Sunday, April 29, 2007

Selling the Iraq War: A Moral Perspective

I have been spending the weekend listening to the online version of Bill Moyers’ “Buying the War” about how the Bush Administration sold the American Public on the idea of invading Iraq and how the Press, either intentionally or foolishly, assisted in this campaign of deception.

Mental Gymnastics

First, I want to say that I do not yet know of any evidence that the members of the Bush Administration ‘lied’ in the most sinister definition of the term. When I see the evidence, I will vote to convict them. In the mean time, I suspect that they viewed the case to go to war the same way they viewed the evidence that the Earth is only 10,000 years old or that there is a God. They believe it. It must be true. From this assumption, one can look at the evidence. Evidence consistent with this unquestioned truth is good evidence, and evidence inconsistent with this unquestioned truth is bad evidence.

The reason they continued to insist that aluminum tubes meant that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons is because of this method of using evidence. The story was consistent with their conclusion, so it must be right. It does not matter if them ‘scientists’ and ‘analysts’ and ‘experts’ held a different opinion. This was no different than those ‘scientists’ who held a different opinion on the age of the earth or the evolution of humans. ‘Scientists’ and ‘experts’ are inherently corrupt, claiming whatever absurdities come into their mind that would help to push their atheistic, liberal agenda. The only real evidence was the evidence that said that God created the earth 6,000 years ago, or that said that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.

Here is a level of consistency that I think many people gloss over. We are dealing with people who can look at the tremendous amount of evidence that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old and sincerely believe that the world is 6,000 years old. These are people who can look at the tremendous amount of evidence for evolution, yet sincerely believe that evolution is ‘just a theory’. These people can look at the tremendous evidence for human contributions to global warming and sincerely believe, at the same time, that (1) there is no warming and (2) it is all natural.

Anybody who has debated these people on any of these issues knows how easily they swallow whatever evidence they can find that seems to support their position and sincerely believe that this is good evidence.

Nobody should be surprised to discover that these same people can dismiss the scientific facts about what it takes to build nuclear weapons and that Saddam Hussein could not possibly be manufacturing nuclear weapons using any process short of magic or divine intervention, and yet sincerely believe that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons.

People look at what has now become known as the absurdity of the Administration claims – that there is no conceivable real-world way that Iraq could have had the infrastructure for building nuclear weapons and keep it a secret – and they conclude, “The Administration must have known that their position was insane; yet, they still defended it.” These are people who think that the scientific evidence actually supports a 6,000 year old Earth, proves evolution is a fraud, and that humans cannot possibly contribute to global warming. Believing that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons in spite of the lack of evidence is child’s play compared to these other examples of mental gymnastics.

The Culpability of the Press and the Public

The bulk of the show asked the question, “Why did the Press not call the President on these absurdities? Why did they not educate the American people on what it would take for Iraq to build a nuclear weapon and ask, “How could any country ever hide that type of infrastructure?”

The question that I have, however, is not why the Press did not raise the questions that should have been raised. Actually, it appears to me that the answer is quite clear. The job of the media industry is to draw eyeballs to advertisements. The reason the Press did not question the President and his policies is because it would have been bad for business.

The real campaign was simple. “If you watch those other news programs – those programs that question the President and his policies in this time of war, then you are watching traitors out to sabotage our this country. They are trying to destroy America. We are trying to protect it. Nobody who cares about America would dare to question the President at this time of crisis.”

It was not the Press that decided that America was a country that would go to war without seriously asking itself whether it had a good reason to go to war. It was not the Press that decided that America would support a war on false pretenses. It was not even the President or his administration that made this decision. They would not have made this decision unless they knew that the social climate was one in which they stood a reasonable chance of getting away with it.

It was the American people themselves – or a sufficiently large majority of them – who made the decision that America was going to be a nation willing and eager to go to war with no questions asked. Indeed, it was the American people themselves – or a sufficiently large majority of them – that decided that asking questions about the justice of killing other people before killing them was going to be made un-American, and that branding those who would ask questions as traitors would be our model of moral virtue.

Things could have been different. Things would have been different if the American people themselves – or a sufficiently large majority of them – held to a different moral standard. It would have been a standard that said, “When we consider punishing a criminal, we hold that punishment is so terrible that we must presume the person we punish is innocent, and we must require proof as to his guilt. Going to war is even more terrible. Justice demands that the same standards apply, that we hold to a presumption of peace unless evidence beyond a reasonable doubt compels us to the alternative.”

What we had in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq was the psychology of a lynch mob on a national scale. A lynch mob will, sometimes, have a trial of sorts before they lynch the accused. However, the lynch mob makes it clear that anybody who actually dares use this opportunity to defend the accused, and who speaks ill of the mob, will suffer for it. The lynch mob bullies the opposition into silence.

