The Buzz

How Not to Make a Point

At the American Conservative, Scott Galupo calls out one of the more obnoxious recent tics in our foreign-policy discourse. He quotes this line from James Inhofe at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing:

The question I’d like to ask you and you can answer for the record if you’d like is, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination for Secretary of Defense?

As a second example, he quotes Lindsey Graham, who criticized the looming sequester by saying, “I'm sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”

On a substantive level, this seems deeply confused. The defense sequester would have all kinds of negative consequences for our military, but even after sequestration, the U.S. military would still absolutely dwarf Iran’s in terms of both their respective budgets and capabilities. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Washington’s ability to achieve any of its potential future military goals vis-à-vis Iran was seriously put into question by the sequester.

But the more basic point is that rhetorically, this is a dangerous way of arguing with and smearing one’s political opponents. Galupo gets it exactly right when he says, “This is childish.” To suggest that either Chuck Hagel or those who support sequestration are somehow advancing the goals of Ayatollah Khamenei is insulting both to those people and to the intelligence of anyone listening.

It’s also worth noting briefly that this whole line of argument implies a zero-sum attitude that provides a recipe for constant hostility. To continue using the Iranian example, if there is ever to be a diplomatic deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program, it is going to have to involve some level of concessions from both sides. On the American side, that might include accepting a degree of very limited enrichment (subject to stringent international monitoring) and, as the process moves on, gradual sanctions relief. These are both things that the Iranian leadership would “support.” But if those concessions are opposed on the grounds that Iran supports them, a deal will only become less and less likely—even if that prospective deal is in our national interest as well as Iran’s.

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose either Chuck Hagel’s nomination or sequestration. But as far as this line of thinking goes, Galupo is dead-on when he says, “It’s fair to say that ‘Iran likes it’ belongs in the same file as ‘The terrorists will win.’”