This is Conviction?

Today’s Wall Street Journal features
an op-ed by AEI resident scholar Michael Ledeen called Iran
and the Problem of Evil
. The op-ed contains one severe logical
fallacy and one weird omission, each unfortunately representative of much of
the current state of thought and argument on the right.

First, the logical fallacy.
Ledeen lays out his premises thusly: (1), right up until World War II,
the west was in denial about the obvious threat of fascism; (2) today,
“The world is simmering in the familiar rhetoric and actions of movements
and regimes – from Hezbollah and al Qaeda to the Iranian Khomeinists and the
Saudi Wahhabis – who swear to destroy us and others like us” (and later he
mentions Syria, Egypt, and “European and American mosques,” as well);
and (3) we are in denial about the nature of these movements and regimes as we
were about the nature of the Nazis. Then finally, two thirds into the
article, Ledeen arrives at his thesis statement:

This is not merely
a philosophical issue, for to accept the threat to us means – short of a policy
of national suicide – acting against it. As it did in the 20th century, it
means war.

Even if one accepts Ledeen’s
premises, how does it logically follow that the only way to deal with the
movements and regimes he mentions is by going to war with them? Does the
United States really have no other policy tools at its disposal? National
suicide or war and nothing else? Holy artificial either/or constructs,

I’ve written before about this kind
of binary thinking — once in the context of rightist thinking about
;” another time, in the context of rightist
arguments for torture
. But the notion that the only way of
dealing with a country like Iran, with
its basket-case economy and GDP about the size of Finland’s
, is to go
to war with Iran as we once did against Germany, dramatically expands the size
and opacity of the blinders the right insists on wearing when it ventures to
look out at the world.

But the logical gap in Ledeen’s
argument is so vast that even he can’t avoid it. Because — and here is
the weird omission — he never actually comes out and says what he means.
Here’s his concluding paragraph:

Then, as now, the
initiative lies with the enemies of the West. Even today, when we are engaged
on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little apparent
recognition that we are under attack by a familiar sort of enemy, and great
reluctance to act accordingly. This time, ignorance cannot be claimed as an
excuse. If we are defeated, it will be because of failure of will, not lack of
understanding. As, indeed, was almost the case with our near-defeat in the

Huh? Why argue that al Qaeda,
Egypt, Hezbollah, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and European and American mosques
are like the Nazis, that as with the Nazis, we have to accept that the
existence of these movements and regimes forces us to choose between suicide
and war… and then shy away from what obviously, logically (if you can call it
that) comes next: a call for a declaration of war?

I don’t mean the question
rhetorically. Is Ledeen afraid of being called a warmonger? Does he
recognize what he’s actually agitating for, and at the last moment shy away
from it? Is he carried away by his rhetoric and blind to its actual

I’ve said before that if
you want to argue for torture, argue for it
— but don’t hide from
your own argument by using doublespeak like “aggressive
interrogation” or “enhanced interrogation” or whatever. Call
it what it is and explain why it’s necessary. Similarly, if you think
America needs to go to war with much of the Islamic world as we once went to
war with the Nazis and fascists, have the clarity (and guts) to make your
argument forthrightly. Otherwise, we’re faced with the sad spectacle of a
man who thinks he’s issuing a courageous call but who in fact lacks the courage
of his ostensible convictions.