An Analysis of the Bill Kristol/Scott Horton Debate
On October 4, 2021, Bill Kristol debated Scott Horton at the Soho Forum in an Oxford-style debate. The proposition was “A willingness to intervene and seek regime change is key to an American foreign policy that benefits America.” Kristol argued in the affirmative, and Horton in the negative. The structure of the debate is that each side would present an opening statement, a rebuttal, and a short Q-and-A session, after which each side will give their closing statements.
Kristol has been one of the foremost supporters of American foreign policy over the last two decades. He was the founder and editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, and is now editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the director of Defending Democracy Now. He is also the host of “Conversations with Bill Kristol”.
Horton is the host of Antiwar Radio on 90.7 KPFK, director of the Libertarian Institute, and editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of “Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan” and “Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism”.
My goal is to provide a full analysis and breakdown of the debate, including who was able to present the better argument and more convincingly make their case. We will not be evaluating the specific claims of each side, as that would be beyond the scope of this piece and my own abilities, but rather, evaluate each side’s argumentation and debate skills. Rather than provide a full transcript of the debate, I will summarize the main points of their arguments and give the essential nature of their statements. For a full version Horton and Kristol’s arguments, I recommend that you watch through the full video recording of the debate, which can be found here.
Kristol starts off by emphasizing that the resolution reads, “a willingness to intervene…”, and not that we should always intervene in other countries. He does, however, agree that having this willingness to intervene will make the world a better and safer place.
Kristol argues that the overall peace that the world has experienced ever since the end of the disastrous Second World War is a result of and is dependent on the American-led world order that exists today. While it is easy to point out the mistakes that may have happened under this order, it is vitally important that we do not miss the all of the catastrophes that were avoided. Many regions of the world, such as Europe, have known peace for longer than at almost any other point in history.
Furthermore, the American-led world order has led to a great number of other accomplishments as well, such as the massive reduction in poverty that we have seen over the past several decades.
Kristol does acknowledge that some errors have been made by the United States during this time, such as Vietnam, that could and should have been avoided. Another one of these unfortunate blunders was allowing Saddam Hussain to remain in control of Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The U.S. also failed in not intervening quickly enough in the Balkans to stop the genocides and atrocities taking place there.
Just as intervening abroad can carry consequences, not intervening in other countries can carry equal weighty consequences. One example of a non-intervention that cost the world dearly was not intervening quickly enough to stop Hitler in the early years of Nazi Germany. Genocides in Rwanda and Syria could also have been stopped if the U.S. had intervened in those countries as well.
Overall, the costs of maintaining this world order have not been too expensive for the American people either. The military budget isn’t bankrupting the U.S., and is unquestionably worth the price when we consider the benefits it grants to us.
Additionally, the existence of the American-led world order has not cost us in terms of our liberties at home. By all available metrics, liberty and equality exist in greater abundance today than they did in 1945.
Americans do directly benefit from this maintaining the world order as well, as having other democracies around the world help to strengthen our democracy at home, as well as keeping the world a safer place to live.
Horton begins by stating that intervention in other countries around the world leads to the eventual erosion of a nation, which is exactly what has happened to the United States. The manifestations of this erosion can be found in the large national debt, ever-decreasing liberties at home, thousands of dead servicemen and women, and deep cultural and social divisions.
Horton argues that the U.S. is clearly not on a mission to spread democracy abroad, pointing out that the U.S. has maintained alliances in the Middle East for years with explicitly non-democratic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, without any effort to pressure them to become more democratic.
Horton states that U.S. intervention in the Middle East has been one giant disaster, starting with Reagan and Carter supporting the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion in the 70s and 80s. This support led to the rise of the Afghan warlords, the Taliban, and ultimately Al-Qaeda. The policy of “dual-containment” against Iran and Iraq in the 1990s led to the creation and maintenance of numerous American military bases in Saudi Arabia, which would serve as the catalyst for Osama Bin Laden’s anger towards the United States.
After 9/11, the Bush administration wanted regime change in Afghanistan, which led to a 20-year war in the country all for the Taliban to just take back the country after the United States left in summer 2021.
The invasion of Iraq was also a giant failure, as the toppling of the Hussain government led to the rise of the Shiite factions in Iran, which strengthened and empower Iran in the region.