I am not saying that Saddam Hussein was an innocent man. I have argued (e.g., “Richard Perle: Morally Assessing Iraq”) that I thought that there was just cause to remove Hussein from power, by force if necessary. My opposition to Bush’s invasion sprang entirely from the fact that Bush was incompetent and would probably do more harm than good – like a cop who would toss a hand grenade into a crowded subway car to apprehend a purse snatcher.

Part of what is involved in giving a case a fair hearing is not only figuring out whether the accused is innocent or guilty, but the appropriate way to deal with the problem so that a lot of innocent people do not end up getting killed. The Bush Administration pushed for immediate action, arguing that there was no time for a debate on the subject. We had to act immediately “before the smoking gun came in the form of a mushroom cloud”. As such, our options were poorly considered, poorly planned, and poorly executed – exhibiting exactly the incompetence I had expected from this administration.

It is easy, it is even natural, for people to find scapegoats for their wrongdoing. Nobody likes to admit that they were wrong. Yet, there is a certain necessity for calling those who scapegoat on what they are doing. Getting people to admin their own responsibility is an important step to preventing some terrible wrong from repeating itself in the future.

Yes, the Bush Administration was evil, casting aside principles of justice and morality like so much waste as they pursued their objectives. Yes, those members of the Press who became popular by declaring anybody who questioned them to be anti-American traitors in league with the terrorists are guilty of wrongdoing as well. Yet, another group that is just that guilty are the people who decided to use their market power to tell the media, “Yes, I will enthusiastically support the doctrine of unquestioned obedience and unjust war by attaching my eyeballs to the advertisements of those who deliver this message.”

It is probably the most important role. Because, if the American public – or a sufficiently large majority of them at least – would have been enthusiastic about justice and the presumption of peace, then the Press and the President would not have gone on a drumbeat towards war.

Think of how much better off we would have been if a majority of Americans would have had sufficient moral character to have done the right thing.

Immorality does have a price tag.


Anonymous said...

Obama for president, 2008

It is obvious, that 9-11 provided the opportunity to unveil and unleash upon an unsuspecting nation a sinister plan to invade and occupy the sovereign nation of Iraq. The idea to go to war in Iraq of course was plotted long before that fateful day. This act of unmitigated war defied the moral and value basis of the American democracy.

So much has been said about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. It is now as clear as day that none of the reasons given were true. It can be stated without fear of prejudice that the whole thing was an outright fabrication given all the facts that have now come to light.

The damage has been done and now the big questions beg answers. Where do we go from here, and who will be the best leader to tackle the monumental task of restoring constitutional order to the United States? Who can do the best job of rebuilding Iraq a nation ravaged by a senseless war driven by lies and criminal ambitions? Who can recapture world respect diminished by our total disregard for international law in the conduct of the illegal invasion of Iraq

Enter the 2008 presidential elections. With one swipe of the hand, all republican candidates are ruled out. As a matter of national and global interest, no republican should be allowed near the White House in a hundred years because that’s how many years that party has set civilization back. Attention now turns to the democrats

If the outcome of the Iraq invasion and occupation was not so tragic, it would be laughable to think that all members of congress who voted to start military intrusion into Iraq were deceived by the bush administration.

Far from it, all those who voted for the war including Clinton, Biden, Edward and Dodd knew what they were doing. They took a calculated political risk in part to brace a perceived weak spine in matters of national defense. The other profound reason was to fulfill their obligation to special interest groups like the Neo-cons whose agenda is counter to real American interest. Think about it deeply.

All these pitiful escapists who are now prostrating at the altar of empty regrets should be held accountable just as George Bush and his cronies. These people should not be rewarded for their lack of vision and leadership at the critical moment when supreme judgment and courage were demanded.

Obama is the man for president. After all, what he saw sitting down in the valley, others couldn’t standing atop the hill. What other test of leadership can there be other than the ability to make sound decisions using instinctive judgment in the face of uncertainty.

All those politicians who favored the disastrous incursion into Iraq should be held accountable because they failed in their duty as leaders to protect the vital interests of America namely freedom, pride, treasure and national security. Why should these people be trusted to lead now?

A strong case can be made for Obama to be president because he has already demonstrated presidential capabilities which include strong vision, superior intellect, political savvy, courage, successful career, uncluttered personal life and a great natural charm.

These qualities far out weigh the so called years of experience touted by the other candidates. What do they have to show for their worthless experience? If years of experience meant so much, then why are we in such a mess today?

