Monday, July 26, 2010

Dear Mitt Romney, Please Learn How to Properly Structure an Argument

Three weeks ago, Mitt Romney penned a Washington Post op-ed entitled "Obama's Worst Foreign-Policy Mistake," chock full of misleading information and outright lies about New START.  His op-ed prompted a flurry of repudiation from across both aisles (Sen. Lugar, Sen. Kerry, Steven Pifer); even staunch anti-STARTer Senator Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) letter of response wasn't that supportive.  Kyl's article was more of an angry rant against Obama than a well-articulated claim that Romney's assertions were correct.

Scores of experts were called before various Congressional committees, and they all refuted every one of Romney's arguments: missile defense, rail-mobile missiles, ICBM-silo conversion, data sharing, and verification.

Anyway, that brings us to today.  Romney has responded to Senators, officials, and experts with a brand new op-ed in the National Review, in which he attempts to save face by re-iterating "Eight Problems with New START."  I say that Romney attempted to save face, because, well...when it comes down to it, he pretty much fails at any real argumentation skills.  Let me lay it out for you, Mitty.

Most academics go by Toumlin's Model of Argumentation, which stipulates that there are six--count 'em six--components of an argument: Claim, Qualifier, Grounds, Warrant, Backing, Rebuttal.

Claim:  This is akin to a hypothesis, i.e. what you are asserting to be true.
Qualifier: This indicates the probability of the argument (usually with key phrases such as: mostly, often, always, etc.)
Grounds: Reason behind the claim.
Warrant: A link between Grounds and Claim.
Backing: Probably the most important component of an argument.  Backing is where the big guns come out, i.e. statistical data, reports, etc.
Rebuttal: Used either before/after the argument to refute any counter-arguments.  When used pre-emptively (anticipating counter-arguments and using evidence to refute them before they are even made), it makes for a much stronger argument.

Here is my favorite argument of Romney's from his most recent op-ed broken down using this model:
Claim: "In the long term, agreeing to this limitation could prove to have been very short-sighted."
Qualifier: ??
Grounds: "The sixth agreed statement of the treaty’s protocol suggests that telemetry data on missiles governed by the treaty is not to be used for strategic-missile-defense purposes." 
Warrant: ??
Backing: ??
Rebuttal: ??
--Do you notice all the blank spaces? That's where Romney fails to refute experts--experts like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who said that "For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate with strong bipartisan majorities." Or experts like James Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense and former Director of Central Intelligence under Nixon and Ford, who said "fail[ure] to ratify the treaty...would have a detrimental effect on our ability to influence others with regard to particularly the nonproliferation issue. Or scores of other experts including Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Colin Powell, William Cohen, Linton Brooks, or STRATCOM Commander General Kevin Chilton. Why does Mitt Romney believe that his experience as a governor of Massachusetts makes him somehow more qualified to give foreign policy advice to the American public than these people?

Mr. Romney, let me present you with a properly ordered argument:
Claim: Mitt Romney writes poorly researched articles in order to undermine arms control.
Qualifier: Unless there is evidence to the contrary, Mitt Romney is a poor influence on American foreign policy.
Warrant: These op-eds were widely panned by experts across the political spectrum.
Rebuttal: To those who claim that Mitt Romney is entitled to his opinion, I say this:  Yes, Romney is entitled to his opinion, but not at the expense of an important arms control agreement that would heal U.S.-Russian relations and promote safety and security.

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