Scraping The Bottom Of The Analogical Barrel

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Neville ChamberlainArguments by analogy are used to justify a controversial claim by invoking a similar claim in a less controversial instance. While not deductively valid, a good analogy can provide a strong reason to accept the claim. In an effort to drum up support for a military strike on Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syrian President Bashar Assad “now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who have used these weapons in time of war.” Other war drum beaters are warning about the “lessons of Munich” and Obama looking like Neville Chamberlain. When the analogy is tenuous, the argument becomes ludicrous.

Such is the case when Assad is compared to Hitler. It is unclear if Assad can even sustain his power in Syria, let alone militarily threaten any neighbors. Assad’s military is unable to overcome a ragtag gang of Islamists, so any comparison to Hitler is absurd.

The Hitler analogy was used by President George W. Bush to justify his war with Iraq, and President Bill Clinton to justify his decision to bomb Serbia. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was fond of telling reporters that “Munich is my mindset.” It’s déjà vu all over again.

Kerry’s comparison of Assad to Saddam Hussein just reminds the listener that President Ronald Reagan, with prior knowledge of Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, provided Hussein with satellite imagery to enable the targeting of Iranian forces.

During a stopover in Sweden, President Obama tried to move his “red line” comment when he said: “The world set a red line when governments representing 98% of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons was abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war.” Obama added that his credibility is not on the line, but “The international community’s credibility is on the line.” If it’s the world’s red line and the world’s credibility at stake, then the world should decide what to do.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel tried to put forward a “national security” argument:

If Assad is prepared to use chemical weapons against his own people, we have to be concerned that terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which has forces in Syria supporting the Assad regime, could acquire them. This risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends and partners, and to U.S. personnel in the region. We cannot afford for Hezbollah or any terrorist group determined to strike the United States to have incentives to acquire or use chemical weapons.

This argument makes little sense. Why would Assad’s willingness to use chemical weapons against his own people indicate a willingness to give those weapons to Hezbollah? Assad sees those weapons as key to his survival. He’s unlikely to part with them. A US strike could increase that risk if Assad decided to give Hezbollah chemical weapons in an act of retaliation. If Assad falls, those chemical weapons could easily fall into the hands of the rebel group  Al-Nusra, who has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.

H/T: John Casey, Michael Hirsh, The Guardian, Jonathan Chait, Scott Lemieux, John Dickerson.

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