Thursday, November 17, 2005

Politics, patriotism, and facts

As the Bush administration goes on the offensive against war critics, the debate rages in the mainstream media and the blogosphere. Is it "irresponsible," "dishonest" and "reprehensible," as Bush and Cheney have charged, to say that the administration deliberately misled the American people and manipulated intelligence data to make the pitch for the war in Iraq? Are Democrats who voted for the war but have now come out against it cynically pandering to their base? Or are the Bush Administration and its minions trying to suppress dissent by labeling it unpatriotic?

Some of the debate can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Of course, the charge that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence data either is true, or isn't true. There's no such thing as an unpatriotic fact.

And here's the reason I hate this kind of debate. To have a truly informed opinion on this topic would probably take months of meticulous research, and probably some specialized knowledge as well. That means most people commenting on the issue tend to form their opinion based on selective information and based, at least in part, on their political biases. It's just a little too convenient that nearly everyone who opposes the war thinks the Bush administration cooked the intelligence, and nearly everyone who supports it thinks that's a cynical lie.

There is, for instance, this new article by Norman Podhoretz in Commentary, purporting to be a conclusive debunking of the "Bush lied" meme. Podhoretz's argument is that many Democrats, and many people in the mainstream media, believed Saddam Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program and posed a serious threat. Almost without exception, pro-war commentators think Podhoretz makes a devastating case. Equally without exception, those on the other side are not convinced.

I think it's overwhelmingly obvious that a lot of people other than the Bush administration believed Hussein was working toward rebuilding his WMD program. Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, details these facts in a recent Washington Post column. Among other things, both he and Podhoretz refer to a January 29, 2001 Washington Post editorial which said, in part:

Of all the booby traps left behind by the Clinton administration, none is more dangerous -- or more urgent -- than the situation in Iraq. Over the last year, Mr. Clinton and his team quietly avoided dealing with, or calling attention to, the almost complete unraveling of a decade's efforts to isolate the regime of Saddam Hussein and prevent it from rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction. That leaves President Bush to confront a dismaying panorama in the Persian Gulf [including] intelligence photos that show the reconstruction of factories long suspected of producing chemical and biological weapons...

True enough. But does that mean the situation was urgent enough to justify war? The Post editorial concludes thus:

In all this, the option the Bush administration can least afford is Mr. Clinton's inaction. Saddam Hussein -- who tried to assassinate Mr. Bush's father after losing the Persian Gulf War to him -- is likely to challenge the administration soon; among other things, Iraq has been laying the groundwork for an attempt to disrupt world oil markets by withholding its production as OPEC tightens supplies. To be sure, it will take considerable time and effort to roll back Saddam Hussein's gains. But in the short term, some steps can be taken. Pressure can be focused on Syria, as well as on Turkey and Jordan, to stop the illegal export of Iraqi oil. And the administration can take a clear stand: If new Iraqi production facilities for weapons of mass destruction can be identified, the United States quickly will take action against them -- with or without its allies.

Of course, no such production facilities were identified by 2003; in fact, Kevin Drum makes this point, which seems to me to be worth considering:

Nor does Podhoretz apply himself to the entire period before the war. He stops his investigation at the end of 2002. But that's not when we went to war. We went to war in March 2003, and by that time UN inspectors had been combing Iraq for months with the help of U.S. intelligence. They found nothing, and an increasing chorus of informed minds was starting to wonder if perhaps there was nothing there. In response, President Bush and his supporters merely amped up their certainty that Saddam was hiding something.

And another point. Podhoretz cites this article by the Brookings Institution's Kevin Pollack as proof that prewar intelligence data bolstered -- wrongly, as it turned out -- the case for Iraq having WMDs, and that reliance on them was an error made in good faith. Yet Pollack also writes:

The one action for which I cannot hold Administration officials blameless is their distortion of intelligence estimates when making the public case for going to war.

As best I can tell, these officials were guilty not of lying but of creative omission. They discussed only those elements of intelligence estimates that served their cause. ...

....

Some defenders of the Administration have reportedly countered that all it did was make the best possible case for war, playing a role similar to that of a defense attorney who is charged with presenting the best possible case for a client (even if the client is guilty). That is a false analogy. A defense attorney is responsible for presenting only one side of a dispute. The President is responsible for serving the entire nation. Only the Administration has access to all the information available to various agencies of the U.S. government—and withholding or downplaying some of that information for its own purposes is a betrayal of that responsibility.


