Don’t Watch The News

I’ve had a number of anti-war folks ask me lately whether I’ve revised my opinion that eliminating Saddam was a good idea. I note that none of them have revised there opinions and have a theory as to why they are asking. They are watching the news reports of bad events rather than actually examining any statistics about conditions in Iraq. This sample bias, exacerbated by the political bias of the media they read, make it difficult for them to come to objective conclusions on the matter. Nissim Taleb wrote a great article about the problem of sample bias in a recent issue of Edge magazine.

Take an example of this probabilistic maladjustment. Say you are flying to New York City. You sit next to someone on the plane, and she tells you that she knows someone whose first cousin worked with someone who got mugged in Central Park in 1983. That information is going to override any form of statistical data that you will acquire about the crime rate in New York City. This is how we are. We’re not made to absorb abstract information. The first step is to make ourselves aware of it. But so far we don’t have a second step. Should newspapers and television sets come with a warning label?
[…]
The second one is a journalist. On the day when Saddam was caught, the bond market went up in the morning, and it went down in the afternoon. So here we had two headlines — “Bond Market Up on Saddam News,” and in the afternoon, “Bond Market Down on Saddam News” — and then they had in both cases very convincing explanations of the moves. Basically if you can explain one thing and its opposite using the same data you don’t have an explanation. It takes a lot of courage to keep silent.
[…]
We are not made for type-2 randomness. How can we humans take into account the role of uncertainty in our lives without moralizing? As Steve Pinker aptly said, our mind is made for fitness, not for truth — but fitness for a different probabilistic structure. Which tricks work? Here is one: avoid the media. We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. It is a very dangerous thing, because the probabilistic mapping we get from watching television is entirely different from the actual risks that we exposed to. If you watch a building burning on television, it’s going to change your attitude toward that risk regardless of its real actuarial value, no matter your intellectual sophistication.

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14 Responses to Don’t Watch The News

  1. it is not the presentation of the data that makes us secure in our belief that this war is utterly wrong. most of your anti-war friends, at least the intelligent ones, never had any doubt at all that this war was wrong from the beginning.

    and this was throughout the whole period when most mainstream news organizations shouted bloody murder about imminent mushroom clouds- (i remind you, ONE MORE TIME, that you asked me if my resistance to war was strong enough to risk an iraqi mushroom cloud in manhattan. you asked me this, alex, and later denied doing so.)- throughout that period, my reasons for opposing this war have remained the same. i was just wondering if your outrageous hawkism has withered at all now that freaks and monsters like judith miller are no longer allowed to amplify lies from the OSP.

    our data was garbage, our execution was disastrous, and we are torturers. can you prove that those three things are not true? of course not.

  2. Josh,

    You keep failing to respond to my challenge to your intellectual honesty on this issue. Specifically, you keep failing to find me a single quotation from the administration that identifies Iraq as an imminent threat yet you keep claiming that the administration made such a statement.

    As for mushroom clouds, I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember believing that if we did not eliminate Saddam we would eventually be seeing a mushroom cloud over manhattan as a result of such a failure. I further believed that we should act sooner rather than later (the cost would increase with each passing day as would the risk).

    But since you appear not to be interested in an intellectually honest assesment of either the facts or the arguments I assume you will ignore the last paragraph. I’ll leave you with this question:

    Which arguments did the Bush administration use to justify attacking Iraq:

    a. We must change our pre-existing preemption doctrine that we can only attack when we are certain a threat is imminent because we cannot wait until we are certain.

    b. Iraq is a an imminent threat to the United States so we must attack now.

    c. Both, but the anti-war folks were too stupid to notice that a weakens b so much so as to make arguing b pointless.

    I think I recall you being upset about this administrations change of preemption doctrine. Am I correct?

