1) The only proper American thing to do once a war is started is to support it and the President

which follows:
2) A President who starts a war will be fully supported

which follows:
3) If you want to be re-elected, just start a war

and

4) If any aggressive country (see any war where there's a bad guy) follows your advice, there will be no way democracy can be used to stop any war.

and that leads to

5) The end of the concept that democracies are peaceful with each other or anyone else for that matter.

Yay, warmongering.
8.15.2005 10:48pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Justin. That depends on whether you want to win the war.

I am not saying what anybody "should" do. It appears, however, that pointing out inevitable results makes people uncomfortable, so they play this nonsense game that you played.

You should do what you think you should do. You should not think people are forbidden from pointing out what looks like an inevitable result, and even from speculating whether, despite your protestations, the inevitable result is what you really want.
8.15.2005 10:51pm
Noah Snyder (mail):
You wrote: "suggesting that we'd do the same (and rightly so) in a situation that the speaker is suggesting is morally equivalent or at least quite similar, then it seems to me perfectly legitimate to lump such justifications together with outright support."

For the record as one person who raised such a point, just because I think many Americans are irrationally nationalistic and would rebel against even a reasonable occupying force, does not mean that I think that such a position is correct or good. Furthermore, I purposely chose the south's resistance of reconstruction because the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings *are* as morally bankrupt as extreme Islamic terrorism.
8.16.2005 3:29am