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RFD for War on Terror Debate

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12/27/2015 4:41:03 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
This is an RFD for the debate between ColeTrain/famousdebater and EverlastingMoment/fire_wings given here:

There's a lot going on in this debate, but I think what makes it so complex is that both sides really focus too much on winning individual arguments over winning the debate as a whole. Each side makes numerous mistakes as a result, failing to capitalize on big opportunities that they're often presented with. I'll try to clarify each off those as I go through the debate, but first, an overview for each side.

Pro, make a clear and obvious alternative that you're supporting. I'll get more into this on your case, but there's a difference between a set of potential alternatives and a dedicated plan. When I'm not getting a clear alternative with all of the various pieces of how implementation would work and why we should trust that will produce the desired outcomes, I have a very difficult time viewing any of these alternatives as viable.

Con, I think a large part of the problem with your case is that you're allowing Pro to dictate what case you're defending. The resolution does not require you to defend the War on Terror as it stands. Remember, Pro is seeking abolition. That don't require that you support status quo, just that you don't support abolition. I think you missed quite a few opportunities to take on a stance that we can modify how we implement the War on Terror rather than abolishing it.

Alright, onto the cases.

Pro's case:

Just off the top, much of these premises are solely mitigation. That's a risky venture, mainly because it means that there's little offense to work with here. Pro's case needs to stand on its own, and not merely be a pre-rebuttal of many of the expected arguments from Con.


I'll address all issues of the War on Terror's solvency here.

This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about above. This contention is solely meant to show that the War on Terror hasn't had a specific positive effect, rather than emphasizing the negative effects of the War on terrorism. Eventually, Pro does make the argument that the War has increased the number of terrorist acts, but Con points out that Pro's support for these arguments is relatively minimal and difficult to confirm.

This isn't helped by the fact that it's unclear what it means for the War on Terror to be ineffective. Ineffective at what, exactly? This focuses on reducing global terrorism, and Pro eventually clarifies that this has to do with wiping out major global terrorism organizations. That's really only partial mitigation. Admittedly, global terrorism is a big problem and causes a lot of harm, and an inability to address it restricts Con's ability to garner big impacts.

It's not like Con's responses end up playing up these problems. Con correctly argues that all he has to do is show that there have been some beneficial effects, but Con's route to showing this just doesn't get there. They argue that the number of attacks in America have decreased, but that comes pretty late, and, more importantly, it's not a clear impact. There's no reason why I should prefer reduced terrorism in the U.S. general effects on terrorism.

Now, I could see the argument being made that the War on Terror was solely meant to protect U.S. interests and therefore its effectiveness resides solely in how well it does that. The issue is that I'm not getting that message coming through from Con's arguments, since I see them oscillating between the importance of international and national effects. Even if I bought it, though, I'd still have to weigh that against the potential increase in terrorism abroad.

The rest of Con's responses are not really efforts to recover, but rather just efforts to mitigate Pro's mitigation. Arguing that Boko Haram might be stopped because we recently started working on efforts against them isn't proof of the War on Terror's effectiveness, it just invites more questions about how long it will take to work and why it hasn't started working yet. Admittedly, I buy that Pro's examples aren't actually proving that the War on Terror hasn't worked, but it doesn't prove that the War has worked, either. I'm not concerned with these questions of who's part of the Islamic State because it has no bearing on the debate, nor does this question of whether we should be addressing larger terrorist groups or not. If I'm not getting a clear message that the War on Terror has been effective and how that's been the case, then I don't have much to go on for why it's important to keep it around.

So I'm not getting much in the way of argument for either side on this position. There might be some uncertain increase to terrorism worldwide that results from the War on Terror, and it seems to have prevented terrorism in the U.S. (though I personally disagree with that), so I have no real benefit or harm to weigh from this postion. This is actually more harmful to Con because it's a large part of establishing why the War on Terror matters.