That's not very exculpatory.

A news analysis in The Washington Post also points to holes in the argument that "Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence."

Of course, many Bush supporters will no doubt say that the Post critique is driven by ideological bias and the desire to take down Bush. And so we're back to square one: it all depends on the political lens through which different commentators view the evidence.

My own tentative conclusion (as someone who still thinks that the Iraq invasion may well ultimately prove to have been justified, in terms of its net effect) is that while the Bush administration did not deliberately lie, it almost certainly believed what it wanted to believe, and presented the evidence accordingly.

I also think that Democrats, or Republicans, have the right to change their mind about the war without being labeled unpatriotic or accused of pandering to the base (unless there is evidence that that is indeed their motive for the switch). There are many honest reasons a politician could reverse himself, from concluding that the Bush administration manipulated pre-war intelligence to being disenchanted by the post-war handling of the occupation. And John Cole's new liberal co-blogger Tim F. makes another interesting point:

Is it possible that some may have supported the war in Iraq for political gain?

If anybody used support for the war for political gain, would that make them less patriotic?


Again, this is not simply a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Here's conservative Republican Chuck Hagel:

The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years.

(Hat tip: Hit & Run)

Amen to that. I find it revolting when opponents of the war in Iraq demonize war supporters, accusing them of being driven by greed or of wanting to slaughter "brown people." But it's just as revolting to hear the pro-war faction toss around charges that war critics are, in effect, giving aid and comfort to the enemy.


57 comments:

The Navigator said...

Cathy,
I think it's fair to note that these comments are not made by groups in positions of equal influence:
I find it revolting when opponents of the war in Iraq demonize war supporters, accusing them of being driven by greed or of wanting to slaughter "brown people." But it's just as revolting to hear the pro-war faction toss around charges that war critics are, in effect, giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Granted, some war opponents make those accusations - but do any Democrats in the Congressional leadership make them? Do the most of the liberal magazines, or the reflective and thoughtful liberal blogs? I don't frequent Daily Kos and only occasionally Atrios, but I gather you'll hear those sorts of accusations there by some contributors, and I expect you'll read it in The Nation. Anyone else, though?

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the pro-war accusations you describe are regularly hurled by top Administration officials and GOP congressional leaders, as well as most of the conservative news outlets.

Dean said...

Time will tell in this whole thing. Indeed, it is already telling. The situation in Iraq is playing out pretty much as the rational critics thought it would.

I think that, 20 years from now (maybe sooner, actually) the evidence will be clear that the Bush administration wanted to go into Iraq and used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to do so. They honestly believed that they would be greeted as liberators (which, mostly, they were) and that Iraq would just somehow magically become a democracy. Based on that, they hung their invasion on a flimsy 'preemptive defense' theory, and THAT is why all of the attention has focused on WMD.

Under international law, you can't just go and invade a country because you don't like the ruler, or because he's a nasty piece of work, which Saddam undoubtedly was. In order for the coalition not to be in violation of international law, the preemptive defense theory has to hold up.

If Iraq was NOT a direct and urgent threat to the United States (which it was not) then the invasion is on shaky legal ground.

It was also a bad idea. I am not a liberal, am not a Democrat, I don't hate Republicans, I'm not even American, but I've been against the invasion of Iraq from the beginning. Not because I'm some dove, but because it was doomed to failure. All it could possibly do was make things worse. That this is what has happened is reaching the point of undeniability. Iraq is now a terribly dangerous and unstable place. It is in a state of civil war, and the unfortunate thing is that none of the good things that are happening can change this.

Iraq isn't Panama or Grenada. Here's a prediction: twenty years from now, the Invasion of Iraq will be widely viewed as a serious mistake.

The Navigator said...

