Baghdadi, the ISIS leader who proclaimed a short-lived caliphate, was recently killed by American forces. While the ISIS brand will continue to be a threat, this killing was a significant accomplishment. As would be expected, comparisons were immediately drawn between Obama’s announcement of the killing of bin Laden. Both leaders made the announcement in their usual styles. Obama was calm, serious and sober. Trump put on his usual performance including wild rambling, praising himself (for his internet skills), and focusing on how he might profit (in this case by grabbing Syrian oil). While their speeches differed, they both raised the same question: to what extent is the President responsible for such actions in terms of praise and blame?
When bin Laden was killed, Trump argued that Obama did not deserve credit for the death. One excellent point Trump made was that the decision options were very limited, essentially boiling down to keep trying to kill him or stopping. As Trump noted, not killing bin Laden was not an option, so the decision was easy. Trump also asserted, correctly, that the Seals rather than Obama killed bin Laden. Obama was obviously not on the ground to make the killing shot—he was safely in the White House. As such, Trump draws a reasonable conclusion: Obama does not deserve credit for the killing of bin Laden.
To use a non-violent analogy, imagine a CEO of a corporation you work for who decides to keep a project going you have been working on for years. Suppose your project proves to be a great success. While the CEO will certainly take credit for your work, they do not deserve it—they simply allowed you to keep doing what you were doing.
Not surprisingly, supporters of Obama took issue with Trump’s remarks and Obama is lauded by them for the death of bin Laden. The situation is now reversed: those who dislike Trump are probably tempted to refuse to give him credit, while his supporters are praising him for his great accomplishment. This yet another example of the Two Sides Problems. Trump, who argued that Obama did not deserve credit for bin Laden, does not make those same arguments against himself. Trump’s supporters, as one would expect, do not bring up these arguments—while his opponents revel in bringing them up.
Trump’s foes might be tempted by the following:
Premise 1. Trump claimed that Obama did not deserve credit for the military killing bin Laden.
Conclusion: Trump does not deserve credit for the military killing Baghdadi.
This is bad logics and to think otherwise would be to fall victim to the Tu Quoque Fallacy. One version of this fallacy is committed when one infers that a person is wrong now because they previously held a view that is inconsistent with their current view. While it is fair point out when a person is applying their (alleged) principles inconsistently (by Trump’s argument neither he nor Obama deserve credit—yet he is taking credit), this inconsistency does not establish that a claim is true (or false).
Obviously enough, if Trump’s argument against Obama hold, then they also apply to him: neither deserve credit. If his argument does not hold against Obama, then they would seem to both deserve credit. Naturally, there are facts that would be relevant to the discussion of the extent of credit. If Obama was very active in keeping the hunt for bin Laden a focus and took an active hand in the matter, then he would deserve credit to that degree. If Trump left everything to his subordinates and focused on Twitter, golf, and enriching himself, then he would deserve credit to that degree. And, of course, if Obama was slacking and Trump a magnificent engine of vengeance, then the reverse would hold.
This manifestation of the Two Sides Problem shows, once again, how easy it is for principles to be applied and then rejected based on whether they advantage one’s side or the other. To do this, of course, is to be lacking in principles.