The Eclectic Quill

October 31, 2008

On Obama, Israel and Fallacies

Filed under: Politics — Kelly @ 12:34 pm

A couple of days ago, highlighting his "expertise" on foreign policy Joe the "Dumber" Wurzelbacher agreed that a vote for Obama would mean the death of Israel. Incredibly, he stated that he was able to make this analysis based on his reading. I suppose that one could come to that conclusion if they read their email, but not if they actually made the honest effort to get informed. The bashes on Obama’s Israel policy consist of certain common fallacies and set the record straight on where Obama actually stands on Israel.

There is an argument which logicians refer to as a "straw man," which is perhaps the most common type of fallacy found in the political world. A straw man refers to when a person’s actual position is misrepresented or distorted into something other than what it actually is. The perpetrator of the fallacy then attacks the "straw man," the distorted viewpoint to "prove" their case. It is a fallacy because in erecting the straw man the arguer never has to address the actual issue. In attacking Obama’s position on Israel they never actually attack Obama’s position on Israel, they attack a straw man. The danger in encountering a straw man argument is to defend the straw man. To defend the straw man legitimizes the straw man and the straw man is not the real argument. For that reason I have no intent to get into specific details in regards to the straw man they have erected, but rather I will dismiss it by addressing how and why it was erected.

Back in the day fox hunters would drag a dried, smoked herring across the path of a fox to throw off the scent for the dogs, and make the hunt more challenging. The smoked herring would be red in color, or a "red herring." In logic a red herring refers to a similar tool of fallacy, i.e. an argument which is designed to throw the discussion off the subject. The official term is Ignoratio elenchi, meaning "irrelevant conclusion." One type of red herring is "guilt by association" where the perpetrator of the fallacy tries to associate a person with other persons, and then equate the position of those persons with that of the original person. In this case the "trail" is Obama’s position on Israel, and the "red herring" is the position other peoples on Israel. Whatever people loosely connected with Obama think is not the same as what Obama thinks. Some might say that it is if those are in an advisory position. I’d agree insomuch as it is to the degree to which he is taking their advice, i.e. if I advise someone to go jump off a bridge, that doesn’t make them suicidal unless they act on the advice. If someone wants to point to a person who is anti-Semitic and who provably has Obama’s ear, and wants to share that information with me I’ll be happy to address it. However, to simply point to one person who may or may not have acted in some advisory role at some point in time and then was fired for some anti-Semitic thing they said in an unrelated forum is a red herring. Pointing to someone who has Palestinian sympathies and has had conversations with Obama is a red herring. Pointing to someone who simply endorsed Obama, but doesn’t even have conference with him is a big, stinking red herring. I will not chase down red herrings, giving them equal weight with sound logic, and neither should anyone else.

In the Middle Ages when a town was struck by the bubonic plague the Christians would sometimes accuse the Jews of poisoning the well. The Jews would then be unfairly persecuted, attacked, and thrown out of town. If they defended themselves they were reminded that they had poisoned the well, and they were just saying they hadn’t because they were being punished. Ergo, the poisoned well became the basis both for attacking the Jews and for them not being able to defend themselves. It is where we get the expression in logic, "poisoning the well." Poising the well occurs when a person is not allowed to speak for themselves because they have a personal interest in the argument. In a bizarre twist of logic the Obama attackers arbitrarily dismiss anything that Obama has to say about what Obama thinks about Israel because he’s just "saying it to get elected." Such an argument is impossible to defend. The perpetrators of these fallacies put themselves in a unique position, being able to uniquely point to who does and doesn’t speak for the candidate. Only those people who agree with the predisposed conclusion are given credence. It’s poisoning the well, it’s bad logic, and it’s proof of nothing. It’s also ironic that what begin as an anti-Semitic logic is now being used to paint someone as anti-Semitic.

In discussing these issues with certain people like Joe the Dumber they get very adamant and thrust out their fingers and get red faced and accuse the logical of ignoring the facts. This is not ignoring the fact though, it’s ignoring the fallacy. The facts are not what other people, remotely associated with Obama have said, it is what Obama himself has to say. It is ridiculous that it should take four paragraphs of discussion regarding the rules of logic to get to the relatively simple point that Obama is the most qualified person to speak about what is going on in the mind of Obama but it has.

