If you’re skeptical of western power structures and you’ve ever engaged in online political debate for any length of time, the following has definitely happened to you.
You find yourself going back and forth with one of those high-confidence, low-information establishment types who’s promulgating a dubious mainstream narrative, whether that be about politics, war, Julian Assange, or whatever. At some point they make an assertion which you know to be false–publicly available information invalidates the claim they’re making.
“I’ve got them now!” you think to yourself, if you’re new to this sort of thing. Then you share a link to an article or video which makes a well-sourced, independently verifiable case for the point you are trying to make.
Then, the inevitable happens.
“LMAO! That outlet!” they scoff in response. “That outlet is propaganda/fake news/conspiracy theory trash!”
Or something to that effect. You’ll encounter this tactic over and over and over again if you continually engage in online political discourse with people who don’t agree with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re literally just linking to an interview featuring some public figure saying a thing you’d claimed they said. It doesn’t matter if you’re linking to a WikiLeaks publication of a verified authentic document. Unless you’re linking to CNN/Fox News (whichever fits the preferred ideology of the establishment loyalist you’re debating), they’ll bleat “fake news!” or “propaganda!” or “Russia!” as though that in and of itself magically invalidates the point you’re trying to make.
And of course it doesn’t. What they are doing is called attacking the source, also known as an ad hominem, and it’s a very basic logical fallacy.
Most people are familiar with the term “ad hominem”, but they usually think about it in terms of merely hurling verbal insults at people. What it actually means is attacking the source of the argument rather than attacking the argument itself in a way that avoids dealing with the question of whether or not the argument itself is true. It’s a logical fallacy because it’s used to deliberately obfuscate the goal of a logical conclusion to the debate.
“An ad hominem is more than just an insult,” explains David Ferrer for The Quad.
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Observers of developments in the Middle East have long taken it as a given that the United States and Israel are seeking for an excuse to attack Iran. The recently terminated conference in Warsaw had that objective, which was clearly expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it failed to rally European and Middle Eastern states to support the cause. On the contrary, there was strong sentiment coming from Europe in particular that normalizing relations with Iran within the context of the 2015 multi party nuclear agreement is the preferred way to go both to avoid a major war and to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.
There are foundations in Washington, all closely linked to Israel and its lobby in the U.S., that are wholly dedicated to making the case for war against Iran. They seek pretexts in various dark corners, including claims that Iran is cheating on its nuclear program, that it is developing ballistic missiles that will enable it to deliver its secret nuclear warheads onto targets in Europe and even the United States, that it is an oppressive, dictatorial government that must be subjected to regime change to liberate the Iranian people and give them democracy, and, most stridently, that is provoking and supporting wars and threats against U.S. allies all throughout the Middle East.
Dissecting the claims about Iran, one might reasonably counter that rigorous inspections by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirm that Tehran has no nuclear weapons program, a view that is supported by the U.S. intelligence community in its recent Worldwide Threat Assessment. Beyond that, Iran’s limited missile program can be regarded as largely defensive given the constant threats from Israel and the U.S. and one might well accept that the removal of the Iranian government is a task best suited for the Iranian people, not delivered through military intervention by a foreign power that has been starving the country through economic warfare. And as for provoking wars in the Middle East, look to the United States and Israel, not Iran.
So the hawks in Washington, by which one means National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, apparently President Donald Trump himself when the subject is Iran, have been somewhat frustrated by the lack of a clear casus belli to hang their war on.
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