Please, not another word by these candidates about being deceived by George Bush. Truth is, if one can be deceived by Bush on matters of such national significance, then on no account should such individuals be qualified to lead this great country. Please, drop the self serving talk and make way for Obama, the next president of the United States.


Alonzo Fyfe said...

Sorry, but I think that the office of President of the United States, particularly under the current circumstances, is a poor place for an amateur.

I do not know enough about Obama to make a decision as to his qualifications. Most of Obama's supporters know less than I do. Their support is not founded on reason. Rather, they are following the crowd. Obama has been called a "rock star". The label fits. Many rock stars are poor performers. Yet, they know how to work a crowd.

Their 'evidence' for seeing Obama as qualified follows the same style of evidence building that Bush used in justifying the invasion of Iraq. They have made up their mind. Now, the only evidence that they see is that which confirms their hypothesis. Anything that calls their conclusion into question is just "bad evidence."

Or, in this case, what brings the two closer together is the idea that "no evidence" actually counts as "proof".

Any scientist will tell you that you need more than one data point to draw a conclusion. Yet, what I hear from the defenders of Obama, all tends to be drawn from one data point. He voted against the war.

I am beginning to fear that the one qualification that anybody must have for a position in public office is the absence of a paper trail. We see this in the Supreme Court where the only candidates that can get appointed and approved are "stealth candidates" that lack much of a record.

Because as soon as a candidate opens his mouth and says something substantive, that candidate has enemies.

And the more work one actually does - the more experience they actually have - the greater the chance that they are going to make a few mistakes.

The trouble with always hiring amateaurs is that they will also make mistakes, but they will make them in a position of power.

We have had great Presidents in the past who have had little experience. Yet, to use this as a reason to elect amateurs today is to commit a Gambler's fallacy. "I just successfully drew to an inside straight. Certainly, luck must be with me, and I can do it again."

A person who votes for an amateur is rolling the dice. He has no idea what he is getting. He has no data from which he can have an idea.

I want specifics. I want to see detailed planned on how one intends to deal with the issues of the day, I want those plans shown to experts in the relevant fields so that they can pass judgment as to its soundness. We have no specifics from Obama. We have, instead, political platitudes. "I consider this to be a very important problem," and "That is clearly an issue of vital interest to the welfare of the nation."

But no specifics.

I expect that he is going to keep it that way, because Obama probably does know that the instant he starts offering specifics, he starts making enemies. As long as he speaks only in vague generalities, it is easy for everybody to love him, because everybody will hear only what they want to hear.

markm said...

Given what happened, it's clear that the American public (or any public, for that matter) can be manipulated through fear. For those of us who want to leave the world a better place than we found it, where do you even start? How can you begin to fight against a marketing machine designed to leverage fear? And it's not just a Republican thing - both sides are doing it (Google for 'bush' and 'fascism' for Democratic fearmongering).

I refuse to be swayed by fear, but I myself fear that I'm in the slimmest of minorities.

Anonymous said...

I think it is equally flawed to reject Obama merely on the basis of a lack of experience.

The man was a professor of constitutional law so I believe that makes him far more fit for the office than many of his competitors.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I agree, lack of experience is not sufficient reason to reject a candidate. However, it is a reason against support that needs counter-weighing evidence on the other side.

This is why I want to see some specific programs held up to the scrutiny of experts - something that I can compare to those who do have experience.

One thing I do not want to have happen is for Obama to refuse (or delay) offering specifics because this will weaken his support. If he delays offering specifics for this reason, it indicates that he has a stronger interest in manipulating the voters rather than leading them.

Hume's Ghost said...

I don't care all that much if they lied or not. I'm sure some of them did lie, and I'm also some of them beleived their untruths. But sincerity is no exscuse for lack of critical thinking, that is their ethical failing. I'm in a rush or I'd write something better, but Mr. Clifford says it about as well as it can be said.

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and and refitted, even though this should put him at great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in no wise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts. And although in the end he may have felt so sure about it that he could not think otherwise, yet inasmuch as he had knowingly and willingly worked himself into that frame of mind, he must be held responsible for it.

Let us alter the case a little, and suppose that the ship was not unsound after all; that she made her voyage safely, and many others after it. Will that diminish the guilt of her owner? Not one jot. When an action is once done, it is right or wrong for ever; no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that. The man would not have been innocent, he would only have been not found out. The question of right or wrong has to do with the origin of his belief, not the matter of it; not what it was, but how he got it; not whether it turned out to be true or false, but whether he had a right to believe on such evidence as was before him.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Hume's Ghost

I fully agree with you on the moral assessment, and have said so in several posts where I have written on intellectual recklessness.

In fact, it was a part of my point that we do not need to assume lies to prove malicious wrongdoing. Intellectual recklessness is no less wrong, and often more harmful.