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Check Your Premises

A while ago, I was involuntarily added to the mailing list of The Independent Institute, who now spams me every time they post a new article, asking me to "please post to or feature the following new article." Upon the first such e-mail I wrote back:

Just one question: When did I become your publicist?

Your request is extremely poor etiquette and likely irritated everyone you sent it to.

I got a personal reply, but he pretended to miss the point, and I'm still on their mailing list. I didn't press the matter, instead creating an e-mail filter — it's just another kind of spam.

I don't automatically delete that e-mail. Once in a while I go look at it. And the most recent article from TII is a fabulous example of embarrassingly sloppy reasoning:

The tragic milestone of 1,000 U.S. deaths in the Iraqi quagmire should cause introspection about why the United States really went to war and whether it has been worth it. While the Bush administration's public justifications never really added up, evidence exists that there was a hidden agenda behind the invasion of Iraq: securing oil. [source]

It's the standard blood-for-oil line, although the article spends a lot of time examining and dismissing — in unconvincingly brief fashion — other potential justifications for war. Eventually it gives some economic reasons why going to war to secure oil doesn't make sense. They're not great reasons (I have better ones) but the specific argument is beside the point, because this is the article's conflusion [sic - that was a typo, but I'll let it stand]:

So even oil, the most defensible of the potential unstated reasons for invading Iraq, doesn't turn out to be very defensible at all. Could 1,000 Americans have died in vain?

Let's make the train of thought more clear:

There were major nonpublic reasons for invading Iraq.
I agree.
It's oooooil!
I disagree, but will grant it arguendo.
…but war to secure oil doesn't make sense economically.
I agree.
Therefore, Americans died in vain.
Hold on a second there, professor.

He's cut down his own reason, and then declared that without it, there's no reason! Is this a reflection of the intellectual bankruptcy of the advocates of invasion, or a reflection of his own lack of imagination — or more pointedly, lack of research?

The pro-war argument is available. Dr. Eland doesn't show any signs of being familiar with it.

Dr. Eland's article is a transparent straw man. If he wanted to give it some sticking power, he should have quoted a policy-setter in the Bush Administration giving energy security as a justification for war. But of course he can't do that; the whole article is about the "hidden agenda". Dr. Eland ought to be embarrassed to publish such a sloppy article. (But I see we're both graduates of Iowa State University; that could explain it…)

Let me offer a suggestion. If you can't think of reasons that would explain someone's position, you should ask them their reasons instead of concluding they don't have any.

Tiny Island