The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

VDH strikes again

July 17, 2006

Why do people pay this man for his commentary?

Dan’s favorite commentator is back again, this time with an op/ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Hanson essentially lays out what he sees as the talking points the Bush administration should be using in an effort to deflate criticism of the handling of the War on Terror. What follows is a long, snarky discussion of Hanson’s latest drivel.

VDH’s first problem lies with questions regarding how to deal with the prisoners at GITMO:

“Take the uniformless and stateless terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay. To be sure, there are alternatives to the current U.S. policy, but are they any better? Should we try hundreds of them in American courts like Zacarias Moussaoui or in international tribunals as the Europeans attempted with Slobodan Milosevic? Or send them home to face torture in autocracies like Egypt or Saudi Arabia? Or do we ship the terrorists back to countries that would simply declare them heroes and let them go?”

In short, yes. Try them in modified courts, consistent with the US Military Code of Justice, approved by Congress, and able to pass judicial review. It would be nice if he actually advanced an argument as to why this is undoable, but then he would be taking up valuable space he must use for the kind of hackery that follows. Oh, and I like how it was the ‘Europeans” that tried Milosevic. Funny, I thought it was the ICTY authorized by the United Nations Security Council with express support of the United States. But maybe I was wrong. Moving on.

Hanson then proceeds to write an utterly disingenuous paragraph (or one that reveals his utter inability to engage with the logic of an opposing position) regarding the surveillance issue:

“And can the critics offer better ways to track terrorists than through wiretapping and surveillance? How, otherwise, would one have learned in time about those in Miami who plotted to take down the Sears Tower, or the Lebanese cadre who planned to blow up the Holland Tunnel?”

He is right. Critics cannot offer better ways to track terrorists than through wiretapping and surveillance. The problem is critics have never said “don’t use wiretapping and surveillance”. They haven’t attempted such a things. Rather, they have said “please obtain a warrant as the law states—oh, and by the way, we would like some Congressional oversight just so we are, you know, reassured that the government is acting in accordance with law which, after all, is how it works in a democracy.” I think Hanson may have had problems with the reading comprehension sections of the GRE. Next:

“In other words, there’s an advantage to providing historical perspective by engaging one’s critics and answering their charges.”

This, of course, should be read as: ‘there’s an advantage to providing historical perspective by using purposefully misleading examples that lack proper perspective and context so as to render any argument against my position silly.’ See his discussion of Lincoln and FDR. Lincoln had his actions overturned afterwards by those bunch of activist, liberal, America-hating justices. The internment camps were upheld in 1944, but certainly the government has gone out of its way since then to apologize for the unjust internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. In other words, yes, there are instances historically where similar things occured. But that alone does not mean that we agree they were just, agree they were necessary and effective, or agree that they are the best course of action in the present. Next, taking on foreign critics:

“In Europe, a poll recently showed that people there view the United States as a greater threat than Iran. If this is the case, is it not time to politely suggest to our “allies” that many of our half-century-old military bases in prosperous Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain have outlived their usefulness?”

This certainly offers no rebuttal of the charges, but is a not-so-veiled attempt to tell those weak-kneed Europeans to STFU or else we will shut down those revenue-generating bases that you have come to enjoy so much. How does this address the argument? Next, the resolve issue (my fav):

“And when Americans are butchered, are we to skedaddle, as both Presidents Reagan and Clinton did, from Lebanon and Somalia respectively?”

No, of course not. (begin run-on rant) We should deploy the bulk of our fighting force to overthrow a regime that, while despicable, had absolutely nothing to do with the butchering of our citizens on 9/11 in order to send a message to others–which they won’t get because the operation will actually make our threats less credible since we will weaken our capacity to project power over the course of 4 years (end run-on rant).

And certainly acting more muscularly has worked to deter terrorist attacks against Israel. They never worry about such attacks anymore. Showing resolve may matter and it may not matter–it is not a panacea for dealing with terrorists (not mention the fact that actors can interpret your actions any way they like–typically in such a way that conforms to their worldview as well confirms that their policies ‘work’, but I digress). Victor, please put down whatever it is you are reading these days (as well as whatever you are smoking) and pick up the vast number of peer-reviewed articles that present evidence which disproves your theory.

Hanson ends with a flurry of familiar platitudes about “jihadists are evil” (no, really?), blah, blah, blah. You can read that for yourself. If his goal was to provide the administration and its defenders with a solid arguments to rebutt their critics I would have to say he failed. How in the world this made it onto the op/ed page of the Inquirer I have no idea. There are quality commentators who can present a defense of the administration’s policies. VDH is not one of them. Go with someone else in the future.

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Petti is Associate Director of Insights and Analytics at Alexion . Previously, he served as Lead Data Scientist in the Decision Sciences group at Maritz Motivation and a Global Data Strategist and Subject Matter Expert for Gallup.