Sunday, May 16, 2010

Smuggled Premises: Elena Kagan and the military

While watching ABC's This Week Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions debated the merits of Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. One exchange caught me as an example of how premises can be smuggled into a debate without being challenged. At one point Sessions commented on how Kagan didn't allow military recruiters onto the Harvard campus. Leahy challenged the accuracy of Sessions' account and retorted with how Kagan supports those who serve in the military.

I don't want to get into whose version of this story was more accurate. What is more interesting, to me anyway, is that Sessions did not address what I think is a glaring error in Leahy's argument. The fact that one supports those who have volunteered for a career in the military does not mean you automatically support the military as an institution. When we first got into the Afghanistan and Iraq wars I heard a number of people say they supported our troops but not their mission in these wars. I also know people personally who support our troops but harbor a deep disdain for the military. I think there are a number of reasons for this which I'll get into at another time. But I think this little vignette shows the perils of not challenging someone's argument. By letting Leahy's claim slip by with no comment Sessions lost a prime opportunity to draw Leahy into a discussion of what he or Kagan truly think about the role of the military. Do they believe the U.S. has the moral right to maintain military superiority over those countries that are not our allies?

For a nicely balanced analysis of Kagan's position on this see the article posted on The Volokh Conspiracy.

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