The surest way to lose an argument is to concede the premise put forth by the person taking the other side of the debate. His starting premise is, at the very minimum, not harmful to his argument. Most likely, he starts with a premise that makes his conclusions inevitable. It would be insane to start from a premise that must lead to a contradictory conclusion. If you concede his premise without considering this strong possibility, you are sure to lose the debate.
This is why it is always good to be wary of people who claim to support your argument, but who insists upon conceding the premise of your opponent. Either that person is stupid or they are trying to undermine your argument. This has been the history of conservatism in America. They concede the premise to the Progressives, while claiming they can win the argument against the Progressives. This was famously observed by Robert Lewis Dabney a century ago.
Victor David Hanson has a post about Ukraine that is a good example of how the so-called conservatives concede the moral high ground. He opens with what is best described as a gratuitous assertion. “Americans want an autonomous Ukraine to survive. They hope the West can stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strangulation of both Ukraine and NATO.” No evidence is offered in support of this assertion, because no American outside Washington cares about Ukraine.
His third sentence is even more divorced from reality than the first. “Most Americans oppose the notion that Russia can simply dictate the future of Ukraine.” The truth is, most Americans do not care about this part of the world in the least. Russia could turn Ukraine into a nuclear testing zone and most Americans would only care if it made for some interesting video. Otherwise, Ukraine is down there on the list of concerns with land management in Uzbekistan.
What Hanson is up to here is making the old neoconservative case for endless intervention in the world. That case has been built on the claim that Americans care about the world and Americans will support the costs of meddling in the affairs of far away places like Ukraine. Neoconservatism has always rested on a manufactured consent of the majority. This appeal to the will of the people provides the moral authority for endless intervention in the world.
When the premise of the debate is that the American people care deeply about the territorial integrity of our ancient ally Ukraine and they are committed to stopping our ancient enemy Russia, there is only one plausible conclusion. The to-ing and fro-ing he goes through in that post is just window dressing. If the people demand the safety of Ukraine and define that as the rejection of Russian interests along their border, America has no choice but to be enmeshed in this conflict.
The rhetorical sleight of hand does not end there. Hanson makes clear that this conflict would be over if Putin respected Biden and his team. You see, despite the bellicose language from Team Biden, they are appeasers. Their tough talk about Ukraine is really just a coded surrender of Ukraine. Everyone knows that only one man in human history was ever appeased, so when you think about it, Ukraine is the Sudetenland and Joe Biden is this generation’s Neville Chamberlain.
The argument here is totally bonkers, but it is the natural result of conceding the premise of empire. Once you accept that America has a right and duty to arrange the world to reflect the current values of American elites, there is no conflict too small or too far away that does not demand intervention. In fact, Americans must naturally demand intervention, as to do other wise would be to let evil triumph. This is neoconservatism tarted up with some populist sounding handwringing.
This is why non-interventionism is seen as a bigger threat to the current order than a nuclear exchange with Russia or war with China in the Pacific. To accept the fact that there are some places around the world that are not the business of the American empire opens the debate about the limits of empire. Once we accept that there is a line beyond which it is immoral for us to go, the debate is about where to draw the line and neoconservatism has no argument for this.
Further, if we concede that Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine, rooted in their history and culture, then we must concede that history and culture exists as something other than social constructs. In other words, to take the claims of Russia seriously is to question a fundamental premise of the current order. This is where it becomes plain that American interests in Ukraine have little to do with reality on the ground and everything to do with the prevailing morality of Washington.
This is why the neoconservatives insist that the American people have a strong interest in protecting Ukraine. If they can make that the premise of the debate, there is never a reason to question the endless meddling in the region. The debate is about how to meddle in their affairs, not whether we should meddle in the region. The former serves the interest of the neocons, while the latter excludes them from the debate, something that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
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