Sunday, May 17, 2015


From the American Prospect:

The Myth of 'Faulty Intelligence'

The Iraq War, both how it began and how it proceeded, is now an active topic in the 2016 presidential campaign, which I think is a highly salutary development. But it does mean that we need to be on guard for the kind of distortions, misleading statements, and outright lies that characterized this debate from its very start in 2002. As you've heard by now, the Republican Party is currently divided over whether, knowing what we know now, we should ever have launched the war. Most of the Republican presidential candidates are (to my surprise, I'll admit), saying the answer is of course not, while Jeb Bush is saying that he really doesn't want to say, because doing so would be a "disservice" to the troops (which would only be true if he also thinks the answer is no).

One thing they all agree on, though, is that for better or worse the whole thing happened because of "faulty intelligence." If only America's intelligence agencies hadn't screwed up so badly, then everyone wouldn't have been convinced of what a terrifying threat Iraq was to America, and the whole thing would never have happened. Jeb Bush himself said that one of the most important lessons to take from the war is, "If you're going to go to war, make sure that you have the best intelligence possible and the intelligence broke down." But the intelligence didn't "break down."

You can't understand the decisions that led to the Iraq War without grasping just how incredibly politicized the intelligence process had become in the months before the war.

More here.

I've been, once again, debating climate change with an old pal from high school who, like many of my old pals, grew up to be a dogmatic conservative. As with most of his fellow Conservative Tribesmen, my old pal absolutely dismisses pretty much ALL the science on global warming, and instead offers opinions from the few remaining crackpot scientists, virtually all of them on the take with Big Oil by now, who continue to be skeptical on the issue.

Tell him that the Earth is warming up due to human activity and it will result in catastrophe for the human race and he tells me I'm wrong on the science. Point out that virtually all climatologists are saying so these days, and he gives me some essay from the National Review telling me that's not the case. Give him a list of all the respected scientific organizations around the globe making statements in support of the science on global warming, including our own NASA, including, even, the Pentagon, and he doesn't respond.

This is actually fairly typical of modern conservatives. Confronted with damning facts, they double down on their preferred, fact-free conservative reality. This is a massive psychological game they're playing, mostly with themselves, with their own minds, but it affects all of humanity in very likely disastrous ways.

That is, today's conservatives, when they lose utterly on the facts, have responded with self-imposed delusion for themselves, and then push that delusion on everybody else. But it's not just global warming where we see this dynamic in play. For the last fifteen years, at least, they've been doing this with any and all issues where they have lost on the facts. Case in point, the "faulty intelligence" on Iraq's WMD back in 2002 and 2003.

There was no "faulty intelligence." All our intelligence agencies KNEW Iraq had no WMD, knew they had no ties to Al-Qaeda, etc. But the Bush administration "knew" Iraq did. When successfully challenged on the facts, when these conservatives lost, on the facts, they doubled down on their fantasy version of reality, and demanded "intelligence" that would suit their needs.

And they got it.

I mean, not really, not real intelligence. But they did get some little tidbits, divorced from context, unfiltered by intelligence analysts, you know, so-called "raw intelligence," that allowed them to assemble a case for going to war. A bad case based on bullshit and manipulation of the facts they actually had, but a case which they could present to the nation and the world.

I like to call what they did the lawyer approach. That is, the Bush administration had a preordained conclusion they wanted to "prove," so they assembled some ideas and facts in order to "prove" it. Contrast this with the scientific approach, which starts without a conclusion at all, but ultimately comes up with one based on the actual facts observed.

Don't get me wrong. The lawyer approach is absolutely necessary in the courts. We need two sides duking it out like that if we're going to call it a fair process for the determination of guilt or innocence by a jury of people who weren't witnesses to the crime. But the nation is not a court. And going to war, or fighting global warming, all these things must absolutely be guided by facts because the consequences of allowing your fantasies to guide decisions about war or the environment can kill millions. That is, it's like driving with a blindfold.

But this is where we are right now as a nation. We have one of the two major parties trapped into horrid policy positions because they can't deal with losing. We have one of the two major parties wallowing in fantasy and calling it reality.

The Founding Fathers never envisioned this. They couldn't. This is something entirely new. This is something coming out of this current era of the dominant electronic image. And unless we can get a handle on it, unless we can purge this sick, fucked up blight on our public discourse, we're totally doomed.