This is one of three points where Pro seeks for offense. The argument goes that the War on Terror has given carte blanche to the U.S. to engage in torture under the auspices of ending terrorism. It's not particularly clear from this contention WHY torture is immoral, but it's asserted that it is bad, and at the very least hypocritical, to engage in it. This eventually just turns into an issue of morality, which actually makes it appear less potent by the end of the debate since it's rather distant from the aspect of torture by the final round. It doesn't help that Pro uses the line "*IF* the War on Terror can stop terrorism (it can"t) then it would be justifiable", which makes me question why it matters whether we engage in torture at all. If the only issue that matters is whether or not terrorism is reduced, then why bother having this discussion?

Con's responses just don't do much here. Con essentially just says that we're likely to end torture under Obama's administration at some point, which might be true, but it doesn't get a solid enough set of support to dismiss the point completely. Con's entirely correct that ending the War on Terror just because torture happens doesn't make a lot of sense, but they don't tell me why. Pro's giving me good reason to believe that the torture is inextricably linked to the War on Terror that justifies it, and I need to know at least one of the following: a) why that isn't true (I can think of several reasons, none of which were presented), b) why the War on Terror can continue without torture (that requires spending time explaining why Con doesn't have to defend status quo, which they didn't do), or c) why torture is good (again, I can think of several reasons, none of which were presented).

So what I'm left to do is lightly buy this contention. It's not potent, and there's a lot of mitigation on it that suggests that torture will likely stop at some point in the future even with the War on Terror, but at least Pro is apparently stopping it faster, even if I'm not convinced that that's necessarily a good thing.
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12/27/2015 4:42:11 AM
Posted: 2 years ago

Another point of mitigation, and honestly one that confuses me. Pro seems to be arguing that, from a theoretical perspective, the War on Terror cannot work. There are simply too many enemies, they're not state agents, and thus impractical. It's a point of mitigation, as I said, and not a particularly good one. I can buy that the War on Terror is a theoretical impossibility and still vote Con on the basis that it affords actual benefits. So while Pro's right that Con dropped this, I'm not particularly convinced it matters. Sure, the War on Terror will never be wholly effective, but the only reason I get for why that matters is that it spreads our forces too thin. The problem with that line of reasoning is that Con's giving me a lot of reason to believe that our forces have to be used towards prevention, and that merely defending the nation isn't enough to do anything meaningful. Without a clear line of reasoning as to why more troops at home = more benefits, I can't see much going into this that matters.

The argument I was waiting for and never saw was that the War on Terror can never be won, so it will always be fought. It's essentially an unending struggle against a nebulous foe that's never going to face us on the battlefield in the way another nation would, which means that it will always be a huge suck on resources. It will also force us to violate the sovereignty of other nations and potentially incite other conflicts. All of this should have appeared somewhere in here to give this teeth, but it never got them, and so this point is toothless.


I call this offense only in the most minimal sense. It was never really offense, in that it had any serious weight in the debate. The argument for utilitarianism just never gets at the actual impact because I can't determine why it matters that the public should be happy. Pro tells me that governments should make their people happy and that they are the only ones satisfying them, but I can't weigh that either because I don't know where governmental duties weigh by comparison to lives lost.

That's not to say that Con's responses are particularly strong. All of Con's points focus on minimizing the importance of utilitarian ideology, but they don't provide an alternate view of what should matter most. Con does argue that this is not a mandate for abandoning the War, and I agree, but it's still a point and I think one that should have led to a better set of responses about why this lack of support is unwarranted, why people don't understand the War, or at least why the other forms of support that Con mentions outweigh the general support of U.S. citizens. I don't see any of that.

Still, it's basically support versus support. The only reason I'm favoring Pro at all on this point is that they explain it in the context of U.S. governmental duties, whereas Con just asserts that relationships are good. So Pro gets a slight edge on this very low impact argument.


The last of Pro's offense, and easily the strongest. Pro argues that there's a great deal of money being spent in the War on Terror, and that that money could be better spent elsewhere. Simple, straightforward, clear.

So, then, why did both sides shoot themselves in the foot here?

Pro argues only one potential use for that money: spend it to end extreme poverty. No explanation for how that money should be spent to end that poverty, just a claim that it could be spent there and end extreme poverty. Two easy responses could have ended this argument:

(1) The lack of a case means that Pro just wants this money funneled into some random sector for dealing with poverty. We say that sector will require the formation of a brand new department, which will cost tremendous amounts of money, take a great long time to get started, and do a piteous job of addressing the issue, spending most of that money on administrative costs. It would be a waste of space, and therefore an even bigger waste of hundreds of billions of dollars.