And this, while typically judicious, is slightly too forgiving:
My own tentative conclusion... is that while the Bush administration did not deliberately lie, it almost certainly believed what it wanted to believe, and presented the evidence accordingly.
Setting aside what our aliterate President himself actually thought, the Bush Administration as an entity has been shown fairly conclusively to have presented evidence that it had no reason to believe, or even knew for certain was not true. Rumsfeld's comment that "we know where the weapons of mass destruction are", the citation of a source who they'd been told was an unreliable fabricator, asserting that 'British intelligence' believed the Niger yellowcake story when American intelligence was sure the story was wrong, insisting that Saddam had close ties with al Qaeda when they knew there was virtually no evidence of that and they'd been assured that Saddam was a secular leader who was at odds with religious fanatics like bin Laden.

And let's not forget that when people say 'Bush lied', that's often shorthand for statements that were more like Clintonian evasions - most prominently, the deliberate, obvious, repeated efforts to insinuate that Saddam was involved in 9/11, which were phrased just ambiguously enough to maintain plausible deniability when they were called on it.

reader_iam said...

Well done, Cathy. The way you can dispassionately analyze issues in your passionate pursuit of truth is truly amazing and admirable.

Thanks

Christopher said...

There's a great line in Lawrence of Arabia where Drydan says to Lawrence "A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it." Now the Bush administration may not be guilty of the first, but they are certainly guilty of one of the two. They told us they were sure when they could not have been sure for the obvious reason that they were wrong.
In terms of the future Cathy says she's hopeful that this war will end up being a positive thing. I'm not sure but I still have hope. When one looks at it on balance though, you have to include the opportunity costs. The monumentally large expense in international good will, domestic sacrifice, money, and lives all sunk into what could only be described as a gamble represents to me very poor statesmanship. Does anyone believe that we bought the highest likelihood of the most security with those resources?
The war with Iraq is the strategic equivilent of drawing with an inside straight and your retirement on the line. Bismarck wouldn't have done it and neither would I.

Anonymous88 said...

Navigator -

I had wanted to make a comment, but I found that in your first comment you stated exactly what I had been thinking. I have never heard the case made (and I have alot of activist-left friends) that the motivation for the war is the desire to slaughter 'brown people.' The opposing-the-war-is-unpatriotic angle, however, is commonly made on the right by all levels.

Cathy, though I disagree with you at times, I greatly enjoy your balanced and incisive analysis. Your approach is very much a breath of fresh air, and you always give me a great deal of food for thought. Thank you for starting this blog, and please keep it up.

William R. Barker said...

Proposed compromise:

Let's just hang George Tenet!

Tenet was originally a Clinton appointee, right? Then kept on by Bush, right? So... let's agree to disagree on how much of the Iraq mess (and 9/11) was made inevitable by Clinton administration failings vs. Bush administration failings and "compromise" by pinning all the blame on George Tenet?

Come on... who's with me? Tens of millions of Americans will defend Clinton; equal numbers will defend Bush; how many of us would lift a finger to defend that absolutely incompetent idiot Tenet?

Come on... it would be like beeping the horn in bumper to bumper traffic! It wouldn't change the situation, but it would make us feel better!

Seriously... the buck stopped at Clinton's desk and he blew it. The buck stopped at Bush's desk and he blew it. But Tenet? Not only didn't he and his organization stop 9/11, but Directer "Slam Dunk" himself was a key player in "identifing" weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The problem isn't that the Republicans couldn't "get" Clinton. Nor is it that the Democrats can't "get" Bush. The problem is that men like George Tenet can just walk away from their records and neither Democrats nor Republicans in power seem to care.

Revenant said...

Of course, the charge that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence data either is true, or isn't true. There's no such thing as an unpatriotic fact.

There is, however, such a thing as an unpatriotic revealing of a fact.

Take, for example, the "an interrogator flushed a Koran down a toilet" story. Even if the story had been absolutely true (which of course it wasn't), publishing it would still have been unpatriotic. Why? Because telling that story harms our nation, without serving any higher purpose that might justify telling it. Flushing a Koran isn't a crime, or a violation of human rights, or a form of torture. There is no pressing need to reveal that it is happening or have it stopped.

And so it is with the "Bush lied" meme. Even if it were true (and it certainly is not), what, exactly, would be the point in endlessly repeating it? None of the people involved are currently running for office. None of them are proposing we invade a new country. No, what is relevant now is how we deal with the war we're ALREADY in.

