Arianna Huffington, just back from Washington, D.C., reports in Friday's Los Angeles Times that policy makers there are "swept away by the Beltway's latest consensus: President Bush was right on Iraq."  --  But they don't seem to realize that the reasoning upon which this conclusion is based is fallacious in the extreme.  --  So she offers them a brief refresher on the concept of the fallacy of the undistributed middle....


By Arianna Huffington

Los Angeles Times
March 18, 2005,1,4578725.story

I just got back from a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Didn't ride the teacups, though, because I wasn't in Disneyland, but in Washington, D.C., where everyone is walking on air, swept away by the Beltway's latest consensus: President Bush was right on Iraq. And, as a result, Tomorrowland in the Middle East will feature an E-ticket ride on the Matterhorn of freedom and democracy.

The political and cultural establishment has gone positively Goofy over this notion. In the corridors of power, Republicans are high-fiving, and Democrats are nodding in agreement and patting themselves on the back for how graciously they've been able to accept the fact that they were wrong.

The groupthink in the nation's capital would be the envy of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.

How did this cozy unanimity come to pass? Is it something in the water, I wondered, perhaps as a result of Bush gutting the EPA? But then I thought back to my time at Cambridge, when I took a course in elementary logic, and studied the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle.

For those of you in need of a refresher on the concept, here's an example: "All oaks are trees. All elms are trees. Therefore, all oaks are elms."

See how easily you can go from point A to point Z, jumping over all the important steps between?

So: We invaded Iraq. Change is afoot in the Middle East. Therefore, the Middle East is changing because we invaded Iraq.

See how simple it is? And how illogical?

The Bush White House has been masterful at this infantile reasoning: America is free and democratic. Terrorists attacked America. Therefore, terrorists hate freedom and democracy.

And that's all anyone needs to know.

What makes this particularly seductive is the historical longing of Americans for political consensus. In this country, where the European idea of a loyal opposition never took hold, Democrats are all too eager to suspend disbelief and go along with the fairy tale Bush is telling about freedom and democracy on the march, and the happily-ever-after future of the Middle East.

But flip the page on this "once upon a time" fantasy and what's revealed is a very ugly war story -- a bloody narrative about which we hear shockingly little.

I sincerely doubt the people of Iraq are going to bed with visions of Thomas Jefferson dancing in their heads. Not when their days are filled with random bombings and checkpoint shootings and kidnappings that have become commonplace.

As much as I hate to rain on the president's democracy parade, the fact remains: Holding an election is not the same thing as establishing a democracy. Just ask the people of Russia. Or Haiti. Or Africa. Indeed, there have been more than 50 elections in Africa over the last decade and a half, but the continent couldn't be realistically described as a hotbed of political freedom.

The truth is the vast majority of Arabs remain skeptical of U.S. motives. And can we really blame them? After all, it wasn't that long ago that Dick Cheney was opposing the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Donald Rumsfeld was cutting deals with Saddam Hussein, and the CIA was overthrowing Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected leader of Iran, and installing the shah.

As for the stirrings in the Middle East, the "cedar revolution" in Lebanon turned out to be only part of the story as 500,000 pro-Syrian demonstrators took to the streets of Beirut last week to denounce U.S. involvement in their country.

The local elections in Saudi Arabia were a start -- except that women weren't allowed to vote and half the seats were appointed by the royal family.

And in Egypt, the promise of open elections hasn't been accompanied by the lifting of the repressive emergency laws that, among other things, ban all public demonstrations.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the president's newfound dedication to freedom is that it completely ignores the fact that his aggressive push to liberate Iraq has made us much less safe here at home. And this, more than anything else, should be the highest priority of any government. Yet our ports, railways and borders remain porous. Our first responders remain underfunded.

But the White House continues to razzle-dazzle the Beltway with its command of the Undistributed Middle: The president invaded Iraq. There have been no terrorist attacks in America since 9/11. Therefore, the invasion of Iraq has made us safer. And lighted the torch of freedom throughout the Arab world.

In any freshman course in logic, this reasoning would collapse, shot full of holes. In Washington, it's become the conventional wisdom.

--Arianna Huffington's latest book is Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America (Miramax, 2004).