  3. jgo says:

    Which arguments did the Bush administration use to
    justify attacking Iraq:

    a. We must change our pre-existing preemption
    doctrine that we can only attack when we are
    certain a threat is imminent because we cannot
    wait until we are certain.

    b. Iraq is a an imminent threat to the United
    States so we must attack now.

    c. Both, but the anti-war folks were too stupid to
    notice that a weakens b so much so as to make
    arguing b pointless.

    stop calling me stupid, alex. i’m tired of it.

    c, but it’s wrong.

    and here’s a question for you:

    when we weaken our position by passing the patriot act and institutionalizing torture, why are we the best people to spread the democracy meme?

  4. Josh,

    I don’t believe I have ever called you stupid. I also don’t understand your answer (perhaps I am?). Are you saying that anti-war folks are too stupid to follow an argument?

    Once we resolve the simple issue of the case for war, then we can move on to other things.

    -Alex-

  5. josh says:

    ‘Do anti-Bush folks have low IQ or are they simply intellectually dishonest?’ and then you mention me.

    alex, i admire your dedication to the casual liars of the bush administration by making sure to deny the past at every opportunity.

    move on, buddy.

  6. ooghe says:

    Although I don’t have a copy, as I recall from the NSS presented at West Point in 2002, I believe that it was the definition of the term ‘imminent’ that was to be re-examined, rather than ‘pre-emption’ per se, for what it’s worth.

    I am curious what you mean in asking whether anyone in the Bush Administration used the term ‘imminent’ to characterize the threat the US described from Saddam Hussein. Are you saying that the term ‘imminent’ was never actually used, and therefore the standard of justification for pre-emptive attack as outlined in the NSS was never compromised by the failure to find WMD or conclusive evidence of their existance? Maybe I am inferring too much, but presuming that the term ‘imminent threat from WMD’ was never used, what would you say beyond that in evaluating the war in Iraq?

  7. There are two separate issues in this discussion:

    1. A forensic discussion of what arguments the Bush administration actually used to justify the war and what their motivations actually were

    2. whether, regardless of the de-facto or de-jure motivations, was the war a net positive for the US, Iraq, or the world.

    In the forensic discussion, much of the anti-bush rhetoric centers on “Bush lied. People died.”
    Josh, among others, argues that Bush claimed that Iraq was an imminent threat even though he knew it wasn’t. I use the forensic discussion to test intellectual honesty because the record is ridiculously clear on this one. In Bush’s 2003 SOTU he said:

    To me, this text is a clear disavowal of any claim that we knew a threat from Iraq was imminent. It was intead a claim that imminence is a bad standard. Bush-lied-people-died folks are either too stupid to understand the argument or too intellectually dishonest to confront it directly.

  8. Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?

    If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

  9. ooghe says:

    Ah, I see what you’re getting at. I do remember that part of the SOTU, and I remember thinking it an odd phrasing at the time (as I did not know of anyone who was saying ‘I believe Saddam Hussein poses the threat of using WMD on the US, but not an imminent one, therefore the standard for going to war has not been met’). Rather, I remember that at that point the issue was more that Hans Blix and the UN were inspecting various palaces, etc- on US intel, but were not coming up with *any* incriminating results. For the record, I think that Bush *did in fact believe* that he would find WMD; even in the most cynical interpretation of Bush’s motives- if he were being disingenuous on that point, he would have been an outright fool to make it the causus belli and not at least be prepared to do something else cynical, like plant evidence, before things got to the point where they’re at now. Whether or not securing WMD was his central motivation, (or rather, the motivation of those who were politicking him) I simply don’t know. But I tend to see Bush as more Manichaean than Machiavellian, and would guess that he saw Iraq largely in the terms he said he did- a great mass of political evil akin to that empire which Reagan banished from Europe through the exercise of sheer steely will.

    As for the litmus test of whether the Bush Administration promoted the idea that Iraq was/was not an *imminent* threat seems somewhat academic; to pretend that the message ‘We are attacking Iraq because it currently possesses weapons of mass destruction’, ‘we can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud over an American city’, and ‘this is the central front in the war on terror which began on 9/11 when terrorists destroyed the WTC from out of the blue, you recall’ was not calculated to scare the bejesus out of people over Iraq’s possession of WMD is to ignore months of Bush officials doing exactly that on talk shows and press conferences everywhere. Surely you would agree then that it’s reasonable to evaluate this policy on whether or not these weapons did or did not exist?