The intervention in Libya to “save the population from genocide” has been totally counter-productive, as hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed since Qaddafi was deposed in 2011.
The intervention in Syria necessitated supporting Bin-Ladenite terrorists, which led directly to the creation of ISIS. The U.S. had to intervene in Iraq again to help destroy the very monster that they helped to create.
Horton also argues that the immigrant crisis in Europe as a result of the United States’ escapades in the Middle East has led to the rise of right-wing nationalist groups and a breakdown in the trust in democracy. Horton takes a shot at Kristol here, saying that it was the wars in the Middle East that ultimately fomented the rise of Donald Trump and his presidency, whom Kristol has been so critical of.
Horton recounts his main point in closing, arguing that the U.S. interventions overseas have led to numerous problems at home, including economic, political, military, and cultural turmoil.
Who Had the Better Opening?
Kristol’s opening statement had several problems. First, it was not especially focused. The way he presented his argument was not very organized. It gave off the impression of an ad hoc and on-the-fly collection of thoughts rather than a planned and carefully articulated argument. He starts off far too many sentences with “I think that…” or “I believe that…”. The job of a debater is not to tell us what you think, but tell us what we should think. Kristol speaking in this way gives an air of subjectivity and opinionating to his case. Secondly, his opening was relatively light on information. He did not fill in his main points with substantial information as much as he should have. His statement was more platitudes and assertions without much if any information to fill in the gaps and persuade the audience.
Horton, on the other hand, had a strong opening statement. The presentation was organized well, covering the U.S. interventions in mostly chronological order. At the end, you could clearly tell what his position was and why he believed it. Horton was also compelling the way he delivered his argument, filling in his case with a generous amount information and historical facts. In fact, the main problem with his opening statement was the overabundance of information. While necessary to making his case, Horton almost throws too much information at the audience, which doesn’t give the audience as much time to digest what he is saying and how it relates to his point of view. Not a crippling flaw by any means, but still a small issue from Horton.
Overall, Horton had the better opening statement. He did a better job communicating his point of view to the audience, and presented clear information to back up his case. Kristol’s opening statement wasn’t horrendous by any means, but he was much less focused and sharp than Horton in this initial exchange. First point goes to Horton.
Kristol starts off his rebuttal by admitting that the Middle East is a very complicated place, and one of the biggest mistakes that the U.S. made was not pushing democracy hard enough in that region. This specifically applies to countries that are allied with the U.S., such as the aforementioned Saudi Arabia.
Kristol adds that Horton has not taken account of the both Europe and Asia, both of which have been remarkable peaceful over the last 75 years as compared to before the rise of the U.S.-led world order.
Kristol also argues that Horton is mistaken in his view of the state of liberty and freedom in the United States, arguing that those who wish for more democracy abroad also wish to see more democracy at home. Similarly, friends of liberalism and democracy around the world do not wish to see the U.S. retreat from its role on the world stage, and would be greatly harmed if we did so.
Lastly, Kristol repeats that it is not U.S. intervention, but a failure to intervene that invites aggression from others, such as in the case of Syria.
Horton starts off by stating that World War II hangs over much of this discussion. However, World War II would have never happened had the U.S. not intervened in World War I to tip the scales heavily in favor of the Allies. Without World War I, there is no Nazi Germany of Soviet Union.
Horton argues that while Kristol has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. has kept the peace. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. The U.S. killed 2 million Koreans, 3–5 million Vietnamese, as well as knocking over the dominoes that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, which killed another 2 million Cambodians. In the Middle East alone, the U.S. has killed a million Iraqis, half a million Syrians, as well as hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia
Horton adds that the U.S. did intervene substantially in Syria, contrary to Kristol’s insistence, with the CIA spending over $1 billion per year there.
Who Had the Better Rebuttal?
Kristol’s rebuttal is predicated on 3 main points:
- Horton has not taken the peace in Europe and Asia into consideration.
- People around the world do not wish to see the U.S. withdraw from its position in the world
- While it is easy to point out the mistakes made, not intervening can be equally as disastrous a mistake as well
The only one of these points that hits Horton’s case in any meaningful way is the first. The second point Kristol does not back up with anything other than his own experience and beliefs. If he had cited polls or statistics from countries abroad on the popularity of the U.S. presence, then this would have presented a problem for Horton. However, he doesn’t cite any evidence in favor of his view, and it correspondingly falls flat. The third point is predicated mostly from Kristol on the civil war in Syria, claiming that the U.S. failure to intervene there has led to a humanitarian crisis. Horton already addressed this in his opening statement, but does not at all reference the claims Horton made concerning it. For this to rebut Horton’s view, then he would need to address what Horton had said about Syria in his opening statement, but fails to do so. Resultingly, this point too fails to land on Horton.
