Monday, July 11, 2005

An Attempt At Meta-Debunking

Via, I find a truly mind-numbing article called "Debunking 8 Anti-War Myths About the Conflict in Iraq". Cover me, I'm going in. I will abbreviate the charges simply to save time, but you can check out the whole thing here.

1) Charge: Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq. Rebuttal: Democrats thought there were WMDs, too. Evidence: A speech delivered by Hillary Clinton to the senate in October, 2002.

Re-Rebuttal: In October 2002, a lot of people thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And as we all remember, the war began shortly thereafter. Except it didn't - there were months between October and the beginning of war in March, 2003. What happened during those months? Well, some of you may remember a Swedish diplomat named Hans Blix (before he was eaten by Kim Jong-Il's fish) who reported in January 2003 that Iraq has complied with inspectors, albeit grudgingly. Note that this is still 2 months before the war, inspectors are reporting cooperation by the Iraqi government, and this would continue up to the point where fighting began. More importantly, up to the beginning of fighting, there was no evidence presented by the UN inspectors that Iraq continued to have WMDs. This is probably why, in March of 2003, most of the Democrats had changed their tone, including John Kerry, who said though he voted for the initial authorization of force for the war, Bush was unnecessarily rushing to war in March.

This is really a non-issue these days, as the rationale for war has changed from imaginary WMDs to imaginary democracy, but if you think that war was necessary in March, 2003 to remove WMDs from the Iraqi government, there is simply no evidence - none whatsoever - for that position.

2) Charge: The Lancet estimates that 100,000 civilians have been killed by the war. Rebuttal: Brief discourse on statistics. Evidence: An op-ed piece, if you can believe it.

The British journal The Lancet published a peer-reviewed paper saying that 100,000 civilians have been killed by the Iraq war. Immediately, the US press expended an incredible amount of effort doing the Pentagon's work, discrediting the paper. There's some truth to the charges - there's a rather large margin of error in the Lancet's estimates. But it's also a mistake to assume that any point within the margin is equally accurate. It's almost certainly not true that 200,000 civilians were killed as of the Lancet's printing, just as it's almost certainly false that "only" 10,000 civilians were killed.

Of course, it would be possible to find a much more accurate reading of civilian casualties in Iraq, if the Pentagon would release any figures. But the Pentagon has said it doesn't count civilians who are killed. This would be callous enough, though in reality the Pentagon probably is counting civilians - but because they're dead, they must have been insurgents, right?

3) Charge: The Bush administration claimed that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Rebuttal: Nuh-uh! Evidence: A Bush quote, from 6 months after the war began.

I'm beginning to think this guy has a problem with linear time. Never mind that Cheney - who, I believe is a member of the Bush Administration - has repeatedly and forcefully insisted that one of the 9/11 hijackers met with Iraqi agents in Prague, beginning in late 2001. Never mind that Cheney has continued to insist this, in the absence of any evidence and in the face of a number of rebuttals from such subversives as the FBI and the Czech government. The author is entirely silent on this very public lie by the Bush administration.

Further, it's really funny to claim that Bush hasn't tied 9/11 to Iraq - Bush ties everything to 9/11, including the budget deficit, missile defense, heavy artillery, abortion, marijuana, drilling in ANWR, and new nuclear weapons. If he hadn't tied 9/11 to Iraq, it would be notable.

4) Charge: The war was planned by PNAC in 1998. Rebuttal: Regime change has always been US policy. Evidence: Yet another op-ed, this time by David Frum (shudder.)

Yes, regime change has been the policy of the United States - formally since 1998, and informally long before that. Interestingly, it wasn't US policy in 1991 - during the actual, you know, war. Of course, the difference between CIA coup attempts and a 250,000-man strong invasion could easily be grasped by a 10-year old. This makes me reconsider my estimates of the author's age, at the very least. What is true is that members of PNAC were in positions of command during the war - namely Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. At PNAC, they certainly advocated regime change using military force. This may not be a "plan", but it's certainly evidence that this war was in some sense independent of 9/11.