(2) We say that the money Pro wants spent on poverty won't be spent there. These funds will merely go elsewhere in the defense budget. You can pick any number of potential locations, but the easiest one is the sink hole that is the Afghanistan War, where we're sinking tremendous amounts of money and manpower for essentially no gain. It's not part of the War on Terror because we're effectively just stabilizing the country at this point.

There are other responses, but these are the two I've come up with. Either one would have told me that it doesn't matter how much money Pro saves because it's not going to go anywhere useful.

But Con didn't make those arguments. And the points Con did make were among their weakest responses. Con claims that the loss of funds isn't that substantial, but these numbers don't clearly disagree with Pro's, and even if they do they're still rather high. It's clear that gobs and gobs of money will be saved. Con doesn't claim that this amount of money wouldn't be enough to solve the problem of poverty, or that the money wouldn't be used effectively. The entire response just seems to nit-pick about where funds are being spent, and not really address the elephant in the room: that funds are being spent, and could be spent elsewhere.

So Pro wins this argument. I'm a bit incredulous that they do, especially considering that they're also winning the argument of ending extreme poverty (though that's not linked to a substantial life gain impact, which it should have been), but Con's responses give me little choice.


Waste of time. This could have been offense, but as I mentioned earlier, that required that Pro go through the potential alternatives and examine a) what they are in some detail, b) how they would be implemented, c) how they achieve solvency, and d) what the real world impacts of engaging in these alternatives are. Pro may have addressed the last of these to some degree (though mostly through assertion that they would work), but they utterly fail to do any of the others. Maybe they were concerned that it would take up too much space, but that's the reason why you present one alternative and flesh it out as your plan.

Con's responses basically tell me to dismiss this for more basic reasons, but I buy that I should sismiss the alternatives in any case. Pro is too reliant on their sources to explain why they're engaging in these practices, and I don't buy that they've given enough detail to make any of these alternatives feasible.

Con's case:

Unlike Pro's case, the major problems with Con's case don't involve a lack of clear offense. Rather, the problem seems to be a lack of clear impacts. I'll make that clear as I go through these points.


I kept looking at this trying to find an impact somewhere in the argument, but I couldn't find one. The argument appears to be that a response to 9/11 was necessary because when war crimes happen, the U.S. needs to treat it as a hostile situation and meet it with force. But I'm left asking myself why. What, exactly, does the response produce that is meaningful? I'm not clear on that. Con seems to be arguing that there's some kind of retributive justice that results from taking action against a people that did us harm, but it's unclear what that benefit is, and it's further unclear why it matters that we continue fighting to respond to a security breach that happened in 2001.

I felt like I was left wanting here because I'm not clear why continuing to fight the War on Terror is beneficial as a result of 9/11. The link between continued fighting and the initial decision to fight is just never established.

Pro's responses range in effectiveness. Pro tells me that 9/11 may not have been caused by Al Qaida, providing a flimsy link and little reasoning. I don't buy it.
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12/27/2015 4:42:34 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
What I do buy is the collateral damage and loss of life points, and these turns end up being the most important arguments in the debate. When I get clear evidence that efforts abroad for the War on Terror are ending lives that aren't involved in the War, that's a huge point because, unlike the uncertainties regarding the effects on terrorism, these are real. So are the deaths of troops in the process. Those numbers aren't something I can dismiss, and they're the only impacts in this debate that have both clear solvency (ending the War on Terror ends these losses of life), and clear impact (loss of life).

So while I'm buying that there might be some nebulous need for retribution that somehow continued from 2001 out to today, that is substantially outweighed by these turns.


Again, really trying to find the impact. The argument seems to be that the UN has paved the way for international efforts against terrorism. It doesn't appear to be a mandate, and if it is, it's unclear how that mandate would be enforced, so what I'm left with is the idea that there's some large international effort going on, and there's some benefit to being a part of that effort, which we are through the War on Terror. The impact seems to be that the U.S. is an integral part of actions against terrorist groups like the Islamic State.

