As a child, I lived on a subsistence farm that counted two horses among its livestock. The gelding was a sweet animal and when he saw me would cry out for apples, his favorite treat. I spoiled him often. The mare, on the other hand, had a much different temperament. She was as stupid as the day is long and fiercely stubborn. When we saddled her, she’d hold her breath. This was because when she exhaled the rigging would loosen and slide around, making her unsafe to ride. She refused to cross water, no matter how little or still, and if you tried to force the issue she would dig in her hooves, lock her joints, and stare at you defiantly. The old bitch even seized an opportunity to buck an inexperienced rider once.
Looking back, the weird thing about my relationship with that stubborn old mare is that I insisted on having one at all. After all, I didn’t need her to do my chores and there was a much nicer horse to interact. A meaner man would have beaten the mare until he broke her spirit and been done with it. A wiser man would have ignored her. A clever man would have figured out how to exploit her obstinacy to get what he needed from her. I am not mean, clever nor wise. I am an idealist, so I thought I could change her behavior with the right set of incentives and persuasion. And I hadn’t thought about her for several years until the other day.
For the past week I have been going back and forth with an Iraq war cheerleader, one of those sad dead-enders who hold tightly to a handful of false premises that lead inexorably to false conclusions. It’s been quite the engagement, and the fact that I continue posting here about it shows how (embarrassingly) worked up I am. I’m sorry to bore any readers of this web space with multiple posts about this. There are few enough of you as it is, and as slipshod as my content has been lately, you may just disappear entirely. But I have to blow off steam; such transparent idiocy always angers me.
It is a mistake to think that I am going to change anyone’s mind, especially about something they are emotional about. I keep putting together facts to knock down his assumptions, but that doesn’t work because he is not arguing about the facts, he is arguing about his emotional commitments. People are far more loyal to emotions than empirical information; and he is emotionally invested in the idea of a Dear Leader figure whose words are to be taken at face value - Q.E.D.
The discussion is whether or not Dubya is truly the Johnny Appleseed of Democracy. I maintained that Bush’s professed love and promotion of democracy is a cynical manipulation of public opinion to curry favor for an otherwise morally dubious agenda. He mouths platitudes in public and beats his children in private. I marshaled evidence around these key points to support this, and asked my inquisitor to refute these or come up with an interpretation of the man’s deeds that squares with his words. Here are my key points, (for the masochists, the full thread is here)
• Bush has warmly embraced/supported many dictators around the world
• Bush has supported the attempted coup of a democratically elected ruler
• Bush opposed elections in Iraq until compelled to allow them by popular Shiite led protest in 2004
• Bush has effectively decreed that Iraqis do not determine when or how the occupying military power in their country leaves.
• Bush has not allocated or championed funding for agencies that build democratic institutions in Iraq, much to the chagrin of some of his staunchest supporters
• Bush has admitted that his rhetorical commitments to democracy do not signify any changes to existing American foreign policy
• Bush has repeatedly expressed contempt for governments that followed the wishes of their domestic constituencies rather than Washington’s orders with respect to the Iraq war
• Bush replaced the general who wanted to hold elections in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion and appointed Paul Bremer, who ruled by fiat and rewrote Iraq’s economic and legal rulebooks.
I left out some of the more nuanced facets and details, such as the Bush administration’s manhandling of Iraq’s natural resources, the commitments they made on behalf of Iraqis before they had any kind of representative government, the Chalabi plan, and the almost immediate economic and military assault on Palestinians for voting the wrong way, etc.
My antagonist’s counter arguments are …
• To simply assert the above points are non sequitors.
• To cite the contents of Bush’s public speeches. (This is funny because the initial dilemma is whether or not his rhetoric fits into the context of his actions. Citing his rhetoric as evidence that his rhetoric is genuine is tautological.)
• To say that he knows several Venezuelans who don’t like Hugo Chavez. Also: he drinks Coke Zero, which is just as germane to the discussion.
• At one point I claimed every list in the Iraqi election had withdrawal as part of their platform, which he correctly pointed out isn’t entirely accurate. The more accurate statement is “almost every list” and all the lists that won big. This minor correction is, according to him, a refutation of my initial point, which would be true if my point was that 100% of the Iraqi lists had withdrawal on their platform rather than that Bush consistently ignores democratic decision making and impulses that he doesn’t like. This issue is specific to Iraq concerning occupation, but I cited others as well.
• Mentions that according to some polls, Iraqis want a timetable for withdrawal, while other polls show they want immediate withdrawal. (No polls indicate they want us to stay.) My contention is that whatever the timeline, anyone who respects democracy would not insist upon perpetuating a military occupation on a population that clearly wants it to end. Perplexingly, he thinks he has refuted my point with the immediate vs. timeline withdrawal distinction. Either one supports my point, since Bush has ruled out both scenarios. I can’t explain it any better than that because I don’t understand his reasoning. Every time he finds a grammatical error in one of my sentences, he counts as a complete repudiation of my general thrust. He keeps insisting that we invaded Iraq to create a democracy. We haven’t gotten to his belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy yet, but I’ll keep you all posted.
It’s really quite frustrating, and sad. Hundreds of thousands of lives are being destroyed, largely because people like this guy lack the capacity to think critically and people like me spend far too much time engaging in online arguments rather than doing something more meaningful to end the carnage. I keep trying to change their minds, but they just dig in their heels, lock out their joints, and dare anyone to make them budge. Maybe I just need to be a meaner or wiser idealist.