His first point does attack at the heart of Horton’s argument, however, as Horton’s argument is mostly focused around U.S. interventions in the Middle East. He is pulling on historical evidence to claim that many other regions of the world have been much more peaceful under the U.S.-led world order. He does not quantify this claim in any way, but instead relies on general historical knowledge. This weakens his point, but not greatly.
Horton’s rebuttal counters Kristol mainly on one claim: The United States has not kept the peace abroad, with wars overseas leading to millions of innocent casualties. In support of this, he cites that casualty numbers in Korea, Vietnam, and all of the Middle East wars. This directly counters the single substantial claim made in Kristol’s rebuttal, and he provides quantifiable evidence in support more than Kristol was able to.
Overall, Horton had the better rebuttal. He took the opportunity to directly counter Kristol’s strongest claim against him and did so in a compelling way. Kristol made three claims against Horton, only one of which was substantiated in any way. However, that was the claim that Horton strongly rebuffed. Kristol failed to capitalize on the opportunity to go on the attack against Horton, while Horton decisively counter Kristol on his one solid point. Second point goes to Horton as well.
The first question was asked by the moderator, and was directed to Horton. The question asked Horton what he would have done in the aftermath of 9/11, if he had been the president. Horton is obviously a critic of American foreign policy in the Middle East, but what would he have done differently?
Horton: Negotiate with the Taliban to get them to turn over Bin Laden. If that didn’t work, he would send in special forces to capture Bin Laden and bring him back to the U.S. Then, call everything off, bring the troops home, and end the policy of American dominance in the Middle East. If not for these policies, then 9/11 would never have happened in the first place.
Kristol: When asked for a comment on Horton’s answer, Kristol responded by stating that American policies had nothing to do with causing 9/11, or any other humanitarian crisis around the world, such as Assad using poison gas on the Syrian people.
Horton: Horton stated that the men who carried out the 9/11 Attacks are responsible for their actions, but they were motivated by American policies in the Middle East. Horton cites a CNN interview with Osama Bin Laden (which can be found here), where he makes it very clear that his animosity for the United States stems from the fact that the US has kept military bases in the Arabian Peninsula.
Kristol: Kristol then quickly interjects, asking what motivates the Taliban and the crimes they commit against their own people.
Horton: Horton responds by saying that the Taliban never attacked the United States, and that the only conflict that existed between them was when U.S. troops were on the ground in Afghanistan.
Kristol: As a follow-up, Kristol asks Horton if he believes that the Taliban will allow for liberties and freedoms for their people, such as equal rights for women.
Horton: Confused, Horton responds saying that he does not, and asks what Kristol is trying to say.
Kristol: Kristol states that the point of his question is that liberty and freedom around the world are important, and that he does not believe that Bin Laden was motivated by American foreign policy.
Horton: Horton states that Kristol must simply be ignorant, and asks Kristol to read Bin Laden’s Declaration of War against the United States in 1996 and 1998 to ascertain Bid Laden’s motivations. He also adds that Mohammad Atta, the chief hijacker in the 9/11 Attacks, was motivated to join Al-Qaeda as a result of Israel invading Lebanon in 1996. Several months later, Bid Laden’s Declaration of War was published. Horton states that even if Bin Laden was really just motivated by wanting to see everyone convert to Islam, his recruitment pitch was always anger over American foreign policy.
Kristol: In response, Kristol says that there have always been injustices in the world and evil men that have taken advantage of them to recruit others to serve them. Hitler used this very tactic in the aftermath of World War I. Just because these injustices exist does not mean that the U.S. should withdraw from the world.
Horton: Horton interjects, saying that the clear solution to this is to stop committing the injustices that evil people take advantage of.
Kristol: Kristol responds by saying that he does not believe that the U.S. did anything to provoke the 9/11 Attacks.
Who Won This Exchange?
