To drum up support for the Republicans in the final weeks before the US mid-term elections, George W. Bush has been holding “Victory 2006” rallies all across USA. Virtually every speech reiterates the same talking points and plays well to Republican audiences who tend to applaud in almost exactly the same places. Here is one excerpt:

“You do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. (Applause.) Iraq is not the reason the terrorists are at war with us. I would remind that Democrat that we were not in Iraq when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 1993, we were not in Iraq when they blew up the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, we were not in Iraq when they blew up the USS Cole, and we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 when they killed nearly 3,000 of our citizens. (Applause.)”

(See also here and here for comparison.)
It is quite obvious that these compassionate conservatives are not applauding the terrorist attack that killed so many Americans. Rather they are showing their support for the view that Bush’s Middle East policy is not worsening terrorism, despite the views of the security agencies in both the US and the UK. Tony Blair parroted a similar talking point just weeks after the London bombings of 7th of July, 2005, when the government’s support for the America’s war in Iraq was being blamed for increasing the risk of terrorism in Britain. On 19 July 2005, Blair twice reminded the press of the obvious:

“Of course these terrorists will use Iraq as an excuse, they will use Afghanistan. September 11 of course happened before both of those things, and then the excuse was American policy, or Israel….As I say, how you try and put this together is extremely important, because September 11 of course happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, and it was planned under the Presidency of President Clinton, not President Bush.”

This line of reasoning seems quite compelling: Since X happened before Y therefore should X happen again, Y cannot possibly be the cause. Those denying anthropogenic global warming, in spite of overwhelming supporting scientific evidence, often use a similar argument. During the medieval warming period, the climate warmed centuries before the industrially related rise in carbon dioxide, therefore the currently observed warming of the planet cannot possibly be caused by human activity. Unfortunately this line of reasoning is a logical fallacy that is easy to discover when one applies it to other domains and derives ridiculous conclusions:

  • London won the right to host the Olympics in 1908 and 1948, both of which happened before Lord Sebastian Coe was born. Hence London winning the 2012 Olympics bid was not helped by the efforts of Lord Coe.
  • Italy won the World Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1982, many years before Fabio Cannavaro played football for Italy, thus proving he doesn’t deserve any credit for Italy winning the 2006 World Cup.

Unlike Bush, Blair does at least acknowledge that US foreign policies predating 11 September, 2001 are often cited as “excuses” for terrorism, which makes his employment of the logical fallacy even weaker. But even if leaders were to accept some form of causal link between their foreign policy and terrorist activity, this does not automatically relinquish policy decisions to the whims of terrorists. Bad strategy should be discontinued because it is wrong, and not because an extremist objects. However, the war in Iraq was sold to the electorate on the basis that it would reduce the terrorist threat. The evidence that the citizens have made a bad buy is becoming difficult to ignore.