Clearly, There’s No Question That If You’re Right, You’re Right

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responds to a question about the legality of assassinating Anwar al-Awlaki:

This individual was clearly a terrorist. And yes, he was a citizen, but if you’re a terrorist, you’re a terrorist. And that means that we have the ability to go after those who would threaten to attack the United States and kill Americans. There’s no question that the authority and the ability to go after a terrorist is there.Legal eagles.

Usage guru Bryan A. Garner writes of the word “clearly,”

Exaggerators like this word, along with its cousins (obviously, undeniably, undoubtedly, and the like). Often a statement prefaced with one of these words is exceedingly dubious. (The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style, Oxford University Press, 2000.)

Indeed, take a look at “Anwar al-Awlaki’s Suspected Ties to Terror Plots.” Notice that in only one of the eight plots is there any mention of al-Awlaki’s participation; all the others involve “inspiration” or religious instruction, often of people al-Awlaki never met. But let’s not dwell too much on details. Leon Panetta doesn’t. He follows his “clearly” statement with a tautology (“if you’re a terrorist, you’re a terrorist”). Then comes an equivocation about the administration’s “ability” to do what it did. If Panetta means the physical or mental power to perform the act, then this is self-evidently correct and irrelevant. If he means the legal authority, then he has, in the words of The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, “assum[ed] what is at issue in an argument,” or begged the question (yes, that phrase actually means something). He wraps up with a wordier version of undeniably (“there’s no question”), makes the preceding equivocation plain by distinguishing “authority” from “ability,” and again begs the question.

Panetta was once a practicing lawyer. I see now why he prefers extrajudicial methods.

9 thoughts on “Clearly, There’s No Question That If You’re Right, You’re Right”

  1. I can only stand slackjawed at
    1. The criminal audacity of this sociopathic (psychopathic?) crew. (While surely not being surprised by it.)
    2. Someone actually understanding (and even properly using!) the term and concept "beg the question." Thank you Matt Bargainer.

  2. "Undoubtedly" SecDef Pi?ata is as full of s*@t as a Christmas goose. Team Obama's assemblage of murderous brain-dead freaks is sad and unconstitutionally galling.

    1. Most heinous of all is the fact that Sean and Sharon Sheeple gobble up every fetid syllable of verbal flatulence emanating from the mouths of these criminal monsters and savor them as God's Own Gospel Truth.

      The point of no return has been passed.

      1. Hi liberranter:Well said. I would offer this one minor change – “God's Own Asine Truth!” You know, 'goat'? Cause you know, Mr. & Ms. Sheeple been eating the monster goat for far too long.

  3. Clearly Panetta is carefully crafting his words, undeniably in an attempt to sell his opinion to an increasingly skeptical American public.

    You know, there was a time when being called a 'lawyer' was a grave insult. In Panetta's case, I'd like to revive that custom.

  4. Begging the question (or petitio principii, "assuming the initial point") is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise.

    The first known definition in the West is by the Greek philosopher Aristotle around 350 BC, in his book Prior Analytics, where he classified it as a material fallacy. Begging the question is related to the circular argument, circulus in probando (Latin, "circle in proving") or circular reasoning, though these are considered absolutely different by Aristotle.[1]

    It's the Because We Say So Corporation.

Comments are closed.