  10. Robert, if you read the SOTU, it is clear that the point of the war was to prevent Saddam from producing WMD and giving them to terrorists not that he already had them and was about to do so.

    “””
    With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region.
    […]
    Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.
    “””

    The whole speech is about the uncertainty created by Saddam’s refusal to come clean to UN inspectors and the danger he poses is allowed to continue his work towards acquiring nukes and a full chemical arsenal.

    Here is the URL http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030128-19.html

    And here is more relevant text:
    “””
    The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin — enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

    Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
    “””
    Note the key words here: “materials to produce.” In other words, he is saying not that Saddam has weapons but that he is setting himself up so he can easily and quickly produce large quantities of weapons (all which which and more David Kay has confirmed).

    “””
    U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them — despite Iraq’s recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
    “””
    Munitions capable of delivering chemical agents are e.g. the Sarin shell they just found but note the phraseology. He is saying that Saddam has munitions that can be loaded with the chemical agents he has all set up to produce.

    “””
    The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.

    Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.

    Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.
    “”””

    Yes, Saddam could also be planning to use the munitions to deter an Iranian attack, but if he needed that, he should have said so in the original Gulf War settlements.

    “””
    Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans — this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

    Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
    “””

    But note that even in this speech he also justifies the action under the banner of human rights:
    “””
    The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages — leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained — by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

    And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country — your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. (Applause.)
    “””

  11. ooghe says:

    “There’s no question that Iraq was a threat to the people of the United States.”
    • White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, 8/26/03

    “We ended the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.”
    • President Bush, 7/17/03

    Iraq was “the most dangerous threat of our time.”
    • White House spokesman Scott McClellan, 7/17/03

    “Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to the United States because we removed him, but he was a threat…He was a threat. He’s not a threat now.”
    • President Bush, 7/2/03

    “Absolutely.”
    • White House spokesman Ari Fleischer answering whether Iraq was an “imminent threat,” 5/7/03

    “We gave our word that the threat from Iraq would be ended.”
    • President Bush 4/24/03

    “The threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction will be removed.”
    • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 3/25/03

    “It is only a matter of time before the Iraqi regime is destroyed and its threat to the region and the world is ended.”
    • Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, 3/22/03

    “The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.”
    • President Bush, 3/19/03

    “The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations.”
    • President Bush, 3/16/03

    “This is about imminent threat.”
    • White House spokesman Scott McClellan, 2/10/03

    Iraq is “a serious threat to our country, to our friends and to our allies.”
    • Vice President Dick Cheney, 1/31/03

    Iraq poses “terrible threats to the civilized world.”
    • Vice President Dick Cheney, 1/30/03

    Iraq “threatens the United States of America.”
    • Vice President Cheney, 1/30/03

    “Iraq poses a serious and mounting threat to our country. His regime has the design for a nuclear weapon, was working on several different methods of enriching uranium, and recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
    • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 1/29/03

    “Well, of course he is.”
    • White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett responding to the question “is Saddam an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?”, 1/26/03

    “Saddam Hussein possesses chemical and biological weapons. Iraq poses a threat to the security of our people and to the stability of the world that is distinct from any other. It’s a danger to its neighbors, to the United States, to the Middle East and to the international peace and stability. It’s a danger we cannot ignore. Iraq and North Korea are both repressive dictatorships to be sure and both pose threats. But Iraq is unique. In both word and deed, Iraq has demonstrated that it is seeking the means to strike the United States and our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.”
    • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 1/20/03

    “The Iraqi regime is a threat to any American. … Iraq is a threat, a real threat.”
    • President Bush, 1/3/03