The reason the Democrats are endlessly promoting this meme is that it harms Bush politically and (this being a two-party system) helps them. Well, it also harms America -- it makes the war harder to fight and lowers morale, which has real costs in American lives and money. Knowingly harming your own country for your own personal benefit is unpatriotic. "But what I said was true" is not a defense against that.

And before anyone says "well, Bush harmed America by getting us into the war" -- that simply does not matter. Even if it were true, two wrongs don't make a right. That your political opponent harmed the nation for HIS personal gain does not excuse you doing it yourself. Saying true things that harm your country is only the right thing to do if some higher purpose makes it necessary that they be said. "Getting Democrats elected" is not a higher purpose.

Revenant said...

I have never heard the case made (and I have alot of activist-left friends) that the motivation for the war is the desire to slaughter 'brown people.'

Hm, I certainly have. Although a much more common claim is that we invaded to get the oil, and we just didn't *care* that "brown people" would die because we're all white racists and don't care and so on and so forth.

In any case, a Google search on "Iraq war "brown people"" returns 87,400 hits. The first hundred or so are overwhelmingly anti-war sites.

Cathy Young said...

Everyone -- thank you for the comments.

I agree that accusations of non-patriotism on the right are far more mainstream than accusations of "wanting to kill brown people" on the left.

However, claims that the Republicans unleashed the war out of greed and power-lust are fairly mainstream. I would say that even if "Bush lied," it was because he and his circle thought the war would be a good thing -- that it would lead to the creation of a pro-Western, secular, relatively liberal state in the heart of the Arab world, thereby perhaps starting a pro-democracy chain reaction, and eliminate the current terrorism-generating conditions in that part of the world.

Now, one may say that this hope was severely misguided. (Though I should note that it was shared by Thomas Friedman, who is hardly a "wingnut.") But it's not quite the same as "Bush and his cronies got us into a war so that Bush could get re-elected and Halliburton stock would go up."

revenant -- I have to say I strongly disagree, unless we're talking about classified information.

Let's take the Koran story. If it had been suppressed by the media for "patriotic" reasons, what are the chances of it leaking out anyway, particularly in the Information Age? Quite high, I would say. What's more, it would likely leak out in a highly sensationalized, exaggerated way.

Call me an idealist, but I think that when we expose our own prisoner abuse problems and publicize the fact that we are doing something to fix them makes us stronger, not weaker.

Likewise with the question of whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence. I think that freedom to debate and dissent, and openness in government, are such paramount American values that we should not abridge them without extremely compelling need.

Revenant said...

Let's take the Koran story. If it had been suppressed by the media for "patriotic" reasons, what are the chances of it leaking out anyway, particularly in the Information Age? Quite high, I would say.

I have to take issue with the idea that failing to report something which there is no good reason to report counts as "suppression". In any case, the fact that a harmful truth will will eventually become known is no reason to actively help spread it around.

Let's say your friend Bob was HIV+, but preferred that people not know this. If you proceeded to tell the whole world that Bob was HIV+, would Bob be unjustified in saying "that wasn't something a friend would do"? I think he would be completely justified. I think if he said "you're not my friend" or "you're not a good person" he'd be entirely right. Even though it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Bob can't keep the secret forever, telling other people yourself would still be a violation of your friendship.

Now, if you found out that Bob was doing something that raised the risk of infecting others -- if he had a new sex partner, say, or was planning to give blood -- then, saying something would be justified. A higher purpose than your friendship would be served.

Call me an idealist, but I think that when we expose our own prisoner abuse problems and publicize the fact that we are doing something to fix them makes us stronger, not weaker.

Throwing a Koran into a toilet is not prisoner abuse, though. This wasn't a case of a reporter taking a stand for human rights against the interests of America; it was a case of a reporter taking a stand for a sexy headline against the interests of America. The former isn't unpatriotic, the latter is. When faced with the possibility of performing an action that harms his or her nation, a patriotic person asks him or herself "is it really necessary that I do this?". If the answer to that question is "no", they don't do it.

But in any case, the Koran story wasn't actually true, so the reporter can't even offer the "truth" defense. They printed a harmful and false rumor about their country for personal gain, without even bothering to do either basic fact checking or a simple sanity check (you can't flush a book down a toilet). That was clearly an unpatriotic thing to do.