Have you ever had one of those exceptionally awkward moments in life? The kind that you remember every once in a while, and it keeps you up at night because of how purely embarrassing it was to experience? Well, Kristol just had one of those moments here, except it was on a debate stage in front of hundreds of people, while being recorded and uploaded to the internet, on a topic that he is supposedly and expert in.
Kristol fails on every conceivable point in this exchange. Kristol starts off by challenging Horton’s assertion that American foreign policy led to the 9/11 Attacks. Already, he has made a tactical error in his argument, as he failed to offer any other explanation for what might have motivated Bin Laden in the first place. He merely asserts that Horton’s explanation is wrong, and leaves it at that.
Moreover, Kristol doesn’t even have much of an argument to substantiate his claim that Horton is mistaken. He doesn’t offer any evidence to support his claim, and Horton takes this opportunity to strengthen his argument. Horton cites a CNN interview with Bin Laden, and later cites Bin Laden’s Declarations of War. These are both strong primary sources that support Horton’s case, which Kristol is unable to match at all.
At this point, Kristol’s argument takes a strange turn. He asks Horton about the Taliban and asks if he believes if the Taliban will grant the Afghan people civil liberties in the absence of the U.S. presence in the country. Horton, rightfully confused at the question, says that he does not. When asked what the point of the question was, Kristol states that freedom and liberty are important and that he does not believe that Bin Laden was motivated by American foreign policy.
What I believe Kristol was trying to do with bringing up the Taliban was to try and show the benefits of U.S. intervention abroad, while also denying Horton’s claims of the costs. Even so, the way he went about it was completely incoherent. His argument, if expressed in a cohesive form, would be that American foreign policy has many benefits to those in other countries, such as spreading ideas of democracy and freedom. Afghanistan is one such country where these benefits have been experienced, that is, until the Taliban took back the reigns of control over the entire country after the departure of the United States. This attack on Horton is befuddling for several reasons. First, it has little to nothing to do with the actual point of discussion, the motivations of Osama Bin Laden in attacking the United States. Secondly, Kristol hasn’t answered any of Horton’s objections to his own arguments concerning Bid Laden up to this point. Why is he going on a bizarre red herring about the Taliban? Thirdly, Horton has already implicitly answered these claims of American benevolence overseas before, as he had argued that the United States interventions abroad have led to the deaths of millions in his rebuttal. Kristol has nothing tangible in the way of facts of evidence to counter Horton’s claims, so his argument is already weak before he has even expressed it.
At the end of Kristol’s statement on the Taliban, he repeats he previous claim that American foreign policy did not precipitate 9/11. He offers no new evidence or proof in favor of his view, even though Horton has already done so. Horton then recounts even more evidence for his own view that American foreign policy is to blame for motivating Bin Laden, citing Al-Qaeda’s Declarations of War against the United States, and the case of Mohammad Atta as evidence of Bid Laden’s recruitment methods. Kristol’s response to this is extremely revealing, as he states that evil men have always taken advantages of injustices in the world. Notice that here he is not denying anything that Horton has said regarding Bin Laden’s motivations! Rather, he is pivoting to say that evil men have always done what Bin Laden did, and it isn’t proof that we should retreat from the world stage. Horton quickly points out that the solution to this is obvious, that the U.S. should stop creating the injustices that the evil men exploit! At this point, Kristol just retreats into himself and surrenders by weakly repeating his view that the U.S. caused 9/11 through its foreign policy.
This entire exchange consists of a plethora of blunders for Kristol. His argumentation is weak, he introduces a bizarre red herring halfway through the exchange, and he essentially agrees with Horton’s argument at the end but then weakly capitulates and gives up any discussion. Horton easily won this discussion, and Kristol quite simply made a fool out of himself.
The second question was directed towards Kristol. The question asked Kristol what the response from the U.S. would be to a missile strike on a carrier from China in the South China Sea. It seems as if a nuclear exchange is one such possibility, and if so, does that mean that U.S. posturing against China is risking human extinction?
Kristol responded that it is quite unfortunate that China is an adversary of the U.S., but that the U.S. does have defense treaties with other countries in the Pacific, such as Japan. Sailing carriers in that region of the world has also worked to keep the peace, historically speaking. Kristol also states that the U.S. can deter a strike from China without the threat of nuclear weapons, and if the U.S. did withdraw from the region, it would make the Pacific a much more dangerous place, as Australia, Japan, and South Korea would be pushed towards nuclearization.