    “The world is also uniting to answer the unique and urgent threat posed by Iraq whose dictator has already used weapons of mass destruction to kill thousands.”
    • President Bush, 11/23/02

    “I would look you in the eye and I would say, go back before September 11 and ask yourself this question: Was the attack that took place on September 11 an imminent threat the month before or two months before or three months before or six months before? When did the attack on September 11 become an imminent threat? Now, transport yourself forward a year, two years or a week or a month…So the question is, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something?”
    • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 11/14/02

    “Saddam Hussein is a threat to America.”
    • President Bush, 11/3/02

    “I see a significant threat to the security of the United States in Iraq.”
    • President Bush, 11/1/02

    “There is real threat, in my judgment, a real and dangerous threat to American in Iraq in the form of Saddam Hussein.”
    • President Bush, 10/28/02

    “The Iraqi regime is a serious and growing threat to peace.”
    • President Bush, 10/16/02

    “There are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.”
    • President Bush, 10/7/02

    “The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency.”
    • President Bush, 10/2/02

    “There’s a grave threat in Iraq. There just is.”
    • President Bush, 10/2/02

    “This man poses a much graver threat than anybody could have possibly imagined.”
    • President Bush, 9/26/02

    “No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.”
    • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 9/19/02

    “Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent – that Saddam is at least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain. And we should be just as concerned about the immediate threat from biological weapons. Iraq has these weapons.”
    • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 9/18/02

    “Iraq is busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue an aggressive nuclear weapons program. These are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam Hussein can hold the threat over the head of any one he chooses. What we must not do in the face of this mortal threat is to give in to wishful thinking or to willful blindness.”
    • Vice President Dick Cheney, 8/29/02

    The whole speech is about the uncertainty created by Saddam’s refusal to come clean to UN inspectors and the danger he poses if allowed to continue his work towards acquiring nukes and a full chemical arsenal.

    So, in essence, you mean that in the SOTU- as opposed to at other presentations of the case for war, the point of the war as stated by Bush had to do with the existence of uncertainty as to the progress of Saddam’s quest for WMD- not the assertion that he *had* WMD?

  12. Robert,

    I quotef at length from Bush’s SOTU because it gives the case the administration made from the top and in context. The case he made then was strong and you have provided no evidence that, in that speech, he mislead you or anyone else in any substantive way.

    Instead, you are the one who has been misleading, taking quotations from a bunch of different speeches completely out of context. Probably the most egregious example of your doing this is your “this is about imminent threat” taken from Scott Mcclellan. If you read the transcripttranscript, you will see he was talking about an imminent threat to *Turkey*, NOT the US:
    “””
    MR. McCLELLAN: Two points. We support the request under Article IV of Turkey. And I think it’s important to note that the request from a country under Article IV that faces an imminent threat goes to the very core of the NATO alliance and its purpose.
    […]
    QUESTION: Is this some kind of ultimate test of the alliance?

    MR. McCLELLAN: This is about an imminent threat.
    “””

    The rest are either equivelently bogus and out of context or are entirely consistent with Bush’s SOTU and not actually claims of imminent threat (to the US).

    But the real proof that the Bush administration never claimed imminent threat is the absence of any substantial amount of contemporary anti-war literature attacking such a claim. If it was made, someone would have been disputing it!

    You said “So, in essence, you mean that in the SOTU- as opposed to at other presentations of the case for war, the point of the war as stated by Bush had to do with the existence of uncertainty as to the progress of Saddam’s quest for WMD- not the assertion that he *had* WMD?”

    No. I mean that in Bush’s SOTU AND in all the other presentations of the case for war, the point was that we had to eliminate Saddam before he acquired a more substantive (nuclear) WMD capability and before he used it to arm terrorists. The uncertainty lay around how long it would take him to get there and the point (again) was that we could not afford to be too late.

    So I’m going to re-assert my original point: People who claim that the administration’s case for war was based on imminent threat are either ignorant or dishonest. Furthermore, people who refuse to examine the evidence or in the face of the evidence still refuse to concede that such claims are incorrect are not prepared to engage in rational discourse on these issues.