But that's not at all clear. It's not clear how the U.S. has played an integral role, or could play an integral role, in preventing incidents like the Paris attacks. I'm left to scratch my head over it, because we're currently in the War on Terror and this still happened, and Con offers no ways to improve how it's being done. It's made all the worse by Con arguing that other groups are launching devastating attacks that are having an effect, which further confuses why the U.S. is so important in this process.

Pro mishandles this argument, viewing it as a requirement rather than addressing the issue of U.S. importance in fighting terror. Much of the remainder of Pro's response just links back to their first contention and doesn't really provide any substantive response to this point.

So I guess I'm lightly buying some kind of nebulous benefit for Con here, but I can't figure out how it will work.


Again, impact. What's the impact of ending the War on Terror and not replacing it with anything? I need a contention on the importance of U.S. hard power, and the deficits involved in relying on soft power. Con doesn't push that route, instead referencing back to the Bosnian War and stating that, if the U.S. wasn't involved in the War on Terror, something is not going to be sustainable. I don't know what that something is " maybe the enforcement of certain safe zones, though I'm not sure which ones " and I don't know what its lack of sustainment does. The remainder of this is just Con attempting to say that non-violent methods are also part of the War on Terror, which doesn't make much sense to me and has no bearing on the debate anyway.

Pro doesn't give any direct rebuttals to this, but it's too damn confusing to work out what this contention is doing in any case. The reference to the Bosnian War just distracts from the basic issue of what the War on Terror is doing and could be doing, so if the Bosnian War is an important corollary, tell me specifically what it's corollated to. Without that, I have no clear concept of what Con could be accomplishing.

Again, Con's winning this, but I can't figure out what he's winning with regards to substance.


There are two other aspects of it that must be addressed.

Sri Lanka is the major example I get, and this does help Con's case. Pro ignores it, and frankly, I think that's to his great detriment, because this does tell me clearly that the War on Terror has ended a major terrorist threat and even a civil war. I'm not clear on what that impact looks like, but I can guess it's substantial. Honestly, I would have bought that the U.S. wasn't instrumental in this action, and or that the War on Terror wasn't necessary for it. Admittedly, since it's not a current example of effectiveness, it's difficult to say how this success will play out as further successes, and why the War on Terror should continue past today, but it is clear that the War on Terror has some effect, and that effect can be substantial.

Con does discuss the possibility of effectiveness in the Middle East, but this is where the problem lies. Con tells me that it could potentially be successful in these countries, but not how that can happen, especially considering that these efforts are already being made. Again, I don't think Pro is directly responsive, but he does question our current effectiveness in other nations, and in particular talks about our ineffectiveness with terrorist groups in the Middle East, so while those responses aren't placed here, I believe he does enough to explain the War on Terror won't solve for these problems.


So... yeah. Most of the arguments are so weak and uncertain that there's no basis for me to weigh them within the debate. What's left are Pro's P5 and his turns on C1, which are up against Con's C4. I can't dismiss Pro's P5 out of hand despite the fact that it's so unclear, but its links to loss of life are never made clear. Again, it's simple enough to link extreme poverty to loss of life, but as Pro didn't do that, I'm not going to fill in the blanks for him. It's a small point that might alter the outcome if things are close, but it's not going to net him the debate by itself.

So that's a continuously present loss of non-combatant lives (on a small scale) and combatant lives (on a large scale) versus the potential to end a major conflict or two based on a history of a conflict being ended. Honestly, if I'm just searching for the largest impact, I'd vote Con because ending a civil war has a potentially massive effect.

But the reasons I'm voting Pro are as follows.

First, Pro's impacts happen more often. They will occur because Con never contests them. Addressing further civil wars and shutting down associated terrorist groups requires more explanation, and as Pro doesn't give me any examples of where that's likely to happen due to the War on Terror, I cna't buy it.

Second, Pro's impact has associated numbers. While I can logically view ending a 30 year civil war and the reign of a terrible terrorist group as big, I can't know precisely what those numbers would look like, which makes it difficult to weigh. Pro gives me the means to weigh their arguments, and as such makes it easier for me to pick him up than Con.

As such, for both of these reasons, I find that Pro's arguments outweigh, and therefore I vote Pro.