Horton argued in response that it doesn’t matter to the American people who controls Taiwan, adding that Kristol has repeatedly said how affordable maintaining the U.S. military is, even though that is simply not the case. The U.S. is $30 trillion in debt, not to mention the human costs of empire. Large military expenditures also require artificially low interest rates from the central bank, which has devastating economic consequences, as we saw in 2008.
Who Won This Exchange?
The discussion between Kristol and Horton was mostly an extension of their opening statements and rebuttals. Kristol’s argument was fairly solid, making a good point about a U.S. withdraw potentially leading to more nuclearization. Horton was also fairly solid, although his response was less focused on the question at hand and more on a tangential issue to the question. All in all, this was roughly a tie, with neither side having much of an edge over the other.
The third question was directed towards Kristol. In a recent article Kristol had written, he had made reference to “low-grade” and “low-cost” interventions abroad. He was asked to name U.S. interventions that he believed fell into that category.
Kristol states that the intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s would qualify as such an intervention. Kristol adds to this that he believes himself to be anti-war, and considers it a good thing that the U.S. is traditionally reluctant to go to war or interfere in the affairs of other nations. Kristol further argues that the intervention in the Balkans provides an important contrast to the non-interventions in Rwanda and Syria.
In response, Horton says that a peace deal post-Yugoslavia breakup in the Balkans was about to be signed, but the U.S. ambassador convinced the Croatians not to sign and to go to war instead, as they would be able to get more territory and a better deal. This fateful decision led to the entire disaster in the Balkans. Horton adds on to his point in the previous question by stating that there were numerous genocides and mass killings that happened all over the world with the support or approval of the U.S., such as in East Timor, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and others. Kristol claims that the U.S. has kept the peace for 75 years, but Horton asks him if only white lives are important in that equation. Horton says that the U.S. has had a “Holocausts-worth” of death because of its actions.
Who Won This Exchange?
Kristol comes out of the gate with a fair position, stating that the Balkans were mostly a low-cost intervention. He blunders, however, by mentioning Syria and Rwanda yet again without any new evidence to substantiate his claims. Multiple times in the debate up to this point, Horton has brought up contentions for why these were not “non-interventions” as Kristol claims them to be, but Kristol repeats this assertion anyway. If Kristol is going to continue to use these as examples, he needs to address Horton’s attacks on his view of these conflicts, which is continuously neglects to do.
Horton, in contrast, brings out a strong argument against Kristol, citing historical evidence of the U.S. involvement in the Balkans and building a solid case against Kristol’s view of the war. His tangent concerning the U.S. approval and support of genocides around the world does stray a bit off-topic from the question, but it is related to the story of the Balkans and the war there.
Overall, Horton has the stronger case here. Kristol’s view of the Balkans is fine, but he fails to support it with evidence or historical fact, a mistake that he has made numerous times throughout this debate. Horton, on the other hand, provides an alternate viewpoint of the conflict in the Balkans and reinforces his version of events with substantive evidence. Horton wins on this exchange, no question.
The further question was directed towards Horton. The question asks that if Horton was living in an authoritarian state, would he want the United States to invade to overthrow the government?
Horton: Horton responds by stating that he would not, seeing the track record that the U.S. has in interventions in other countries. He adds that individual Americans, if they wish to go and fight in wars overseas and in foreign countries, are welcome to do so of their own accord. Just keep the rest of the country out of it.
Kristol: Kristol, rather than commenting on Horton’s take on the question, chastises Horton for the comparison that Horton made between the dead as a result of U.S. policies around the world and the Holocaust, stating that he does not approve of a discourse that trivializes the Holocaust and demeans the U.S. in that way. He asks Horton to go and ask the people of East Timor or Bangladesh if they want the U.S. to leave, or if they want them to stay, implying that they want the U.S. to remain in its dominant role on the international scene.
Horton: Horton attacks Kristol, saying that he as a Neoconservative has no right at all to bemoan someone else trivializing the Holocaust, as it is the Neoconservatives who compare every single dictator overseas to Hitler (Qaddafi, Hussain, etc.).
When asked for a response, Kristol declined.
Who Won This Exchange?