Likewise with the question of whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence. I think that freedom to debate and dissent, and openness in government, are such paramount American values that we should not abridge them without extremely compelling need.

I don't think we should have any freedoms abridged either. It is, and should continue to be, legal to be unpatriotic (although not treasonous, of course). But the freedom to do something doesn't make it right; I have the right to suggest that we re-enslave black people, but it would nevertheless be a completely evil thing to do.

On a final note, there is value in the free exchange of ideas. There is no value in the free exchange of unsubstantiated accusations. The people shouting "Bush lied!" and "this is a war for oil" are not contributing anything. They are not providing a useful service. They are harming their nation in order to harm a political adversary more. If they want to rationally analyze the intelligence failures of the Bush (and, to be fair, Clinton) administrations and try to figure out what went wrong, fine. But that describes *maybe* one percent of the people Bush was condemning. The rest are just out to score points, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

peter hoh said...

Right now, I don't care much about pre-war intelligence. If some fabrication is revealed in the pursuit of the Plame leak, then I guess it has to be dealt with. To me, the most serious lapse of pre-war leadership was the failure to adequately plan for the post-invasion phase.

Anonymous said...

Before the war, I wasn't really interested in politics; I was mildly Republican because everyone around me was (I live in Mississippi). The invasion always struck me as being a bad idea; I thought the intelligence about WMD's was flimsy, and I wasn't confident that we had a plan for reconstruction. Well, it turns out I was right; I wish I had been wrong. I don't think that our interests will have been served if we've created another Iran, and it looks like we're headed in that direction. I skimmed through the Iraqi constitution before the elections, and, in my inexpert opinion, it looks like a big pile of s***. My point in all of this rambling is that not everyone who has come to oppose the war did it out some animus against Bush; I liked the fellow, and would have voted for him in 2000 if I'd been able to vote!

Snowe

Cathy Young said...

revenant, I think there was fairly universal agreement that if a guard had "flushed a Koran down the toilet" (which I do agree is a logistical impossibility), it would have been outrageous behavior on the part of the guard. Why do you think the people at Newsweek couldn't have thought that the story deserved to be publicized because this is not the kind of thing American soldiers should be doing?

I'm also not sure how you can ascertain the motives driving the people who want to get to the bottom of whether we were misled about military intelligence in the prelude to the war. A lot of them are people who supported the war.

Revenant said...

revenant, I think there was fairly universal agreement that if a guard had "flushed a Koran down the toilet" (which I do agree is a logistical impossibility), it would have been outrageous behavior on the part of the guard

Really? It seemed to me that there was fairly universal agreement that that *wouldn't* have been outrageous behavior. Even most of the anti-war people I personally know seemed unconcerned about the possibility. Sure, public officials made the usual noises about respect for Islam and so on, but that's what you'd expect them to say regardless. It's good PR.

Let's face it, most Americans don't have much respect for Islam. It's "that terrorist religion". I strongly suspect the number of people who felt that trashing a Koran is "outrageous" were significantly outnumbered by the people who thought letting the prisoners have Korans in the first place was a bad move.

Why do you think the people at Newsweek couldn't have thought that the story deserved to be publicized because this is not the kind of thing American soldiers should be doing?

Because they didn't check the veracity of the story.

There were three possibilities, here:

(A): Publishing a true story that reveals Americans are doing bad things.
(B): Publishing a fake story that says Americans are doing bad things.
(C): Keeping your mouth shut.

A patriot wants to avoid B, and only resort to A if the "bad things" are worse than the harm revealing them would cause. Even if I believed that a reasonable person could think flushing a Koran was so bad that it had to be revealed to the world, the fact of the matter is that the report showed a complete lack of concern for whether he was doing A or B. This indicates that the motivating factor was "publish a story", not "be right", and that "harming America" didn't really register as a problem. I think it's reasonable to say that that was unpatriotic.

There is also the fact that major news figures and journalism schools typically teach, and say, that journalists are duty-bound to simply report the truth, and are specifically supposed to NOT keep their country's best interests in mind (that would be bias). Any reporter who actually follows that credo is unpatriotic by definition.

