Parlor Trickery

by Nathan Hamm on 8/16/2004

One of the most interesting things about losing a staff member from one’s own department is receiving their email. Now, I knew that said former coworker was in love with the “non-partisan” Center for American Progress and felt it her duty to send all of us their “unbiased analysis” of current events. I just never bothered to pay much attention.

I thought that there were some neat tricks in today’s Progress Report though. Bush is to blame for Chavez staying in power? But, I though he was trying to overthrow him. Oh, I get it, by undermining him, he’s keeping him in power. You just can’t win with some people.

Well, to focus in on particular parts of this barge of drivel, I found some interesting and infuriating rhetorical tricks.

CUTTING GRASS-ROOTS DEMOCRACY: This summer, the Republican-led House of Representatives “voted decisively for an appropriations bill amendment that would, among other things, cut a proposed increase in funding for the promotion of democracy in the Middle East.” The money “had been proposed for the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, one of the few American institutions seriously committed to long-term, grass-roots democracy promotion — training judges, journalists, parliamentarians and others — all over the world.” Instead of a promised $40 million increase in the crucial program, the increase was slashed to $11 million, and finally cut to just $1 million.

In a story titled “Cutting Grass-Roots Democracy,” we are told that the “cut” is not actually in the NED’s budget, but in the proposed increase. While I certainly feel that increasing their budget is warranted, I’m no fan of rapid organizational growth in non-profits. I’m living the aftermath right now. I also bristle at the suggestion that the NED is one of the only organizations doing this work.

Anyway, moving on because that’s not the one that really gets me. It’s this one:

Afghanistan will hold a democratic election on 10/9. Registration has been a long, difficult process, however, and parts of the country remain firmly in the grasp of violent warlords and Taliban forces. Unfortunately, the United States diverted troops and resources to the war in Iraq, leaving Afghanistan without the security it needs to hold elections. An officer with the Afghan army charges the Taliban is as strong as ever and focused on disrupting the election. According to one Afghani citizen, “When we go to a village, we persuade people to take part in elections, but when we leave the Taliban threatens them.” In the province of Zabol, for example, people are still too frightened to participate in the election; “fewer than half of the 124,000 eligible people have received voter cards, and only 8 percent of those are female.”

Is this the season of false alternatives or what? I hear this one over and over and over and over again. The suggestion, typically made devoid of all fact or context, is that there were hordes of US troops in Afghanistan that were redeployed to Iraq for no good reason. Barring that, the suggestion is that we would have deployed more troops to Afghanistan had we not gone to Iraq.


That is quite the false alternative. This was not a case of one or the other. I’m no military expert, but the situations in each country appear quite different. 130,000 troops distributed throughout Afghanistan’s mountains is probably something that would have never happened. Even if it had, I fail to see how it would have gotten us access to Pakistan. I also fail to see how more troops would have suddenly caused NGOs to accept military escort or a soldier on every corner would be a better alternative than a gradual process of Afghan National Army confidence-building.

Nevermind that the Taliban seems to be falling apart. Nevermind that if we look beyond Zabol, 42% of registered voters are women. Nevermind that there are twice the number of US troops in Afghanistan now (while many of our “allies” are reluctant to offer more than a pittance). You see, Bush is in charge and the whole world is going to hell.

Now, none of this type of rhetoric should be news to anyone and it’s not particularly unique to any one ideological streak. It’s just a reminder of what certain people are referring to when they make the mistake that literacy is the same thing as intelligence.

I am, however, somewhat comforted by the transparency of CAP’s bias (though dismayed that so many people lack critical thinking skills to cut through it), as it’s a less subtle version of the real deal.

For a somewhat related glimpse of how pretty much everyone around me seems to me right now, check this out (if you haven’t seen it already).

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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