David R. Henderson  

Bret Stephens's Attack on Ron Paul

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As I noted last week, I was at an event at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco to discuss a forthcoming documentary called "Is America in Retreat?" (The video should be available in a few weeks.) The inspiration for documentary is a book with the same title written by Bret Stephens, currently a New York Times columnist and before that a foreign policy columnist with the Wall Street Journal and, before that, the editor in chief at the Jerusalem Post.

The organizers told me to focus on the documentary in preparing my comments, and so that's what I did. Since then, though, I've paged through Stephens's book. He has one mention of Ron Paul. It is this:

[Rand] Paul's foreign policy is often viewed as an effort to water down and make palatable the moonshine that is the worldview of his father, former Texas congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian who thinks America had it coming on 9/11 because we were "occupying" Muslim territories. Perhaps.

Had it coming? To say that someone "had it coming" means that the person or country deserved it. I'm sure Bret Stephens understands that. I've followed Ron Paul's foreign policy statements closely over the years and I can't find him ever saying that. I can find him often saying that the 9/11 attack occurred as a response to U.S. foreign policy. But that doesn't mean that we "had it coming."

Does Stephens do a similarly bad job in characterizing the views of others who disagree with him? I hope not, but I'll see.


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CATEGORIES: Foreign Policy




COMMENTS (12 to date)
Andrew_FL writes:

You are drawing a distinction which Stephens does not agree exists.

A lot of people hear Paul's argument and take "we had it coming" from it. Do you think maybe more effort should be put into making the distinction clear to people, or acting indignant when they don't see the distinction?

pyroseed13 writes:

I have to agree with Andrew_FL. It's perfectly consistent to say that our foreign policy misadventures to inspire radicalism (although I personally think this can be overstated at times) and that we don't deserve to be attacked because of it. The problem is though that Ron Paul does not do a very good job of making this distinction. He came dangerously close to implying at one of the primary debates in 2012 (maybe 2008?) that the U.S. deserves to be attacked. I remember him getting booed for saying something to that extent.

Rob writes:

Andrew_FL,

I have discovered that even when making the distinction clear to people, they don't see the distinction.

Because they don't want to.

David R. Henderson writes:

@pyroseed13,
Here’s the 2008 discussion you had in mind:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD7dnFDdwu0
I think he makes clear that he’s explaining, not justifying.

Andrew_FL writes:

It seems to me that Rob-and David?-are assuming Stephens is arguing in bad faith here-that he is perfectly well aware of the distinction you are drawing, & that he was able to understand Paul's point just fine. Isn't it more reasobable to assume he did not grasp the distinction than that he did and is deliberately misrepresenting it?

Rob writes:

Maybe I am over-cynical, but over the last few years I have decided that Hanlon's Razor is backwards.

DR Jensen writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Diane writes:

Thanks, Rob!
I just learned a little about the whole category of "razors". I knew nothing about this concept! http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Logical_razor

I think I've often heard Ron Paul speak of "blowback". Here's one YouTube. Does not "blowback" seem similar in meaning to "had it coming"?

But the example of 9/11 fails for another reason. For anyone who takes time to consider the arguments offered by skeptics of the official 9/11 story, those attacks begin to look very much like a false flag operation — organized by interests within the US government.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Richard O. Hammer,
I think I've often heard Ron Paul speak of "blowback". Here's one YouTube. Does not "blowback" seem similar in meaning to "had it coming"?
I don’t think so. As I said, “had it coming” implies that one deserved it. We don’t normally think of the CIA as claiming that the United States deserved to be attacked by terrorists.
But the example of 9/11 fails for another reason. For anyone who takes time to consider the arguments offered by skeptics of the official 9/11 story, those attacks begin to look very much like a false flag operation — organized by interests within the US government.
I disagree strongly. I’ve looked at a lot of the evidence presented by the skeptics and I find them highly implausible.

@David R. Henderson,
I disagree strongly. I’ve looked at a lot of the evidence presented by the skeptics and I find them highly implausible.

Thank you for this response. I am mystified. I assume that in intellectual honesty you have sought evidence presented by the most credible of skeptics, and not evidence as filtered and repurposed through mainstream media. So, to continue my education, I would benefit from learning:

  1. a few of your best sources, and
  2. how you find high implausibility. Are these findings your own judgments (which I would like to read) or judgments from experts whom you respect (I could benefit from a few references)?
You may be already familiar with the sources which have proved convincing to me. But, in case not, I can tell a story of my conversion, with some links. Probably you know Morgan Reynolds. In the early years after 9/11 I learned about his skepticism of the story of the collapse of WTC buildings 1 and 2. But I dismissed this because I thought I knew, from my engineering background and education as a building contractor, that steel loses strength when it gets hot and can fail at temperatures far below melting. I believed the plausibility of pancaking collapse.

So what happened to my confidence in the official story? Early last year I threw away my 25 year old TV, even though it still worked. On my new TV I discovered YouTube. As you probably know, YouTube offers suggestions that might interest their viewers. And YouTube (being Google in reality) had me figured out. They suggested I might be interested in this 2-hour video about 9/11 recorded at University of Toronto in meetings on the 10th anniversary. Have you seen those arguments, David? Or is that old hat to you?

I watched at least a hundred more YouTubes, till they started getting repetitive and I couldn’t get any more convinced anyhow that the official story is a bag of lies. Not all YouTubes are worthy; a substantial fraction are junk, but you can filter.

I read and recommend The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin. Just a few months ago I finally finished Where Did the Towers Go? by Judy Wood. This is quite an amazing compilation. Her main arguments (engineering and materials science) contain only a few insubstantial errors. Her philosophy of science is lacking, but her central points stand well established, in my view.

When I started to question the official 9/11 story I came face-to-face with a very hard idea to swallow: that being the large number of people who it seems must be complicit if this really is an inside job. I still find that hard to believe. Is this part of your skepticism of the skeptics, David?

DJ writes:

"Blowback" isn't the same as "had it coming."
But, for every action there is a reaction, and anyone who doesn't know that must rely totally on the public education system (and the media)for their thought processing. Over 100 years of double standards increases the likelihood of somebody calling out the perpetrator and "blowback" (reaction)will eventually occur with no timeline, or origin, assigned. "Plausibility" is denied based solely on emotion by totally disregarding facts.

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