One of the most interesting forms of rebuttal is to invoke the counterfactual. Apparent failure must always be contextualized against the background of the what-might-have-been. For example president Obama once claimed he saved 1.1 million jobs that would have been lost had he not bailed out Detroit. We are also told that Obamacare has saved everyone money, although premiums are rising under it, because premiums would have risen faster without the program. These are successes despite appearances.
Today president Obama justified his policy in Yemen saying the alternative to his strategy would have been disaster. The rise of Isis, the loss of vast territories in Iraq, the dissolution of Libya, the upheaval in Egypt are the best of possible worlds in comparison to what would have occurred if Bush were in charge.
President Barack Obama defended his administration’s drone-based counterterrorism strategy against al Qaeda militants in Yemen, saying the alternative would be to deploy U.S. troops, which he said was not sustainable.
While the outcomes of his policies do not seem to be a success in themelves, they are deceptively brilliant when it is considered they headed off some alternative future which would have been far worse. This type of reasoning is called counter-factual thinking “Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something that is contrary to what actually happened.”
Thus you can rationalize, for example, the “failure” of the Secret Service to protect president Kennedy in Dallas by arguing that ‘if Oswald had not shot Kennedy, then someone else would have’. If you think about it in that way the protective detail prevented what could have happened.
The most interesting thing about counterfactual justifications is they only pertain to events that have already occurred in the past, which leads people to think they are a form of sophisticated excuse-making. Certainly if you had asked the administration to explain why Yemen was its “model” last year, they would would not have characterized it in terms of what actually happened. That kind of rationalization has to applied retrospectively to be useful.