  13. ooghe says:

    What I am honestly trying to get a handle on in bringing up the above quotes (including yours) is twofold:

    1) Whether I, as someone who was following the build-up to the Iraq War from probably a wider variety of news sources than what I estimate the average citizen was following, am reasonable in basing an assessment of this policy at *least* partly on the actual existence of WMD. While parsing the phraseology of the SOTU made at a point when it was clear that the rationale for the then-certain-to-occur Operation Iraqi Freedom *had better* account for lack of observed WMD, might establish that Bush did indeed *not lie” about his rationale for going to war in the SOTU, he made no secret of the fact that he fully expected to find these weapons, along with most of America. Not even the Bush White House is saying that Bush didn’t *expect* to find WMD- this is why we’re looking at a massive overhaul of the intelligence apparatus; and whether or not that means his non-reliant-on-imminent-threat-terminology rationale would be undermined in some hypothetical court of law (i.e. “rational discourse”)- is a separate question than whether or not failure to find WMD would harm him politically (i.e. discourse which, unfortunately, may not always be rational). Obviously, Bush *has*- due to those pesky irrational human beings who didn’t grasp that the difference between the immediate object of a preventive and pre-emptive war is of necessity laced with uncertainty and is less relevant in the case of WMD and international terror- been hurt politically by the failure to find WMD, and therefore his strategy is at significant risk of either being abandoned in November, or that future attempts to implement said strategy will now face great political reluctance now that the public understands “go in, eliminate dictator and replace with democracy” equals “long hard slog”, “occupation”, “$250,000,000.00”, “torture”, “burned contractors being hanged from bridges”, “he may not actually have WMD, after all” and other brutal consequences- as well as the nifty “shock and awe” part.

    2) Absent the issue of whether or not the Administration communicated the threat from Saddam Hussein in a way that allowed many Americans to form an expectation that WMD would be found as a result of going into Iraq, the more important issue to me in assessing the case for war is whether, in January 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom was a plausible prescription to begin with. Insofar as beginning the discussion from an intellectually honest characterization of Bush’s case, I didn’t buy his case (as you state it) at the time because I listened to it, and judged it to be almost impossible to answer with the solution he proposed. To have a ‘case’ for a preventive war is to be a form of futurist- I can make a case that the increasing availability of weapons grade uranium and the growing economic resources of Hawaii allow a possible scenario in which failure to act could mean a very grim Aloha will someday be delivered to Manhattan, in the form of a mushroom cloud. How that constitutes a case for what particular countermeasures seems to have something to do with assessing the cost of inaction, the likelihood of the threat coming to pass, and the cost of intervention. Is Hawaii likely to drop the Bomb? Prolly not. Do I think there’s a case for war against Hawaii? No. But do I think the police should keep track of whether or not one can buy uranium at any fruitstand in Honolulu? Not invasively, but in principle- sure. It’s relatively easy to assess that the low likelihood of Hawaii doing this assigns a low cost countermeasure, because Hawaii is an open place. Nobody really had any idea what was going on in Iraq, nor do they in North Korea, Iran, or Pakistan for that matter. This is why combating international terrorism is primarily an intelligence war about determining likelihood of various threats and something in our intelligence pipeline got screwed up, for reasons as yet unknown, but somehow stemming from the currently outstanding problem of human imperfection. These things happen in intelligence and they will continue to happen, and whoever formulates policy is going to have to be prepared for that uncertainty- but where Bush tried to get around this mystery factor is in believing that Iraqi Freedom was going to be such a low-cost action that it could either be repeated easily, or wouldn’t need to due to the domino effect he would unleash. Neither of these seemed to me like reliable assumptions- therefore this foreign policy is at great risk of failure (and really, has already). This is why I think soft-power and a stronger effort towards establishing international legitimacy had to come into play to make up the difference if the cost of inaction is as high as it is.

