Friday, June 30, 2006

Lies and Spin: WMDs (6/30/06 Edition)

It's too bad that we tend to emphasize the moral significance of outright lies rather than that of other, more common types of deception. What got us into Iraq, of course, was mostly "spin"--a type of deception that falls short of outright lies. Morally speaking, however, spinning is just as bad as lying. Deception is the important category. If I trick you into buying my medicine--which I know to be less-than-optimally effective--by consciously spinning the data, then I've done something just as bad as telling you an outright lie about its efficacy.

In Salon we see that the Republican WMD spin goes on. You see, we have now, finally, technically found WMDs in Iraq! They're not the WMDs we were looking for, there aren't very many of them, and they're so old that they can't hurt anybody...but by God we found 'em. An ancient stockpile of Sarin-filled artillery shells that, as David Kay put it, are less dangerous than some of the stuff under the average kitchen sink.

This is kind of like finding a shell filled with mustard gas from WWI in a museum in Kurdistan...but it didn't prevent Rick Santorum and Curt Weldon from proclaiming Bush vindicated.

But you know how trustworthy Rick Santorum is. And as for Curt Weldon...

It's a pathetic spectacle, but I guess it really shouldn't surprise anyone by now.


Blogger Aa said...

You should read "On Bullshit" by Frankfurt, it's a short but very entertaining read.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good news about this ridiculous spectacle is that it is clearly the pathetic death throes of a doomed campaign: Santorum is almost a lock on getting his ass kicked out of congress this November, which will also have the added delightful benefit of driving a stake into the heart of his presidential ambitions.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I read "On Bullshit" years ago, Aa, back when it was just an essay in _The Importance of What We Care About_...I kinda liked it, but it didn't really blow me away, I gotta say.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Why is David Kay so often quoted as gospel truth on this narrow issue and completely ignored in supporting the real reasons we went to war?

But we already know the answer to that one, don't we? ;-)

"We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002. The discovery of these deliberate concealment efforts have come about both through the admissions of Iraqi scientists and officials concerning information they deliberately withheld and through physical evidence of equipment and activities that ISG has discovered that should have been declared to the UN. Let me just give you a few examples of these concealment efforts, some of which I will elaborate on later:

· A clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service that contained equipment subject to UN monitoring and suitable for continuing CBW research.

· A prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of BW agents, that Iraqi officials working to prepare for UN inspections were explicitly ordered not to declare to the UN.

· Reference strains of biological organisms concealed in a scientist's home, one of which can be used to produce biological weapons.

· New research on BW-applicable agents, Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin were not declared to the UN.

· Documents and equipment, hidden in scientists' homes, that would have been useful in resuming uranium enrichment by centrifuge and electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS).

· A line of UAVs not fully declared at an undeclared production facility and an admission that they had tested one of their declared UAVs out to a range of 500 km, 350 km beyond the permissible limit.

· Continuing covert capability to manufacture fuel propellant useful only for prohibited SCUD variant missiles, a capability that was maintained at least until the end of 2001 and that cooperating Iraqi scientists have said they were told to conceal from the UN.

· Plans and advanced design work for new long-range missiles with ranges up to at least 1000 km -- well beyond the 150 km range limit imposed by the UN. Missiles of a 1000 km range would have allowed Iraq to threaten targets through out the Middle East, including Ankara, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi.

· Clandestine attempts between late-1999 and 2002 to obtain from North Korea technology related to 1,300 km range ballistic missiles --probably the No Dong -- 300 km range anti-ship cruise missiles, and other prohibited military equipment.

In addition to the discovery of extensive concealment efforts, we have been faced with a systematic sanitization of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories, and companies suspected of WMD work. The pattern of these efforts to erase evidence -- hard drives destroyed, specific files burned, equipment cleaned of all traces of use -- are ones of deliberate, rather than random, acts...

With regard to Iraq's nuclear program, the testimony we have obtained from Iraqi scientists and senior government officials should clear up any doubts about whether Saddam still wanted to obtain nuclear weapons.

They have told ISG that Saddam Husayn remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons. These officials assert that Saddam would have resumed nuclear weapons development at some future point. Some indicated a resumption after Iraq was free of sanctions.

At least one senior Iraqi official believed that by 2000 Saddam had run out of patience with waiting for sanctions to end and wanted to restart the nuclear program..."

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, all that hypothetical weapon research that the broken and fractious Ba'ath regime was supposed to be working is a great justification for having UN inspectors go to Iraq...which they did. Bush's rationale for forcing them to withdraw and launch an invasion was that Saddam's weapons were too immediate a threat to allow a long, drawn out inspections process. So the abscence of ACTUAL weapons that could have ACUTALLY been used sort of undermines the necessity for pulling out an inspections team.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

What Matthew said.

