Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Answer the Question

According to a Hartford newspaper, this is the kind of remark, made by Senator Joe Lieberman on a “Face the Nation” broadcast, that has “infuriated” a lot of his critics: “"If we leave precipitously - if we say we're going on X day, everybody's getting out - as bad as things are, they will get worse. There will be an all-out civil war in Iraq. Iran will surge in to control large parts of that country. There will be a wider regional war. And al-Qaida and similar radical Islamist terrorists will use Iraq as a safe haven from which to attack us and others."

Some of Lieberman’s hot-headed critics are easily infuriated. Now, the first thing we should notice about the infuriating remark is that it is predictive rather than descriptive. Lieberman is saying “If A happens, B, C, and D will follow.

There are only two ways to answer a prediction: You may wait until an event happens and then view the consequences to see if the prediction is true; or you may use your intelligence to reason your way to a probable prediction.

The wait-and-see method is infallible. But it is not a safe or advisable method if the consequences are severe, requiring preventative or compensatory action the part of those who will likely suffer the consequences.

If the meteorologist tells me there is a hurricane on its way, I may wait patiently in my bedroom slippers to see whether his prediction is accurate. But if the hurricane is of Katrina-like proportions, I had better take precautions. The possibility that the United States may be repeatedly attacked by invigorated terrorists is a hurricane of devastating proportions. One need only trace the consequences of 9/11 on the airline industry to realize this. The consequences of an invigorated radical Islam in the mid-East and Europe may be even more catastrophic.

Following Lieberman’s remarks on “Face the Nation,” the “Lamont campaign” issued the following statement: Lieberman "continued to demonstrate that he is a desperate, flailing, career politician who will say anything to cling to power." Separately, all these statement may be true. Lieberman may indeed be flailing and desperate, though a recent 10 point lead in polls is some surety against desperation. It is a truism to say that incumbents wish to “cling to power,” just as it is a truism to say that insurgent politicians wish to “seize power.” But this rhetorical caterwauling gets us nowhere fast, because these truisms do not answer the predictions.

Way back in June, Lieberman said, “"As others have said before me, the war in Iraq, to overthrow Saddam Hussein, may have been a war of choice; it is now a war of necessity. We must win it. Why? Because the consequences of an American retreat and defeat there would be terrible for the safety and security of the American people here at home whom we have a constitutional responsibility to protect."

Asked to respond to these statement by a reporter, Lamont said, “George Bush, Don Rumsfeld and Joe Lieberman were wrong to get us into the war, wrong in their day-to-day conduct of it and were wrong to take their eye off Osama bin Laden. They are still wrong today as they cling to a failed `stay the course' strategy. Why would we trust them with making any more decisions when they have been wrong every step of the way?"

These statements, considered separately, may be true -- or not. But, taken together, they do not answer the statement made by Lieberman that, however it began or was or prosecuted, the Iraq war is now a “war of necessity” that “must be won.”

Americans are an intensely practical people. In these circumstances, they want to know what happens “if.” What will happen in Arabia, Europe and the United States if the prosecution of the war in Iraq fails? Lieberman has answered that question. Lamont has not.

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