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Trailers of war

This really shouldn’t be a surprise, but I was a bit surprised. The official British investigation into those trailers decided they weren’t WMD labs. They were, apparently, hydrogen gas producing units, which is exactly what the Iraqis claimed they were. The Brits may have had an easier time figuring this out, since Iraq’s original artillery balloon systems were sold to Iraq by a British company.

So let’s go back to the surprise. Why was I surprised? Because I can’t help believing, on some level, that there are WMD in Iraq. Despite the fact that no Iraqi official has decided to let us know where they are, and despite the fact that we can’t find the tens of thousands of tons of WMD that Bush claimed, and despite the fact that Iraq didn’t use ‘em even at the 11th hour — some of me says “Well, they must be there.”

Thus, you can point at me and say “Look! There’s someone who was against the war, yet he believed in WMD!” However, it might be instructive to think about why I sorta believe in WMD. (On a gut level, let me emphasize. My brain strongly suspects we won’t find any, and it’s right.)

I thought there were WMD in Iraq because I didn’t think the President of the United States of America would mislead us about that kind of thing.

Truly. If Bush had gotten up and said “We’re pretty sure there aren’t any of those in Iraq,” I would have said “Oh… OK.” I mean, why wouldn’t I buy that? Doesn’t the President have access to better intelligence than I do? He absolutely does. So when he beat the drums so passionately and warned us in such uncertain terms that Iraq had WMD — I bought into it. I believed it because he said so, and I still have a little part of me that believes it because it’s so hard to wrap my mind around such a grievous lack of accuracy.

I don’t feel too bad about this. The technique known as the Big Lie works, and whether or not Bush consciously lied he used that technique. I’d use a better name for it if I had one. It comes down to someone in a position of authority saying something with absolutely no doubt in his or her tone; people believe that, because the consequences of thinking that the authority figure is lying loom large in our hindbrain.

Bush may well not have meant to mislead us. (Josh Marshall has a great piece on this, by the by.) But the effect was certainly misleading.


  1. The Big Lie: i.e. the looting of the Baghdad Museum, the Wolfowitz (mis)quote admitting the war was all about oil, and the biggest lie of all, “the threat posed by Saddam was just hype.”

    Josh Marshall writes, “maybe we’re not talking about lying but only saying things you have no reason to believe are true, which I guess is not really a lie, right?” No reason? That’s absurd. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in the WashPost on Friday:

    If the U.S. intelligence agencies bent their data to damn Saddam Hussein, why is it that the French, German and Russian intelligence services all came to the same conclusion? Why is it that every country on the Security Council, including Syria, in the unanimous Resolution 1441, declared that Hussein had failed to account for the tons of chemical and biological agents he had in 1998? If he had destroyed them all by 2002, why did he not just say so, list where and when it happened, and save his regime?

    Everyone thought Hussein had weapons because we knew for sure he had them five years ago and there was no evidence that he had disposed of them.

    Saddam even used them a few times after the first Gulf War.

    Since the fall of Baghdad we’ve been hearing mixed signals coming from intelligence circles about the WMD. Some say the evidence was far from being as clear as it was made to sound (therefore Bush lied!) and many others say they are very confident that the WMD Saddam possessed in 1998 still exist.

    Marshall proclaims “the White House lied to the American public, repeatedly and unashamedly, to pave the way for war”, yet there is much evidence to suggest that’s not true. So, is Marshall lying, or basing his conclusion on what he sees as the best evidence available to him now?

    Did he or anyone else argue before the war that they didn’t exist? No, and it’s disingenuous to say that’s only because everyone took Bush at his word. After 9/11 many people complained why, after looking at all the available intelligence, we failed to connect the dots and see what was coming. Well, when you look at these dots it’s hard not to connect them the same way this administration did.

    Some may argue that in making his case Bush should’ve at least acknowledged conflicting opinions in his intelligence briefings. But intelligence is never perfect and I suspect it rare that the intelligence community is ever of one opinion. The President’s job is to make difficult decisions from imperfect data. Should it be shown that he was wrong in this instance (and that remains to be seen) that wouldn’t necessarily mean he lied or even misled the public.

    I tend to agree with Krauthammer:

    The weapons-hyping charge is nothing more than the Iraqi museum story Part II: A way for opponents of the war — deeply embarrassed by the mass graves, torture chambers and grotesque palaces discovered after the war — to change the subject and relieve themselves of the shame of having opposed the liberation of 25 million people.

    In re the balloon trailers: I wouldn’t be so sure just yet. The Observer’s account leaves out a few things that don’t add up. Components of a WMD program often have dual uses and the Iraqis have grown adept at using this as cover. Other reports have stated that a separate vehicle could easily be drawn along side to supply the steam needed to produce bio weapons. But most curiously, if the trailers were indeed intended only for filling balloons why weren’t they disclosed along with the many other vehicles and trailers in the report Iraq submitted to the UN? Another dot.

  2. I took the time to respond to this, but you know what? I’m not going to bother. If you don’t know that I am not part of that small fringe that claimed Saddam was a good leader, you never will. I, frankly, can’t respect you if you insist on trying to cloud the discussion by bringing up a question which I’ve never argued.

    The post to which you’re responding is about WMD. It is not about civil rights in Iraq. It isn’t even about whether or not the war was justified. It’s a response to the observation that almost everyone believed there were WMD pre-war, and some thoughts on why that might be the case. If you want to talk about that, great. If you want to obscure the issue by setting up straw men — hey, feel free, but don’t expect me to pay any attention to you.

    (Oh, OK. Short answer to the relevant portion of your comment: “Hans Blix.” You might want to go back and reread his reports, in which he repeatedly said he thought nothing had been proven yet and that the inspections needed more time. So, yes, there were people arguing that the case had not yet been proven.)

  3. Bryant, I never said nor implied that you thought Saddam was a good leader. Perhaps you’re referring to the Krauthammer quote at the end. Upon reflection, I suppose that is a sort of cheap shot at those who were against the war, and not particularly applicable to the topic at hand, but it wasn’t meant to be directed toward you. The point I was making is that indications were very strong that Saddam’s WMD still existed and that Bush was not lying by connecting the dots, as Josh Marshall claimed.

    Re Hans Blix: he has said many strangely contradictory things to the UN and reporters. Should I bother expanding?

  4. I guess not, eh? It’s funny that you would accuse me of setting up a straw man since that’s exactly what you did to excuse yourself from having to respond to my point. You did the same thing in another thread by invoking Godwin’s Law when you knew full well that I wasn’t equating Texas Democrats with Ba’athists.

    I’ve been reading your blog because you sometimes make points that I otherwise may not have considered and that helps me to better understand the issues. But it often seems that when someone disagrees in your comment section you become extremely defensive and seek to exploit a minor flaw in the argument (very minor in this case) to avoid having to further your own. Now that’s hard to respect.

    If you’d prefer I stay away from your blog, all you had to do is ask. I’m not here to be a pest.

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