Kristol again refuses to continue a discussion with Horton, resulting a terrible look for him. One of the most important rules of a debate is not to ever appear as if you have nothing to say or aren’t interested in responding. The implication the audience almost always draws from this is that you don’t have anything to say, and in Kristol’s case, this might not be far off from the truth. All Kristol would have had to do in this situation is to deny Horton’s claim and ask him to provide proof that Neoconservatives are so quick to provide unwarranted Hitler comparisons. As for why he didn’t do so, I’ll leave that up to the reader’s discretion. Horton won this exchange, no doubt.
The fifth question was directed towards Kristol. The question states that, historically speaking, empires tend not to stand the test of time. They almost always fall apart after a short time of dominance. Given this fact, what does he think will happen the United States in the near future?
Kristol: Kristol answers by saying that it is also the case that republics tend not to last very long either.
Horton: Horton quickly interjects and says that this is because the republics turn into empires.
Kristol: Kristol responds to Horton, stating that the U.S. is not an empire, but a benevolent global hegemony that under-girds liberalism all over the world. Kristol admits that it is quite possible that the U.S. was overambitious in its desire to spread democracy in the Middle East, but our flaw was that we were too zealous to spread Democracy, not that we didn’t try hard enough. He repeats that if you ask liberty-loving people in countries around the world, they want to keep the U.S. presence, not see the U.S. retreat from its role.
The moderator steps in here to directly ask Horton to answer Kristol’s argument that friends of freedom around the world wish to see the U.S. keep its current role.
Horton: In response, Horton states that he is sure that when Kristol travels around the world, the people that he meets with have a great affinity for the United States, but that this is hardly indicative of the general population of these countries at large. Horton agrees that liberty is a universal value, but one that should be pursued locally and not imposed from abroad.
Who Won This Exchange?
Kristol continues to make some of the same errors in this debate over and over again. He argues that the United States was too zealous to spread Democracy in the Middle East, and this was the fatal flaw. However, to argue this point, you need to answer Horton’s previous contentions that the U.S. has caused millions of deaths in the Middle East through its wars. Kristol needs to at least address this point in some way in order for his claim to be compelling, but he fails to do so, as he has done in multiple points thus far. Furthermore, he contradicts what he said in his rebuttal, where he clearly stated that one of the flaws in the United State’s actions in the Middle East was a failure to push for democracy enough. Perhaps there is a reconciliation of these views where they are not contradictory, but prima facie these two views seem to be in opposition, yet Kristol apparently holds them both.
Horton’s answer to the moderator’s prompt was fine, but given Kristol’s inability to intellectually parry any other Horton’s previous claims, Horton wins this round as well.
The sixth and final question is directed towards Kristol. The question asks him what would have had to happen for Kristol to consider the post-1945 U.S. world order a failure.
Kristol starts by saying that cannot re-run history, but if nuclear weapons had been used multiple times, if Europe had descended back into war, or if the Cold War had ended in a nuclear exchange, he would consider it a failure. As far as the failures in the Middle East go, he says that the situation there is quite complicated, but that that the U.S. has probably not made things any worse there, but has simultaneously failed to make things any better.
Horton responds by stating that as far as nuclear war goes, the greatest threat of nuclear war that currently exists is the constant westward expansion of NATO, including the military exercises that take place right on Russia’s border.
Who Won This Exchange?
Kristol’s response to the question begins strong, giving several scenarios where he believes a proclamation of failure on behalf of the U.S. global order would be appropriate. The second half is much weaker, however, as he claims that the U.S. has had a more or less negligible impact on the Middle East, all things considered. Again, he has not made any effort to address Horton’s claims about the actions of the United States in the Middle East. As he has done multiple times now, Kristol continually neglects addressing the claims Horton makes and proceeds to make his own claims about the state of the Middle East as if nothing had been previously said on the topic. A tactical mistake that Kristol refuses to fix.
Horton’s response is directed more towards Kristol’s statements on nuclear war, rather than the question at hand. However, this was a question specifically suited for Kristol, so Horton gets a pass for making a tangential point. He supports his argument with some specific historical facts, something that Kristol is apparently incapable of doing. Another point to Horton
Kristol states in closing that the two of them have fundamentally different views of the world, and have probably done little to convince each other or the audience of anything. Kristol scolds Horton for his insinuation that Neoconservatives don’t desire the best outcomes for countries all over the world, and that every debate should always be carried out assuming that all parties involved have the best intentions.
