Belmont Club

Counter-Factual World

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 “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.

Herman Cain, who apparently lacks the mental flexibility to engage in such gyrations, asked the simple minded question: ‘Are we toast? #KingAbdullah is dead, ISIS is expanding, we’ve abandoned Yemen and now Iran has missiles’. You would think so, but had Cain the mental capacity of Obama, he would have realized that it  only looks like the president’s losing, but only because he’s waiting to spring some brilliant trap.

You sure could have fooled Newt Gingrich who rather naively thinks the U.S. is losing the war against radical Islam. But what does Newt know? First of all Islam has nothing to do with the violence filled headlines, not even in Yemen. Second, who’s trying to win?  Poor Newt Gingrich misses the point entirely.  Max Boot says that country is going over the cliff like Syria. Here’s how Boot puts it:

The Houthi militia, a Shiite group armed and supported by Iran, has overrun Sana, the capital, and seized the presidential palace. It only agreed to release President Hadi after he agreed to share power with them.

This does not sit well with Sunni tribes who are threatening war on the Houthis, which will undoubtedly draw them into league with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group which has taken responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, the main sponsor of the Hadi government and major adversary of Iran and its proxies, is vowing to cut off all aid to Yemen as long as the Houthis are in control. Yemen, in short, is on the verge of plunging into a Libya-like or Syria-like abyss, which would certainly make it representative of Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East but not in the way the president intended.

You would think that was bad, but don’t be alarmed.  Think instead of how much better that is compared to a world where an asteroid smashing into earth sends five mile high tsunamis over the Himalayas. Of course Obama is winning in Syria too if you really think about it deeply. The New York Times, which think no other way, describes how the administration is letting Bashar al-Assad stay in power.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — American support for a pair of diplomatic initiatives in Syria underscores the shifting views of how to end the civil war there and the West’s quiet retreat from its demand that the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, step down immediately.

The Obama administration maintains that a lasting political solution requires Mr. Assad’s exit. But facing military stalemate, well-armed jihadists and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States is going along with international diplomatic efforts that could lead to more gradual change in Syria. …

Now, the United States and other Western countries have publicly welcomed initiatives — one from the United Nations and one from Russia — that postpone any revival of the United States-backed Geneva framework, which called for a wholesale transfer of power to a “transitional governing body.” The last Geneva talks failed a year ago amid vehement disagreement over whether that body could include Mr. Assad. …

Still, Secretary of State John Kerry declared last week that the United States welcomed both initiatives. He made no call for Mr. Assad’s resignation, a notable omission for Mr. Kerry, who has typically insisted on it in public remarks. Instead, he spoke of Mr. Assad as a leader who needed to change his policies.

You would have thought that Assad staying in power means he beat Obama — who had earlier wanted to oust him.  But stretch your mind; see the brilliance. And now that you see it, isn’ it sad to note Germany’s lack of faith in president Obama? France 24 reports that Berlin is halting arms exports to Saudi Arabia because it is not sure how stable it is.

BERLIN (AFP) – Germany has decided to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of “instability in the region,” German daily Bild reported on Sunday.

Weapons orders from Saudi Arabia have either been “rejected, pure and simple,” or deferred for further consideration, the newspaper said, adding that the information has not been officially confirmed.

The decision was taken on Wednesday by the national security council, a government body that includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and seven other ministers, it said.

“According to government sources, the situation in the region is too unstable to ship arms there,” added the daily.

Readers might think the Kingdom was in trouble.  But don’t be misled as Germany has been.  Don’t think that president Obama, who is cutting short his trip to India and heading for KSA is rushing to save what is left of his foreign policy edifice from falling over the edge of a cliff.  There is no foreign policy  on the edge of annihilation.  We know from his state of the union speech that things have never been so rosy. Instead, think of all the catastrophes we’ve averted by accepting all these insignificant disasters.

For we are living in a counter-factual world.  Just give it a counter-factual whirl.

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