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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"We're Making Progress"

In my last post, I promised/threatened two points. Here's the second:

Back on May 1, 2003, President Bush gave his infamous speech on the USS Lincoln. Wearing his flight suit, he said:

In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.

Throughout the Iraq insurgency and civil war, President Bush has made many exuberant claims of all the "progress" being made in Iraq. At no point that I can remember has he ever said anything like "Actually, right now, we're backsliding; things are getting worse."

On the other hand, at some point well into our occupation of Iraq, he also began to discuss how difficult the job was, and just how attuned to that difficulty he really is (remember that 2004 debate--the second, I think--in which Bush went on and on about "hard work"?). Laura Bush even said recently that "no one suffers more than their President and I do" over how hard it all is.

So:

1. We won the Battle of Iraq sometime before May 1, 2003.

2. We've made consistent progress "in securing and reconstructing that country" from the start.

3. Of course, things are really hard. So hard that "no one suffers more than their President and" Laura Bush do.

Here's a basic mathematical fact, known as the Intermediate Value Theorem: if you start at point A and end at point B, then somewhere in the middle you have to cross any point C that lies between A and B. (For all you math buffs out there, the path you take has to be continuous in a technically precise way; if not, the theorem's conclusion about C need not hold.)

So if things in Iraq are "hard" now but we've had continuous progress since the President flew his fighter jet onto the Lincoln, then things must have been worse sometime between May 1, 2003, and now.

Anyone know exactly when that was?

Posted by Jonah Gelbach on May 2, 2007 at 06:30 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

This is interesting as sort of a Zeno-ite discussion, but really, we're talking about politicians here. Bush is supposed to say we're *not* making progress? Has any president ever said "The economic outlook for the foreseeable future is bad and getting worse"? "Crime is on the rise due to deep sociological factors and there's nothing the government can do about it"? "Your baby is all right, but I've seen cuter"? It seems to me that it's more important to tell if we're *actually* making progress than whether Bush has been fully consistent on that issue in his public statements for the past 4 years.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | May 4, 2007 2:13:58 PM

I think we're making some progress in this discussion (though it's hard). Your key point has nothing to do with anything Bush said on the Abraham Lincoln, or anything he or Laura Bush has said since then. It's solely the fact that progress means improvement in the situation. That's distinct from how difficult it is to make that progress. So the fact that our present work is difficult doesn't mean that we haven't made progress, and improved the situation.

Of course, continous progress in accomplishing a task still doesn't mean that other forces aren't making the overall situation worse. Suppose Cool Hand Luke starts with one egg in his pile. He eats an egg every minute, but every thirty seconds (for the first 25 minutes of his task) someone puts another egg into his pile. Ten minutes in, he's been making continuous progress in his task--he's eaten 10 eggs, after all--but the pile has increased to 10 in the meantime.

Posted by: Chris | May 4, 2007 1:02:28 PM

chris

the key part of your latest comment, which shows your continued misunderstanding of what i wrote, is this sentence:

You're assuming that progress will necessarily make our work easy, but that's not so.

You focus on *levels*, whereas my point was about *changes*. If one makes continuous progress, things must get better (e.g., consider definitions 3 and 4 of progress at this site). So whatever the present situation is after continuous progress, it must be better than the previous one. Put differently, a bad situation preceded by continuous progress necessarily must have been a worse situation previously. So if you think that (a) the situation wasn't worse at some point between May 1, 2003, and now, then (b) you need to believe there hasn't been continuous progress. This is a simple matter of logic. It has nothing to do with whether the present situation is "easy" or "hard", or "good" or "bad", etc.

For what it's worth, that's the last time I'm going to explain this point.

Jonah

Posted by: jonah gelbach | May 4, 2007 9:48:16 AM

I don't think the president has ever said the work would be easy. He said in February 2003 that it would be difficult. He said in May 2003 that it would be difficult. He said in the fall of 2004 that it would be difficult. He and the First Lady say today that it will be difficult. If you recall something he's said differently, you should link it.

