steepholm (steepholm) wrote,
steepholm
steepholm

High-fantastical hypotheticals

Evan Davis: What if the Afghan army can't cope when we pull out of the seven provinces being handed over this week? Do we go back in?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO: That's a hypothetical question, and my main rule is never to answer hypothetical questions.

This reply, given on the Today programme earlier this morning, was a bit of a blast from the past. For many years, politicians would refuse to answer perfectly reasonable questions like the above with a triumphant cry of "That's a hypothetical question!", as if they'd caught the interviewer out in a solecism, or as if the idea that anything might go wrong with their plans was too laughable to warrant a moment's thought. After a while, one or two interviewers were brave enough to say: "Yes, it's a hypothetical question - now will you please answer it?" and that particular gambit was heard rather less. Perhaps it still flourishes in Denmark, but it's disconcerting to hear the head of a powerful military and political alliance announce that one thing he makes a point of never doing is discussing military and political scenarios. It makes you wonder why he came on the programme.

It's almost as disconcerting, in fact, as to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer announce that "There is no Plan B" (which is just another way of refusing to discuss hypotheticals) - as if blinkered inflexibility and a refusal to acknowledge changing circumstances were a sign of strength rather than of weakness.

I assume, or at least hope, that Rasmussen and Osborne do in fact consider hypotheticals and concoct Plans B-Z, but it's interesting that they wish to convey the opposite impression, lest they be accused of - presumably - weakness or lack of resolve.
Tags: current affairs, maunderings
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