This is an excellent piece about the foreign policy establishment rallying around Eliot Abrams and against Ilhan Omar:
Cynical and smarmy appeals to the private sphere are an everyday feature of the discourse now, but it was remarkable to see Elliott Abrams claim that boundaries of his personal life extend throughout the Western Hemisphere. He was testifying before Congress about his plan to promote democracy in Latin America, and he was asked about the war crimes he had previously overseen and covered up in Latin America as part of his previous plans to promote democracy in the region.
But in the realm of foreign affairs—the realm where Elliott Abrams, a liar and an ex-convict who has spread brutality and misery around the globe for decades, is a respected elder statesman—his complaint was picked up and amplified. “Elliott Abrams is a devoted public servant who has contributed much of his professional life to our country,” tweeted Nicholas Burns, a retired diplomat who is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “It’s time to build bridges in America and not tear people down.”
“I was a career FSO and later Obama appointee, Elliott Abrams was a kind, thoughtful, non partisan mentor,” tweeted Dave Harden of the Georgetown Strategy Group. “Let’s try to see the best—rather than the worst—in people.”
Is there a name for the logical fallacy by which people on the Internet have convinced themselves that saying the name of a logical fallacy is an incantation that ends an argument? If it’s ad hominem to point out that Elliott Abrams has lied to Congress and promoted atrocities in Latin America, then it’s ad hominem for a preschool to check if a job applicant is a registered sex offender.
The other relevant magic words Boot tweeted were “my” and “colleague.” Abrams is a fully employed member of the American foreign policy community, for whom American foreign policy consists of people in offices making statements about goals and national interests, not soldiers in Guatemala smashing babies’ skulls and throwing the bodies down a well. The soldiers who smashed the babies’ skulls were following the orders of a leader under whom, according to Abrams at the time, “killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step.” The killings were not reduced enough to keep Abrams’ man from being convicted of genocide, afterward, but the point is, the intentions were good.
The intentions are always good. At the time the babies were being thrown down the well—as part of a chain of events that was meant to promote American interests in the region—Elliott Abrams had a job with “Human Rights” in the job title.
These insights from the most disastrous war Abrams played a significant promotional role in remain all too relevant:
Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. I was first made aware of this during an accounting class. We were discussing the subject of accounting for stock options at technology companies. There was a live debate on this subject at the time. One side (mainly technology companies and their lobbyists) held that stock option grants should not be treated as an expense on public policy grounds; treating them as an expense would discourage companies from granting them, and stock options were a vital compensation tool that incentivised performance, rewarded dynamism and innovation and created vast amounts of value for America and the world. The other side (mainly people like Warren Buffet) held that stock options looked awfully like a massive blag carried out my management at the expense of shareholders, and that the proper place to record such blags was the P&L account.
Our lecturer, in summing up the debate, made the not unreasonable point that if stock options really were a fantastic tool which unleashed the creative power in every employee, everyone would want to expense as many of them as possible, the better to boast about how innovative, empowered and fantastic they were. Since the tech companies’ point of view appeared to be that if they were ever forced to account honestly for their option grants, they would quickly stop making them, this offered decent prima facie evidence that they weren’t, really, all that fantastic.
The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.
Note that Abrams’s defenders aren’t even willing to make a “the omelet of American security can’t be made without some children being rounded up into buildings and then burning the buildings” argument; they just deny that the norms of civility prevent such things from being brought up at all, for obvious reasons.
I would like to have this debate.
Suppose a failure to arm Central American death squads led Sandinista allies to win in Guatemala and El Salvador … does the Soviet economic model magically become workable and next thing you know the reds are in Omaha? https://t.co/tTpO7vGl89
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 15, 2019