Amusing counterfactual inference (by words)

My good friend Joshua Loftus and I spent some 30 minutes to crack (at least we think we did!) a counterfactual inference made in a speech in the House of Commons in London in 1850 by Lord Palmerston, who was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time.

Below I will highlight the quote which led me to this speech, but it is impossible to understand it without giving you the context (click here for the entire speech). Ready for the challenge?

Under these circumstances, I am justified in denying that the policy which we pursued in Italy was that of exciting revolutions, and then abandoning the victims we had deluded. (Hear, hear.) On the contrary, I maintain that we gave advice calculated to prevent revolutions, by reconciling opposite parties, and conflicting views. Ours was a policy of improvement and of peace; and therefore the Government deserves not condemnation, but praise. (Hear, hear.)

We have been told, however, that if had not been for the war in Lombardy, the indispensable interference of Russia in Hungary would not have taken place. What might have happened, if that which did happen, had not happened, I cannot undertake to say. (Hear, and laughter) But when I look at the deep-seated causes of contention between Hungary and the Austrian Government; when I look to the comparative resources and power of the conflicting parties; I cannot persuade myself that even if a part of Radetzki’s army had been available for the war in Hungary, and the whole of it could not have been sent thither, the aid, the indispensable aid, as it has been termed, of Russia, (hear, and laughter), would not still have been required. I, therefore, do not feel that the English Government is chargeable with any of the bloodshed which resulted from that Hungarian contest.

We think by using an extremely convoluted counterfactual inference, Palmerston basically concluded that “head I win, tail you lose”. What do you think?

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