All fallacies of relevance rely on false or misleading analogies. They are the rhetorical version of the classic "bait & switch" sales technique. Start the reader out with something universally approved of or scorned. Then quickly – very quickly, so as not to give the reader time to ask too many questions – switch to something else which bears a superficial resemblance but is not in fact analogous. The "switch" item need only bear a passing resemblance to the original subject; think about the difference between a truly good disguise and a disguise that is sufficient to fool an observer from 20 yards away.
Roger Cohen would make a great comissioned salesman.
In this essay, "The New L-Word," Cohen offers a cornucopia of logical fallacies. But for today let's just focus on the poor analogies and bait/switch games. First:
(Neocons), in the words of leftist commentator and blogger Matthew Yglesias, "believe that America should coercively dominate the world through military force" and "believe in a dogmatic form of American exceptionalism" and "favor the creation of a U.S.-dominated 'universal empire.' "
But the term, in these Walt-Mearsheimered days, often denotes more than that. Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy, whatever that may be, although probably involving some combination of plans to exploit Iraqi oil, bomb Iran and apply U.S. power to Israel's benefit.
Wow, someone call a lawyer, I think I just got whiplash from the speed with which we went from relatively mainstream criticism of neoconservatism to whacko Zionist conspiracy nuts. Boy, those two things sure are similar. According to whom? Why, according to "many," of course. And let's skip the rich irony of referring to Mr. Yglesias as "leftist commentator" in an editorial about the folly of applying blanket labels as epithets. Wait. There's more:
Beyond that, neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability and still thinks the muscular anti-totalitarian U.S. interventionism that brought down Slobodan Milosevic has a place, and still argues, like Christopher Hitchens, that ousting Saddam Hussein put the United States "on the right side of history."
(…)Liberal interventionists, if you recall, were people like myself for whom the sight in the 1990s of hundreds of thousands of European Muslims processed through Serbian concentration camps, or killed in them, left little doubt of the merits, indeed the necessity, of U.S. military action in the name of the human dignity that only open societies afford. Without such action in Bosnia and Kosovo, Europe would not be at peace today.
(…)Baghdad is closer to Sarajevo than the left has allowed.
(…)Kouchner, a socialist, is now French foreign minister– hardly a sign the credo's dead. He, in turn, is close to Richard Holbrooke, who brought peace to Bosnia and may be secretary of state in a Hillary Clinton administration.
DO YOU GET IT YET? DID YOU GET IT? HMM? Cohen is approximately as subtle as an Oliver Stone film in the last half of his essay. He's ostensibly talking about the current perception of neocons, and how Iraq has turned that ideology into an insult. B-B-But….Mr. Cohen, why is hardly any of your discussion about Iraq? Why do you bring up Bosnia half-a-dozen times?
Why, because Bosnia and Iraq are virtually the same thing!! They're so similar, in fact, that Roger Cohen can just avoid Iraq altogether and talk about that Bosnia thing which most Americans hardly remember and even fewer understand. Nevermind the fact that the situation in the Balkans was so complex that even PhDs who have made careers out of studying it struggle to grasp it; in Cohen's world, it was a simple morality play, and intervening (on, um, someone's behalf….whoever the Good Guys were) was so obviously right that we can toss it in conversations as a straw man as easily as "the Holocaust" or "Communism."
In reality, the situations in Bosnia and Iraq bear almost no resemblance beyond fitting into the vague category of Places Upon Which American Ordinance Has Fallen and In Which Our Troops Have Died. He starts with Bosnia and strongly implies (or, in places, asserts explicitly) that intervention in that conflict was quite obviously a good thing. And then the quick switch – intervention was a good thing in Bosnia, therefore it is a good thing in Iraq.
It's quite amazing, the depths to which even papers like the New York Times will sink. They give column space to dreck like this for the sole purpose of precluding allegations of bias. Nevermind if said columnist is thunderingly ignorant or can't make an argument to save his soul – the important thing is having someone who will talk about how great of an idea the Iraq War is on a bi-weekly basis.