    Take the example of another case in which specious standards for war were invoked to attack a government that, while not having committed international transgression, was deemed to be a destabilizing regional influence: the Kosovo war. There were moments of stunning incompetence in the Kosovo war, also due to bad intelligence- such as the bombing of the Chinese Embassy, civilian deaths, the confrontion with Russian forces at the Pristina airports, and all sorts of other chaotic events. Yes, there were international tensions as a result, and there were many organizational problems demonstrated in conducting an offensive with a 19-member alliance such as NATO, but at no point did the perception that the US was acting as an empire gain credibility beyond the Noam Chomsky crowd. In demanding that Iraq readmit weapons inspectors, Bush and the US had the support of the world community at least through October 2002 when the Security Council unanimously passed the resolution. When Hans Blix failed to produce evidence that supported Colin Powell’s figures, the US was forced to choose between it’s own intelligence findings and the vague findings of the UN weapons inspectors, which did not at the time sufficiently convince the world community that a legitimate basis for war existed. Did it? Well, we all agree that Iraq was not an ‘imminent’ threat, but- absent WMD and left with pre-cursors, the ‘likelihood’ factor is mysterious to the point that no one can deductively prove that the still-mounting cost of war was justified. The problem with Bush’s policy is that for the US to undertake a unilateral act in our national interest based on the best estimate of our intelligence, and in defining the threat as not imminent but as a matter of long term prevention is to act in a way that is indistinguishable to many from a US jockeying for geo-political advantage by deliberately distorting intelligence, and then attempting to rubberstamp it with bogus claims of enforcing international jurisprudence. It’s just a question of how much we trust the Commander in Chief of the US. If you trust Bush-that’s fine, but would you trust Clinton? Kerry? McCain? No fear of a wag-the-dog scenario ever? Can the international community who has no say in choosing the President realistically be expected to trust the US electorate to look out for their security interests? Is US unilateralism even being couched in terms of the international security interest? National interests? Both? Does that mean we’re officially an Empire? Is international support required for this? If not, but the US electorate then decides that the cost of war is unsustainable, did the policy fail? Should NATO disband or realign?

    It just seems that there are countless overarching discussions possible to have on alternative security arrangements. Not all of them involve entirely maligning every aspect of Bush’s rationale, or exonerating the UN system as it stands, but all of them require acknowledging political reality. By setting the parameters of discussion to suggest that Bush’s policy can be evaluated simply in terms of how he stated the case for Operation:Iraqi Freedom, and then estimating the degree to which those objectives were met exclusive of national and world perception, and by dismissing anyone who would have been more supportive of Bush’s policy had they found 400 long range ICBMs as opposed to a bag of fertilizer as ignorant or stupid is to doom the conversation to sophistry. On Planet Rationality, or in an epistomology class it would be interesting, but as you quoted earlier ‘war is an extension of politics’, and a far more useful conversation would recognize that a policy that produces disaffection within it’s original supporters must be re-evaluated if any aspect of it which was valid to begin with is to continue to be preserved.

  14. Robert, at this point, you have to admit it is intellectually dishonest to argue that Bush claimed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US.

    Perhaps “stupid Americans” believed that nonetheless and perhaps not. But that is not the question on the table and you know it. *Someone* gathered all those misleading out of context quotations you posted to *prove* something that we both know is wrong. That *someone* is being intellectually dishonest. There is really no point in pursuing further discusion around this issue without an acknowledgement of that dishonesty.

    In context, most of the quoations or taken from repeated articulations of the *actual* administration case that Saddam was trying to obtain advanced-wmd/nukes and we cannot wait for certainty that he has gotten them. Anyone paying attention would have understood that case.

    I would agree that many people may *now* have incorrect beliefs about the Administration’s case for war. The political impact of all the lying and propaganda by anti-war/anti-bush folks has been terrible, but I would fault the liars rather than the victims.

    Note: I am perfectly willing to debate the merits of the case as well, but if we can’t even agree on what that case actually was, there seems to be little point in doing so.

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