Friday, June 24, 2005

Available Means of Persuasion

Aristotle defined the art of rhetoric as recognizing in a given situation “the available means of persuasion.” Which of the various means orators choose to move an audience says a lot about their skill as a public speaker.

It also says a lot about who they are politically. Take
Mark Hyman’s recent commentary about wasteful Pentagon spending. Citing a GAO report that showed the Department of Defense threw away, gave away, or wasted approximately $3.5 billion in unused equipment, Hyman calls on Donald Rumsfeld to “adopt effective property management controls” (a great example of corporate-speak blather).

So Hyman has a good (albeit hardly controversial) point: Pentagon waste is bad.

What’s interesting is Hyman’s careful avoidance of the most obvious means of persuasion. Most people, if making a case that wasted Defense Department spending is harmful during a time of war, would say something about the ongoing war in Iraq. After all, wouldn’t this drive home the point on a visceral level? Here’s the Pentagon wasting $3.5 billion while U.S. troops are fighting and dying in Iraq, often without proper equipment. Could there be a more forceful way of illustrating the cost of such waste and the necessity for ending it?

I doubt it. But Hyman doesn’t breathe a word about Iraq. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that it didn’t occur to Hyman to use the needs of U.S. troops in Iraq as an illustration of the costs of “ineffective property management.” Given how anxious Hyman is to link many of his commentaries to “the troops” (in particular, accusing those who disagree with the Bush administration of “hating the troops), I doubt Hyman didn’t recognize this available means of persuasion.

The other explanation (and the one that I find much more likely) is that Hyman didn’t mention the war because to do so would imply that something might have been less than perfect about the planning and execution of the invasion. To mention the needs of our soldiers in the field, even in the cause of making the case for better Defense Department spending, is a nonstarter. Why? Because it could make the Bush administration look bad.

If you needed any more proof that Hyman’s allegiance to the Bush administration trumps his avowed support of the troops, there you have it.

Just for the record, I thought I’d help us put the $3.5 billion into context by running some numbers. Here’s what the money the Pentagon wasted would buy:

17,500 fully armored Humvees.

40,000 transport trucks (which are often abandoned in Iraq if they get a flat tire).

2.3 million suits of combat-ready desert camouflaged suits of
body armor.

230,000 state of the art prosthetic limbs.

$2,250 in monthly combat pay for all 130,000 service members in Iraq for a full year. (Current monthly combat pay is around $250 a month.)

Yearly salaries for 92,000 Army staff sergeants.
And, although this is a little bit of an apples/oranges comparison, $3.5 billion would buy more than 20,000 full page ads in the Wall Street Journal at $170,000 a pop. Recently, a number of prominent Republican supporters and donors spent their own money to take out such
a full page ad in the WSJ that said they felt “betrayed” by Bush and call the war an enterprise that is “bound to fail” and “may well be a catastrophe.”

Of course, I’m sure they’re just saying this because, despite the fact that they are Republicans who supported Bush, they hate America and the troops, right Mark?

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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