So what does Obama say? Let’s first establish a common ground here, a universal point of agreement, a premise from which we may begin our discussion. Namely, I think it’s pretty easy to agree that the situation in Israel and the Middle East is complicated and controversial. Because of this combination of complexity and controversy it would be virtually impossible to have any authentic discussion of it without having statements that can be taken out of context and misrepresented. So when the smearers take a single statement of Obama’s, parse it, spin it and then try to present that as that as some bizarre sort of synecdoche of Obma’s entire thought on Israel, it should raise flags. The particular quote I refer to is this:

"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel."

For those that don’t know, and I imagine there may be some, the Likud Party is the fourth largest party in Israel. The Likud charter calls for the annexation and settlement of the entire Land of Israel, which comprises the current territory of the State of Israel, as well as West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the whole of Jerusalem. The Likud party also was instrumental in the David Accords, which was the first peace agreement between Israel and the Arab States, but that’s not what Obama is talking about here, and it would be disingenuous to bring it up. What Obama is referring to is that here in America there is a certain segment that feels the only type of pro-Israel stance there is is a hard-line, hawkish stance Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is a minority view of Jews both here and in Israel, but those who hold it scream that anyone who does not is an anti-Semite. Hmmmm—an extremist group within a minority party that argues unless you hold their view you are against the country in question—that’s starting to sound awfully familiar. What Obama is saying in that statement is that our friendship with Israel cannot be equated with whether or not we take an extremist position that most in Israel disagree with.

Here’s the irony of this statement: it actually comes from a pretty detailed discourse in a speech dedicated to Obama’s thoughts on US relations with Israel, (a speech which, apart from the above quote, is conspicuously absent in all the speculative emails and youtube videos on the subject.) In this speech Obama actually does give a statement which characterizes his overall view on the subject of Israel.

Our job is to never forget that the threat of violence is real. Our job is to renew the United States’ efforts to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this vision. Our job is to do more than lay out another road map; our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region.

That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point. And when we see all of the growing threats in the region: from Iran to Iraq to the resurgence of al-Qaeda to the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah, that loyalty and that friendship will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace and security.

In this statement there are three things to take note of 1) It lays out unequivocally that the US and Israel are allies, and Obama considers that alliance to be critical. 2) The US has a "job" to do, namely, not forget the threat of violence, renew our efforts to help Israel achieve peace, and be vigilant against those who don’t share this vision. 3) Obama specifies who "those" are unequivocally, the Hamas, the Hezbollah, Iran, and the al-Qaeda. Any suggestion that Obama’s position on any of the above is anything else is wrong, blatantly wrong. It is a straw man, and the straw man has been dismantled.

Having said all that I’d like to point out why the straw man has been erected. If you take a step back and consider it, it seems very odd that to some people the essential criteria in voting for who the President of this country is what would be best for another country. Of course the same people would look at that and accuse me of being an anti-Zionist or something of the sort. The primary reason they feel it is so important is not political but theological. In their view it’s all about the Lord’s second coming. To them Israel needs to have the promised territory and rebuild the temple. In short they suggest that God needs our vote because a vote for McCain means a vote for Likud and a vote for Likud is a vote for the West Bank and Gaza strip, and a vote for that is a vote for the Lord’s return. It’s ridiculous.

I am a Christian, and I believe in the Lord’s return and I don’t think that how I vote on Tuesday has a hill of beans to do with when the Lord comes back. To suggest anything of the like is to suggest that God, who raises and establishes kings, is subject to democracy, and particularly the democracy of a single nation. Such arguments are not only illogical, they are heretical. I believe that God is sovereign, even when I don’t understand what He’s doing. There’s no question about whether God’s sovereignty will be represented—it will be, the only question is whether those Christians who don’t vote for the winner will accept God’s arrangement the day after the election. The bottom line is God is God, and he needs neither our vote nor America to establish what He needs to establish in Israel in order to make the way for His return.