Finally, I'm not questioning the motives of people who want to "get to the bottom" of the run-up to the war. I'm one of those people! But the honest truth is that the available evidence does not provide anything even remotely close to conclusive support for the "Bush lied" position. Anyone saying those things isn't interested in getting to the bottom of anything. Like the "Koran" reporter, their priorities are: tell the story first, worry if it's true later, and don't think too much about the wider implications of saying it.

Anonymous said...

Although I only have about 22 years that I can speak for, I can honestly say that they have never read anything more humble, honest, sincere, reasonable, and intelligent regarding political commentary.

It may go against reasonable Libertarian sensibilities, but Cathy's analyses should be mandatory programming for every American.

Bravo!

Cathy Young said...

Why, thank you, anonymous. :)

revenant -- I agree, of course, that Newsweek acted irresponsibly.

Leaving the media aside, however: here's a question. Do you think it was unpatriotic for the Republicans, and for the conservative media, to push for the Clinton impeachment? Because I think that did, arguably, harm the country; didn't some even attribute Clinton's strikes against Saddam Hussein to a "wag the dog" desire to distract attention from his Monica problems?

One of the problems I have with the the "unpatriotic dissent" meme is that the War on Terror may well turn out to be a more or less permanent war, at least for our lifetime. Does that mean that henceforth, all politically motivated attacks on the current President (which are surely as old as the Republic itself!) are to be seen as giving aid and comfort to the enemy? If so, then we are witnessing a pretty major (and disturbing) redefinition of what's "allowed" in American politics.

peter hoh said...

The "wag the dog" airstrikes were against sites in the Sudan. Googling turned up this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/starr082198.htm

This tells me that my memory is only half gone. I forgot about the airstrikes on Afghanistan.

Yep, we wasted a lot of time on that impeachment effort. But I always thought that was the President's way of keeping Congress occupied.

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for that, Peter! Certainly brings back memories.

Revenant said...

Do you think it was unpatriotic for the Republicans, and for the conservative media, to push for the Clinton impeachment? Because I think that did, arguably, harm the country

Well... personally (while I'm not a Republican) I supported the impeachment, so I don't think I can make an objective appraisal on that point. My view is that what harm was done to the country should be placed at the feet of the person who repeatedly broke (and displayed contempt for) the law, and not the people who sought to remove him from office for that.

I don't think most of the impeachment supporters were placing their self-interest over that of the nation, because it became apparent pretty early on that the whole thing was costing the pro-impeachment folks more than it could possibly gain them.

Anyway, I did think Clinton was "wagging the dog" at the time. But at the time, I didn't consider myself patriotic, either; I didn't reappraise my feelings about the USA until after 9/11. In retrospect, those accusations were irresponsible (although I still have a sneaking suspicion they were correct).

Does that mean that henceforth, all politically motivated attacks on the current President (which are surely as old as the Republic itself!) are to be seen as giving aid and comfort to the enemy?

The "personal attack" angle isn't the point. The reason the "Bush lied" meme harms America is that it tells the people fighting on our side that they're a bunch of suckers fighting for nothing. That's horrible for morale, and I really believe it has real costs in money, lives, and objectives. There are countless ways to attack a President without doing any significant harm to the country.

However, I have to say that if people stopped hurling unsupported accusations at politicians they dislike -- traditional though it be -- we'd probably all be happier and better-off.

peter hoh said...

Well, Revenant, the Wag the Dog accusations and the pre-occupation with Clinton's lies about getting a BJ effectively prevented this country from doing anything serious about al-Qaida, so in retrospect, the impeachment and all that surrounded it did harm the USA, and did provide our enemies with the opportunity to further their efforts.

Revenant said...

Well, Revenant, the Wag the Dog accusations and the pre-occupation with Clinton's lies about getting a BJ effectively prevented this country from doing anything serious about al-Qaida

I would phrase it this way: if Clinton had devoted one-tenth the effort to fighting terrorism that he devoted to finding things to stick his dick in, al Qaeda would have died in its infancy. In any case, since Clinton could have ended the "distraction" by resigning and handing the reigns to Gore, your argument basically works out to this: in Clinton's view, remaining President was more important than defending America.

In reality, of course, Clinton didn't think terrorism was a serious threat. Neither did Gore, or Bush, or me, or you either probably. That's why the 2000 elections came and went with barely a mention of terrorism or Al Qaeda, and why neither Clinton nor (during his first 8 months) Bush did anything significant to deal with the terrorist threat.

peter hoh said...

