Thursday, May 14, 2015

Harder Than It Has to Be

Once again a Republican presidential candidate is struggling to answer a question that shouldn't be too hard to answer. Earlier, you'll recall, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was blindsided by a question about his belief, or lack thereof, in evolution. I suggested at the time that Walker's response should have been to ask the questioner to explain exactly what he or she meant by "evolution," a term so protean that it can mean almost anything. Such a reply would so discombobulate his interrogator that the question would probably never be raised again. Few laypersons, after all, have any idea what scientists and philosophers mean by the word evolution and the almost certain inability to clarify the question in any coherent way would doubtless prove embarrassing enough to the journalist that probably no one would wish to risk public chagrin by raising it again.

It would have been easy.

The same could be said for the recent stumbling performance of Jeb Bush when asked whether, given what we know now, he would have invaded Iraq as his brother did in 2004. Bush has taken three different stabs at answering the question and he's gotten lots of criticism for all three attempts, none of which was very clear or convincing. There is a very simple answer he could have given, though, that would not have sounded like he was throwing his brother under the bus - which is, of course, what the media wanted him to do - but which would have been completely honest and reasonable. He should have said that the only way he could give an informed answer to the question is if he knew not only what we know now about what has happened since the invasion but also if we knew what would have happened had we not invaded Iraq.

Since we don't know that, and can't know that, there's no point in speculating in retrospect about whether toppling Saddam was wise or not. It's like asking whether, knowing what we know now, it was worth dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The question is unanswerable unless one knows all of what would have happened had we not dropped the bomb. The only fruitful way to frame such questions is to ask whether, knowing what we knew then, it was reasonable to conclude that going to war was justified.

Bush might also have added that many of the problems that have ensued in that part of the world are the result of the current administration's hurry to wash its hands of the place, which, it could be argued, was as great a mistake as some think George W. Bush made in going in.

In any case, answering these sorts of questions, which, of course, only get asked of Republicans - Hillary hasn't been asked any tough questions by the media about Benghazi, about her deleted emails, her use of a private server, or the evident massive conflict of interest posed by the donations foreign countries have made to her "charitable foundation" - shouldn't be as hard as these guys are making it.