In terms of your argument that progress means that things should get less hard, you still fail to distinguish between work being hard and the situation being bad. You're assuming that progress will necessarily make our work easy, but that's not so.

You just said this: "if you read my post, you will see that what you call a 'presupposition' plays no role in the point i'm making."

Two comments ago you repeated this statement and question from your original post: "So if things in Iraq are 'hard' now but we've had continuous progress since the President flew his fighter jet onto the Lincoln, then things must have been worse sometime between May 1, 2003, and now. Anyone know exactly when that was?" What I call a "presupposition" is the statement that precedes your question--that is, your sentence, "So if things in Iraq are 'hard' now but we've had continuous progress since the President flew his fighter jet onto the Lincoln, then things must have been worse sometime between May 1, 2003, and now." That's the thing you supposed right before you asked the question. I think it's false, and I tried to explain why.

Posted by: Chris | May 4, 2007 9:13:04 AM

chris

if you read my post, you will see that what you call a "presupposition" plays no role in the point i'm making. you point out two quotes from the president in which he says the work to be done will be hard. personally i think his emphasis on that point has been less than consistent over the last four years.

but that's a side point in any case. my argument was not of the form "the president said the work was easy and now he says it's hard, so
therefore there must have been a point of regress."

rather, my argument was "the president has without exception since May 1, 2003, said we're making progress and now he says things are hard, so therefore things must have been even harder at some point between May 1, 2003, and now." i then asked exactly when in said period things were "harder" than now.

in both of your comments, you have (i) failed to address the question i did ask and (ii) constructed a strawman argument to address instead.

i'm still curious to hear when it is between May 1, 2003, and now that you think things were even "harder" than they are now.

jonah

Posted by: jonah gelbach | May 3, 2007 11:57:04 PM

I wasn't ignoring the question; I was explaining why the presupposition that preceded it was false. The fact that our work is "hard" is perfectly consistent with what the President said on the Abraham Lincoln; indeed, he said our work would be hard on the Abraham Lincoln. The fact that our work is still hard now does not indicate that we have not made continuous progress.

Posted by: Chris | May 3, 2007 9:37:39 PM

Just to reiterate the question I actually asked:

So if things in Iraq are "hard" now but we've had continuous progress since the President flew his fighter jet onto the Lincoln, then things must have been worse sometime between May 1, 2003, and now.

Anyone know exactly when that was?

All three of the comments above fail to answer that question--each simply ignores it.

Posted by: jonah gelbach | May 3, 2007 3:39:34 PM

And this, from the Abraham Lincoln speech: "We have difficult work to do in Iraq."

Posted by: Chris | May 3, 2007 2:45:20 PM

The President said before the war that it would be hard: "The work ahead is demanding. It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions, and war. It will be difficult to cultivate liberty and peace in the Middle East, after so many generations of strife." He never said later (of course, he had changed out of the flight suit before the speech) that securing and reconstructing Iraq would be easy, just that we were doing it. Also, saying that our work is hard is different from saying that "things" are hard.

Posted by: Chris | May 3, 2007 12:47:16 PM

Notice that, in the excerpt from the USS Lincoln speech, there is no assertion that conditions (as of the time of the speech) are any good at all. Indeed, there is the assertion that Iraq is a nation in such dire need of security and reconstruction that presence of the US Army is necessary to achieve those goals.

If you take that as the starting point, then yes, it is possible that things have been improving continuously for the last four years.

You have also failed to examine the correlation (if any) between the second-order derivative of the conditions in Iraq and the president's suffering. (For the non-mathematical out there: if we're measuring conditions in Iraq, the the first-order derivative could be called "improvement," and the second-order derivative could be called "the rate of improvement.") It may be that the president sets such high standards that his suffering is based on the second-order derivative (i.e. he suffers when things aren't improving faster than they were improving before). Using this as a model, it's entirely possible that things have been improving continuously for the last four years, and that the president's suffering has, too, only increased over that time.

Posted by: SlimAndSlam | May 3, 2007 12:33:40 PM

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