Still one might argue that God moves through men etcetera. The presumption of such argument is that McCain automatically is somehow better than Obama for Israel. I’m not so sure. First we’ve already established that Obama will do whatever is necessary to defend Israel, so in terms of willingness there’s really no difference between the two. McCain and Obama are both equally willing to aid Israel if and when it needs our help. However, willingness and ability are two different matters. There are at least three different ways that a President Obama would be better situated to help Israel than a President McCain would.

First, Obama is willing to meet with Iran without preconditions. While much has been made of this wording and who would be willing to meet with who and so on, the bottom line is that there’s an underpinning logic that Obama has that gets ignored in all the rhetoric, that being that you can’t change people’s minds unless you talk to them. Does this mean that Obama thinks that he’s going to have meeting with Ahmadinejad, who will then have an epiphany and change his mind about wanting to nuke Israel? Of course not! It’s pretty plain that’s not what Obama’s thought is. No, just sitting down and talking is not going to solve the answer the answers to all the world’s problems, but it might solve some of them. By refusing to talk to Iran unless they agree to agree to us is just plain silly. That’s the whole point of negotiating. So whatever ground can be made up by diplomacy stands a better chance of being made up with a President Obama than with a President McCain based on the simple fact that McCain thinks diplomacy is "naïve" while Obama thinks it’s a starting point.

Second, militarily speaking the nation is stretched thin. We are fighting a war in two countries, and if we needed to defend Israel, that could extend to three, or even more. Suffice to say that the sooner we get safely out of Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving behind stable nations, the sooner we will be able to strengthen our military and be able to defend Israel if they were attacked. You can pretty much draw a straight line from our responsibly getting out of the current wars to our ability to defend Israel. As long as we are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan our ability to defend Israel is restricted. McCain is opposed to timelines in Iraq and pushes for a surge in Afghanistan, a strategy that conflicts with the General on the ground there, David D. McKiernan. It’s my belief that McCain’s views on both fronts will prolong our presence there, and in turn, inhibit our ability to defend Israel.

Third, and finally, is our economy. Any nation is only as strong as its economy. Witness the fall of the USSR and the so called "failed experiment." McCain’s continued commitment to the notion of "trickle down" economics suggests that were he President, he would continue the failed policies that have brought about the worst economy in the country since the Great Depression. It’s hard to believe that the same policies which caused this crisis are going to cure it. As long as America is suffering economically its decision to defend Israel would remain moot if it simply can’t afford to. For these three reasons I’m persuaded that even if you accept the premise that God uses man, Israel is better off with an Obama presidency than one with McCain.

Joe the Dumber is ignorant and ill-informed. He has no business at all prognosticating about the future of Israel, and even less preaching about the virtues of being informed. Unfortunately, unlike the millionaire plumber, a rarity and in Joe’s case a myth, the misinformed champion Joe the Dumber serves a much more ubiquitous character in American society. If you meet them, or people confused by them, please feel free to send them to this blog.



  1. Joe the Dumber… funny stuff.

    I too have long thought that the U.S. policy towards Isreal was too much based on theology (and narrow theology at that) instead of rational political thought. It doesn’t help that the president is an end-timer and has surrounded himself by people who think like this for most of his administration. Obama would be a refreshing change in this regard.

    Also, it is important to point out that Obama has already won on the Iraq issue; we now have a timeline to get out of the country, and quite frankly I can see it being pushed up before it gets extended. Even the Iraqi leaders seem eager to get the Americans out of the country.

    Finally, it’s also fair to point out that Obama supports a surge in Afghanistan, too. But from what I’ve read, he wants the Afghan government to spearhead it – with American support and international financing. I don’t know the details of McCain’s plan because he rarely talks about the Other War.

    Comment by Joe — November 1, 2008 @ 10:54 am | Reply

  2. Oh, I almost forgot…


    Joe the almost-finished grad student

    Comment by Joe — November 1, 2008 @ 10:56 am | Reply

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