General Fallacies


There are two controversies about Lloyd Austin, Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of defense. One is interesting but mostly abstract and intellectual; the other is more worrisome on its face but probably irrelevant.

I feel like I need to get the punditry out of the way, so let’s take the second one first. Austin downplayed the importance and danger of ISIS to President Obama, reportedly prompting the president to describe them as the “JV team” to al-Qaeda’s varsity, and thus nothing to worry about. I don’t think it’s necessary to fling a lot of words at the screen to demonstrate that this turned out to be a mistake.

It seems to me that this is an entirely appropriate thing for senators to be concerned about. I don’t think it’s disqualifying, per se, because I don’t know what Austin based that appraisal on. Moreover, being wrong about something—even something very important—doesn’t seem to disqualify anybody for anything these days. I also don’t know whether he was trying to put a gloss on a decision the commander in chief had already made. The decision to pull out of Iraq precipitously was Barack Obama’s (and if Biden is to be believed, Biden’s as well), not Austin’s. And by all accounts, Austin implemented that decision very capably.

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