Horton says that instead of recapping his main points, he wants to go over several pieces of information that were cut from his opening statement for time. Horton states that there is no resource-based benefit for the U.S. empire abroad, as there is no real threat to oil supply lines, for instance. Horton states that the Neoconservatives never really understood freedom and liberty in the first place, and the result of their vision is that the richest counties in the country are all around Washington D.C. Horton then moves on to briefly cover Somalia, stating that the U.S. support for the warlords there post-9/11 led to the disaster that the country is today.
Who Had the Best Closing Statement?
Kristol’s closing statement was neutered and frail, to put it bluntly. He didn’t make any attempt at all to recap his main arguments, but rather, used to it to give Horton a sanctimonious lecture on why he shouldn’t think the worst of other people’s intentions. This makes for terrible optics and gives up the opportunity to restate his position or strengthen his arguments. He doesn’t even use anything close to the full amount of time allotted to him either. It felt like the closing statement of someone who didn’t want to debate, wasn’t interested in convincing the audience of his arguments, and wanted to get out of there was soon as possible.
Horton’s closing statement did not recap his main argument either, but for a very different reason. Horton had too much information in his opening statement, so he put it onto the end here for time purposes. The arguments he makes are all fairly strong, providing some degree of information to back up each of his claims.
Overall, Horton had the better closing statement by far, as he actually tried to say something meaningful with the time he was given, something that Kristol declined to do. Last point goes to Horton.
The winner of any Oxford-style debate is determined by which side is able to convince more the audience to agree with their position, which is calculated with polls taken before the debate and after the debate. Kristol started out with 7% of the vote in favor, and improved to 9.4%. Horton started with 72% and improved to 85%. As a result, Horton was declared the winner.
Who Won the Debate?
Kristol’s performance left much to be desired. His presentation lacked organization at times, giving off the impression that did little to prepare for the debate or ensure his thoughts were coherent. He failed repeatedly and consistently to back up his arguments with evidence or reason to make his viewpoint more compelling and reasonable to the audience. Even when Horton would present a litany of historical facts and pertinent information, Kristol failed to follow suit. Kristol also failed to adapt any of his arguments at any point to account for what Horton had already said. The best example of this was his repeated insistence that the U.S. did not intervene in Syria, even though Horton had already given evidence for the massive expenditures from the U.S. in that intervention. To be clear, I am not taking the position that Horton is correct, but merely that Kristol must account for Horton’s claim if he is going to continue to make that assertion. Not at any point did attempt to do so, content to continue making the same assertion over and over without change. Additionally, Kristol had multiple points where he raised the intellectual white flag and declined to continue the discussion. The first time he did so implicitly during Question 1, and then do so explicitly in Question 4. There are scarcely worse optics to have in a debate, and doing so gives off the impression, perhaps not unfairly, that your position is weak and you know it. Viewed as a whole, this was a poor performance from Kristol, and one with copious room for improvement.
Horton, in stark contrast, carried himself very well in the debate. He was organized, carrying a clear thesis through his opening statement and through much of the debate. When he made a claim, he almost always had facts and information to substantiate it, and was able to make a compelling case to the audience to adopt his point of view. In fact, this was his greatest flaw in the debate: his overpouring of information. At several points, Horton would throw too many dates, names, and figures at the audience. The result of this is an overwhelming info dump, where you can tell what you are being told is important, but there is too much of it to clearly process and comprehend. There were other times where Horton would go off-topic to pursue something tangentially related to the question or topic at hand, which would result in more details being thrown at the audience. This was no grievous error, to be clear, but it can lead to some confusion or inability to keep up with Horton’s line of reasoning.
In Kristol vs. Horton, Horton emerged as the clear winner. In nearly every area where Kristol failed, Horton either stood his ground or excelled in. Kristol failed to make a convincing case for the affirmative, whereas Horton constructed a strong case in the negative. The polling results for the debate show as much. The largest disparity between the two figures, however, was something much more intangible than the final statistics. Horton carried a sense of conviction, and it permeated through his entire performance. From his opening statement to his closing remarks, Horton was interested laying out, as fully and completely as he could, the case against U.S. intervention overseas. Kristol, on the other hand, lacked even a portion of the internal drive Horton possessed.. Kristol argued like a man with opinions, whereas Horton argued like a man with truth.