Can't argue much with that. The Clinton presidency was one of squandered opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Newsweek screwed up, but the fact was that Koran abuse stories were already widely circulating throughout the world. It was already creating a problem for us. Check out all the links on this from this site:

http://rawstory.com/exclusives/newsweek_koran_report_516.htm

Revenant said...

However widely a rumor might circulate, it still gains a lot of credibility from being printed in a "respectable" news outlet.

Imagine if Newsweek printed a story saying "sources say that Israeli Jews drink the blood of Palestinians". Yeah, plenty of Muslims already believe stuff like that about Jews, but it is easy to see how confirming it would be bad.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question -- if there had been more uncertainty than mere CYA clauses in the WMD assessments, where were all the pre-war CIA leaks of the caveats? If somebody is willing to illegally leak classified information after a war is launched, how malicious does he have to be to sit quietly by and let the war get started in the first place because of something he genuinely believes to be false?

On the other hand, isn't it quite in keeping with human nature that, after the intelligence estimates prepared by a person turn out to be false, for that person to try to deflect the blame by saying those who acted on his estimates ignored his reservations, as expressed in standard bureaucratic CYA clauses?

We have a choice here -- either the people making the CIA intelligence estimates were malicious anti-American bastards, or they were covering their asses after being proven wrong. If the first, yeah, the Administration shaded the truth -- but our most pressing problem is the CIA's utter lack of anyone with a conscience. If the second, then all the Administration did was report what the CIA found shorn of bureaucratese, and we had an honest mistake by reasonable people.

Anonymous said...

Revenant,

Sure. It would be bad to publish a rumor with no shred of truth to it. If it was very likely true in substance, if not detailed specifics, I'm not sure that would be so bad. There would be violence and outrage, and, in the end, international pressure to stop the practice. Instead of all this conspiracy theory underground rumour mongering garbage, the issues would be forced into the light of day. Granted, your example is pretty ridiculous, but you see my point.

With the Koran story, we all find the idea of actually 'flushing' a Koran to be highly unlikely. However, it is highly likely that Koran desecration was occurring. If you think that is ok, fine. But the debate about what should be done in our names needs to be out in the open. You, like Cheney and Rumsfield, may believe for the greater good of this country, it is necessary to do nasty things in secret. Maybe that worked, somewhat, in the past. (Though in South American and Africa, that has left us with some long term messes to deal with.) But this is now. We are in a whole new world. You can send a photo across the world in minutes. We don't have the luxury of Cold War style information control. At best, at the most controlled, we can delay negative information getting out. We can't stop it. So if we want to win this war, we are going to have to stop living in the past, and start figuring out quickly how to be effective in the open.

Another link for you: http://www.juancole.com/2005/05/guantanamo-controversies-bible-and.html

Z

Revenant said...

There would be violence and outrage, and, in the end, international pressure to stop the practice. Instead of all this conspiracy theory underground rumour mongering garbage, the issues would be forced into the light of day.

That's not how humans think.

If people believe that some entity is guilty of crimes A through Z, and you show evidence in support of crime A, people's belief in B through Z gets strengthened as well. If you publish a story saying "the United States disrespects the Koran", the end result will definitely NOT be that the rest of the world says "oh, well now that we know the US is being honest, we can go ahead and stop believing all this crazy shit". The end result will be "if the evil Americans are willing to admit to THAT, imagine what ELSE they're doing". The nuts will be strengthened in their convictions.

If you think that is ok, fine. But the debate about what should be done in our names needs to be out in the open

No, it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

The end result will be "if the evil Americans are willing to admit to THAT, imagine what ELSE they're doing". The nuts will be strengthened in their convictions.

If you look at them funny, the nuts are strengthened in their convictions. There is not one thing we can do to change the convictions of the nuts. Even if we were to magically transform the middle east into a democratic wonderland, it wouldn't change the nuts at all. The nuts have to be put out of harms way, one way or another.

We can't get them out of harms way without the help of the locals. We can't get the help of the locals if they are more inclined to believe the nuts than us, because they, themselves, know someone who knows someone whose brother's Koran was desecrated. If they are hearing all these stories and we aren't even talking about it, it looks like we are either covering things up or simply don't care that it is happening. And they know if we are talking about it, because they pay attention to our media. That is also how humans think.