But also: no one has ever denied that there was substantial reason to think that there were WMDs in Iraq. Before the war I said--though not on this blog--that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Iraq had WMDs.

But that doesn't much matter. Bush wasn't satisfied with looking objectively at the evidence, he insisted on spinning it and lying about it. And calling anyone who pointed this out unpatriotic. And fabricating links with al Qaeda.

Those are the things I have objected to.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

But that's not how it went down, Matthew, at least in my eyes, and in several others. (Sorry for repeating as a courtesy for those who came in late.)

I never would have supported whacking Saddam under the scenerio you outline. Two reasons I did are in David Kay's report, stated quite plainly.

There were a few other reasons, too.

Was it worth it? The early returns indicate no. Perhaps simply too much concept, not enough execution. But perhaps execution makes no real cosmic difference, although armchair types fancy it is so.

There may have been a small minority who opposed the war on sound conceptual grounds, which would have been based on a proper understanding of Islamism, tribalism, and thus the intractable problems of thre Arab world, but most opposed were wrong period in a generic opposition to unpleasantness.

The rest of us, a strong majority, were in favor of the enterprise. If this was a mistake, we as a nation made it together. It was worth a shot, and entirely morally defensible, to topple a major tyrant in the Muslim world who liked to kill people in mass quantities.

(Yes, WS, Vice President Cheney's linking of Atta to 9-11 was a bridge too far. Saddam's monetary rewards to the families of "martyrs" who murdered Israelis was enough for me personally to regard him as a friend of terrorism.

I do not bifurcate Islamic terrorisms. Al-Qaeda means "base," not the whole megillah. Israel is a scapegoat. If its entire population compliantly slit their throats tomorrow, the war would go on, stoked higher by the intoxication of victory.)

1:15 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Tom, those Insty links are just more right-wing wheel-spinning.

The facts, as we've gone over them before:

1. Everybody agrees that there was substantial reason to think that Saddam had WMDs.

2. But it was obvious to any dispassionate observer that the administration was lying about and exaggerating much of the evidence.

3. It was also obvious that they were rushing to war, and pushing the country into something for inadequate reasons.

4. And that we needed to be doing at the time was *going after al Qaeda*.

Saddam is an evil sonofabitch and--at any other time--I would have advocated taking him out. But we had bigger fish to fry at the time. Bush allowed OBL to get away at Tora Bora in order to transfer forces to Iraq for his baffling war based on distorted evidence. Now, of course, we're not-winning two wars when we could have won one immediately--and crushed al Qaeda...remember al Qaeda? the process.

Furthermore, most people in this country and elsewhere could see that there was something very fishy going on. The reasoning just didn't add up. So folks in this country and elsewhere drug our feet, trying to get a sensible rationale for this strange action. We in this country were called unpatriotic and soft on terror. Our allies were similarly alienated. Thus, in order to prosecute this war, Bush divided the country and drove away our allies at a time when unity and cooperation was necessary.

It wasn't worth it. It wasnt close to being worth it...and I've gotta say, that was fairly clear by the time of the invasion.

The administration whines a lot about people not being 100% behind them on on Iraq...but it's hard to really get behind them when the war was undertaken for such dishonest reasons, and with such high opportunity costs and such disastrous--yet predictable--results.

I've tried like mad to get 100% behind the Iraq war. But DAMMIT that's hard to do when it was so clear that we were going down a disastrous road...and especially when those of us who pointed that out were vilified so mercilessly by the right...which now insists that we forget that they've screwed EVERYTHING up since 9/11 and just shut up and fall in line.

Worse, few on your side will even acknowledge the real history of this mess.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

"it was obvious to any dispassionate observer..."

C'mon, man, you know it's improper to argue that way.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, "it was obvious to any dispassionate observer" tends to load the dice. But let's not forget how Tenant's "slam dunk" served primarily to provide plausibile deniability to a president who was himself dissatisfied with the evidence his underlings were able to assemble regarding an imminent threat. Bush flat out lied about the quality of the evidence.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, Bob, I'm trying to be gentle about this. It's a formal logical fallacy.

The subject of the day is critical thinking, and I for one am in favor of it.

I'm out of gas on Bush lied. People ask for investigations, but the exculpations of the Kay (even in the very thread it's quoted), Duelfer and Butler reports are ignored, as is all but the weakest of counterargument. The timeline and content of Bush's prewar rhetoric is distorted and cherry-picked. No use anymore. Sorry. We are at an epistemological impasse.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No appeal to the populi, but to the record. Did Bush not express dissatisfaction with the evidence presented to him regarding an imminent threat from Iraq? Did not Tenant "reassure" him that it was a slam dunk? Did Bush not then present the evidence as more than satisfactory to "justify" a preemptive war?

10:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Bush recieved his congressional authorization in October. The Tenet meeting was in December. Timeline, man.

I responded as a courtesy, Bob, but can't keep doing this. I lazily posted a link above from Glenn Reynolds, and until the arguments contained therein are addressed this is wasting both our time.

1:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll respond as a courtesy, Tom. You might note that I didn't say anything about congressional authorization. And whether or not such authorization was granted is irrelevant to the question of whether Bush lied about the quality of the evidence. But as a champion of critical thinking, you already know that. Right?

7:35 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Sorry, Tom, but you're wrong about a number of things here. But let's just deal with your claim about logic right now.

Pointing out that something was obvious is NOT a fallacy, much less a "formal logical fallacy."

You link to something about *ad populum* arguments. First, the ad populum fallacy isn't a formal fallacy. It's an informal fallacy.

Second, you misunderstand *ad populum*, and, hence, mistakenly judge that I committed one above. That fallacy goes roughly like this:

Most people believed that p

That has nothing whatsoever to do with my claim above, so you're just wrong about this.

Above I claimed that something was obvious to any dispassionate observer. That's not even an argument--it's a simple assertion--so it can't be invalid.

Furthermore, there's absolutely no fallacy involved in noting that something was obvious (to any dispassionate observer or whatever). Of course, as with any other claim, you want to make sure that the claim is true if you assert it. In this case my claim is true, so no problem.

Now...I guess you want to dispute the obviousness claim, and here things get a little tricky.

How does one determine whether something like this is obvious or not? I mean, if I say that p is obvious and you deny this, what do we do? Doesn't the mere fact that you deny it mean that it isn't obvious?

Well, here the character of the argument changes entirely, and, to cut to the chase, we might make a quick--but NON-FALLACIOUS--appeal to the judgments of others. It counts against your position (though not decisively) that almost everyone in the entire world judged that Bush was bullshitting us...everybody, that is, except for American conservatives who have repeatedly demostrated their willingness to believe and do almost anything Bush says.

(Is THIS an ad populum? No. Ad populums are trickier than people give them credit for, but there's nothing wrong with arguing that the fact that most people have judged that p gives us *some reason* to conclude that p. Strictly speaking, to commit an ad populum fallacy is to overestimate the strength of such evidence, or, esp. to treat such arguments as deductively valid. Anyway, when we're trying to determine whether something was obvious, such appeals seem particularly relevant.)

Now, when Smith is obviously lying and virtually *everyone in the whole world* can see this...and only the members of Smith's own political party claim to not recognize this...well, what's the best hypothesis here? That the members of Smith's party are, magically, the only enlightened ones? Or that the members of Smith's party are being, well, partisan? If this were only Dems vs. Republicans, that would be one thing. But it isn't. It's Republicans vs. EVERYBODY ELSE.

But we needn't get distracted by the obviousness claim: the important proposition here is that Bush DID decieve us, not that his deception was obvious (though it was).

In the end, I guess what I want to say is: we've been over all this before. We've gone through many of these issues in detail. Every time it comes out the same way--I don't see your point, I can't understand how anyone could look at the evidence and draw the conclusion that you draw, I don't think you can be moved on this issue, and I don't see that it's worth our time to keep going over the same ground.

SO FAR AS I CAN TELL, the likelihood that Bush decieved us is very, very high. High enough to call the case closed unless/until there is ever a more formal inquiry. (An inquiry which Republicans have gone out of their way to thwart...what might explain that?) If I were given the opportunity to bet on the truth of the proposition that Bush decieved us and/or distorted the evidence, I would bet most of what I own. It's about the safest bet I could ever be offered.

Ask yourself how much you would bet against the truth of that proposition. Be honest.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

No we're not trying to determine what it obvious, we're stating that what we believe is self-evidently obvious.

"Obvious to any dispassionate observer" is more an argument from authority (related to ad populum), since we don't take the word of passionate observers very seriously. Only dispassionate observers count. I accept your correction that it's informal.

"Everybody" didn't think Bush was lying. At the time they had no reason to think he was. Only passionate observers thought so.

"Other nations' intelligence services were similarly aligned with U.S. views. Somewhat remarkably, given how adamantly Germany would oppose the war, the German Federal Intelligence Service held the bleakest view of all, arguing that Iraq might be able to build a nuclear weapon within three years. Israel, Russia, Britain, China, and even France held positions similar to that of the United States; France's President Jacques Chirac told Time magazine last February, "There is a problem-the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq. The international community is right ... in having decided Iraq should be disarmed." In sum, no one doubted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction."">The Atlantic.