Interestingly, the author is silent on the charge that Bush was intent on war with Iraq in early 2001 - shortly after his election. This has been documented by Paul O'Neill and Bob Woodward in separate accounts of the Bush administration, and is strong evidence that this was a war years in the making. The author doesn't deal with this charge at all.

5) Charge: The war in Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror. Rebuttal: Bush says it does, therefore it must. Evidence: Assorted quotes.

The critical question is: Did Iraq support international terrorism. The two most-cited pieces of evidence are Saddam's support for Palestinian families of suicide bombers, and the existence of an Ansar al-Islam camp in Northern Iraq, an area over which Saddam hadn't had control for more than 10 years, since the establishment of the no-fly zones after Gulf War I. As for the Palestinians, Saddam's aid is positively mild compared to other states, like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Other terrorists seem to have had residence in Iraq, or been given medical treatment there, but this is only evidence that not everyone is going to play by the US's rules - none of the resident terrorists in Iraq is accused of doing anything from Iraq, while they were there.

6) Charge: Saddam had no ties to terrorism. Rebuttal: See #5. Evidence: A quote from Christopher "thirsty" Hitchens.

The author lists a number of terrorists, all of whom seem to have gone to Iraq to retire, oddly enough. All of the terrorists have charges against them, and all are certainly deserving of justice, but the most recent attack attributed to them is the 1993 WTC bombing. That Saddam provided them with safe haven isn't a good thing or anything like that, but none of them seem to be "active" terrorists. Except, of course, for Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was in that Ansar al-Islam camp (in Kurdistan) and became active - after the war began. Way to go.

7) Charge: Saddam had no ties to Al-Qaeda. Rebuttal: It depends on what the meaning of "ties" is. Evidence: Various.

Here the rebuttal is almost ridiculous. Nobody can prove anything more than an occasional meeting between AQ and Hussein's government, but this is apparently enough to justify pre-emptive war. There's some vague references to a "relationship" or "training", but no evidence of that has been found. As for providing "chemical weapons precursors", well sorry but almost anything can be called a "precursor", one of the things which made the sanctions regime so cruel and unusual.

8) Charge: The Downing Street Memos prove Bush lied. Rebuttal: This isn't news. Evidence: More op-eds.

Seriously, the rebuttal to the charge of premeditation is... everone already knew that war was inevitable. Um. So the whole UN inspections thing was a charade, and Bush was going to go to war anyway? Dude, I think you just basically admitted to charges 1 and 4. Also, the words "The facts and the intelligence were being fixed round the policy by the Bush administration" don't mean they were lying, they just mean that they were "building the strongest case possible." Fine, I can accept that - except that we know - know - that the Bush administration ignored contrary evidence, including most infamously the report by Joe Wilson that Iraq was not attempting to procure uranium from Niger. So the fact that "building the strongest case possible" included ignoring any contrary evidence is very worrying.

All in all, it's a very unimpressive list of rebuttals. Minus 40 points for using David Frum, too.

But there's a wider point I'd like to dwell on a moment. First, most of the charges made against Iraq before the war were vague, and often would have required Iraq to meet an incredible burden of proog - i.e., that there were absolutely no WMDs in their posession. Considering the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Pentagon (the US routinely loses billions - with a b - of dollars in to the ether of Pentagon contracts) it's ironic that only absolute proof would have sufficed for the US military. Secondly, there's a wider question of whether any of the charges against Saddam deserved a pre-emptive war. We saw that, in fact, the UN inspection process worked perfectly - or at least as well as any succeeding attempts to find WMDs. According to all the evidence avilable to us, there were no WMDs in Iraq before the war began, and there was no substantial evidence of support of terrorism. But the hawks among us would have you believe that, since 9/11, issues of evidence are outdated. If we even suspect they might someday want to have WMDs, then the US now has the right to attack with the full fury of the military. The hawks have made the world far more dangerous, and they will have to answer for that.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Nice post.

All that and when you say facism is creeping into the US, they immediately accuse you of name-calling or over-reacting...