No, it doesn't.

Yes, it does. Again, let me point out that we live in the information age. Things don't stay buried any more. They are going to find out about what we are doing, eventually. Unlike the old days, that eventually is no longer measured in decades. It is measured in months, or at most a couple of years. We will all have to deal with the consequences of what is being done in our names. We should have a say in it, too.

Revenant said...

If you look at them funny, the nuts are strengthened in their convictions. There is not one thing we can do to change the convictions of the nuts.

Hopefully that's not correct, because there are millions of nuts in the Islamic world. Everybody who thinks a book is as important as a human life, for starters.

But it isn't just the nuts. All people are susceptible to the same fallacious reasoning -- that if a person accused of X, Y, and Z is guilty of X, he's probably guilty of Y and Z too.

If they are hearing all these stories and we aren't even talking about it, it looks like we are either covering things up or simply don't care that it is happening.

We were talking about it. We were denying it. And if we confirm it, it looks like the nuts were right. The trustworthiness of the nuts is increased in peoples' eyes. What you are saying is that the best way to convince people we're not enemies of Islam is to admit that we deface Korans. I'm sorry, but that's silly. The best way to convince people we're enemies of Islam is to do our absolute best to convince people we don't do things like deface Korans. Which means lying, if we do in fact do those things.

Again, let me point out that we live in the information age

Which is why it is important to think about what you say, and not simply speak the truth out of the irrational belief that everything will magically work out fine in the end.

Things don't stay buried any more.

That's a religious belief, not a rational one. Look at the "Plamegate" scandal, to name one trivial example -- two years later we still don't have any clear idea of whether Plame was really covert, or who first outed her, or why they did it. Look at the Bill Clinton/Juanita Broderick rape story -- that was, what, 7 years ago now, and we still have no idea which one's telling the truth. We don't know where bin Laden is, or if he's still alive. We don't know what happened to the chemical weapons Hussein told the UN he had, or even if he really had them in the first place. And so on, and so on.

In any case, there is a world of difference between failing to keep something perfectly secret, and shouting from the rooftops that it's true. Say some guard comes forward as a whistleblower and says he personally flushed a Koran at Gitmo. So what? He can get in line with the guards who have come forward to confirm they worked on UFOs at area 51 and the folks who claim to have been personally involved in Kennedy's assassination. Most people treat internet rumors with the respect they deserve. The mainstream media, for not-particularly-good reasons, is given far more credibility.

You overestimate the value of telling the truth. The TRUTH, for example, is that most Americans think Islam is a weird, misguided and/or evil religion whose adherents are probably going to Hell when they die. Should we be careful to make sure that the world understands that truth? Or might it, perhaps, be counterproductive? Might a lie -- "America respects Islam, which is one of the world's great religions" -- be a smarter play?

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I have to get out of here, or I'd give this the long reply I'd like to. So, I'll just point out that Plamegate is a poor example. A week after the scandal broke, the rumour was that Libby was the leak. He was certainly one of them.

Have a good Thanksgiving.

Z

Cathy Young said...

Revenant:

What you are saying is that the best way to convince people we're not enemies of Islam is to admit that we deface Korans. I'm sorry, but that's silly. The best way to convince people we're enemies of Islam is to do our absolute best to convince people we don't do things like deface Korans. Which means lying, if we do in fact do those things.


Coming a bit late to this and I don't know if you're going to see this comment or not -- but I still disagree.

Information about US soldiers defacing Korans is going to come out one way or the other. No, it might not be definitive and might remain a he said/she said story (like the Juanita Broaddrick one), but the people who are predisposed to believe such things will most certainly believe them.

And if we're going to be lying about it, we may, in fact, get caught in this lie.

I think the best way to neutralize it is to admit that, yes, there are soldiers who have done those things, and then go on to say that we consider such behavior intolerable and that we discipline the perpetrators.

You overestimate the value of telling the truth. The TRUTH, for example, is that most Americans think Islam is a weird, misguided and/or evil religion whose adherents are probably going to Hell when they die.

Are you so sure about that? According to polls I've seen, most American Christians now take the view that you don't need to be a Christian to go to Heaven.

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