The other nations of the world didn't support invading Iraq for their own reasons of state, like preserving the corrupt Oil For Food program, it seems.

Mr. Koepp, the timeline is important because Bush's meeting with Tenet had nothing to do with the US going to war. Mr. Smith, Bush's presentation to the UN (at the request of Powell and Blair) had nothing to do with the UN's rejection of it.

Did Bush pump an inconclusive case in a doomed-from-the-start attempt to win UN support? Sure. Lied, as in fabricated? Uh-uh.

I dunno what you expect from these guys. Clinton sends us to war against "genocide" with his state department floating 500,000 dead, his Secretary of Defense floating 100,000, himself "thousands upon thousands," and he ends up with 2-3000 dead instead, hardly a genocide. I am unwilling to call him a liar. No dispassionate observer holds political rhetoric to gospel truth.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Sorry, wrong again, Tom.

To assert that something is obvious has nothing to do with arguments from authority.

An argument from authority has the form:

Authority A says that p
therefore p

(Fallacious arguments from authority are arguments from authority in which the cited authority has no special expertise with regard to p)

Again: there is no fallacy associated with pointing out that something is obvious..though, of course, such claims can be false.

And, um, I don't think I personally knew anyone who thought that the administration was being straight with us in the build up to Iraq. I knew supporters of invasion and I knew opponents, but everybody agreed that we were being bullshitted. Conservatives often claim they believed he was telling the truth, but I conclude they say that out of political loyalty...otherwise they are either extremely inattentive or extremely gullible.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

And, Tom, you keep making the same point over and over again--that others thought that Iraq had WMDs.

But as we've established, that wasn't the point. The question at issue is whether the administration deceived us. Even those--like myself--who believed that Iraq had WMDs could see that they were lying about much of the evidence.

Now, since we already know that many of their conclusions are false, the only thing that can be at issue here is whether they were honest or dishonest about the strength of the evidence.

So, here are some of the things they asserted that turned out to be false:

Iraq was responsible for 9/11

Saddam had a significant operational relationship with al Qaeda

Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger

The notorious aluminum tubes were probably for uranium enrichment

Iraq had UAVs capable of threatening the U.S.

Etc. Since these all turned out to be false, you must be alleging that the adminstration made only honest mistakes in pushing these claims on the American people.

Am I getting this right?

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TVD wonders what we expect from these guys. Speaking for myself, and assuming that we're talking about our beloved leaders, I expect them to lie whenever it serves their overriding interest, i.e., consolidating or maintaining power. Adding further weight to my expectation, we were witnessing a typical march toward war, that nasty extension of politics the first casualty of which is truth.

BTW, should I be amused that a guy who doesn't grasp informal fallacies, presumes to lecture me about critical thinking?

3:47 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I confessed to a minor academic error. No one's perfect, man. Take advantage if you want.

Are you refuting my point, Bob? Only a sophist, not a critical thinker, depends on the use of words instead of their meaning.

WS, we went to war based on Saddam's flouting of a dozen UN resolutions and his continuing fascination with WMDs.

We didn't go to war on aluminum tubes or drones or even Mohammed Atta's putative link to Saddam. Not even the 16 words, which were BTW supported by the Butler report.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Ah, now the justification narrows and shifts again.

If not for the cloud of lies and deception aforementioned, the country would never have allowed Bush to take us to war. The stated reasons for going to war are the ones we've been discussing. If you agree that those reasons were bullshit, then you agree that we were taken to war for bullshit reasons.

After years of the right screaming bloody murder about the evils of the UN, there's no way on God's green Earth that the country would have gone to war "merely" to enforce UN resolutions.

And I'm not busting your chops for a minor academic error. I'm merely pointing out that I didn't commit any fallacy. I'm not mad about it, I just wanted it to be clear. Sorry if it sounded otherwise.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

No, Mr. Koepp did. And I do believe it's a fallacy.

I agree about the cloud part. It was directed at the UN on Powell and Blair's behalf. That's the way they wanted it. The administration didn't want to do it, but gave in, and pushed an unclear case. If you gave Saddam the benefit of the doubt, the evidence meant nothing. If you believed the worst of him, it was an OK (no great) circumstantial case.

I disagree about the "American people" part. Congress is what runs this republic, and had given the authorization back in October. There are zillions of Democrats on record convinced that Saddam had weapons and was a threat in the forseeable future, if not the present, because he was fascinated by them and would continue to pursue them.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Not great.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, TVD, there were Democrats who didn't know any better and thought that the malAdministration was being honest when they supplied the information that led them to vote for war.

"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please excuse my raising the question, but just what fallacy am I supposed to have committed? I was under the impression that TVD thought, mistakenly, that WS had employed an ad populum argument. Please advise.

8:06 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home