Saturday, June 28, 2003

Jesse is castigating Jonah Goldberg for Jonah's insistence that the president has never lied about anything involving Iraq. He may have been wrong, due to "poor intelligence", but he never lied.

Let's leave aside the obvious buck-passing to the CIA. Let's also leave aside questions about whether asserting weak evidence as incontrovertible is just as bad as out-and-out falsehood when in the support of any activity involving the state using deadly force.

Anyway, take a look at this:

The United Nations weapons inspectors reported time and again throughout the 1990s that Saddam had not disarmed. The only time he could have disarmed was during the four-year period when no inspections took place. No serious person thinks Saddam did that.
Now, first, this is a gross misrepresentation of what the inspectors were really saying, and it begs the question about whether the inspectors were right. Saddam was playing silly games, yes, but that doesn't mean that WMDs were present- it just means that there were things that he didn't want the inspectors to see. This makes sense without the presence of WMDs, when one remembers that he knew some inspectors were American spies. One may also remember that the people who asserted (and assert) the loudest that Saddam maintained the weapons were either misquoted or discredited defectors (such as that "head of the weapons program), or former inspectors that have changed their position like Scott Ritter.

What's really interesting about articles like Jonah's is the oft-used phrase "nobody in their right mind would ever think that Saddam had disarmed", referring to the period between the 1998 bombing and the 2003 invasion. I hear it all the time, and others do too, but it's striking that this phrase is never supported by anything even remotely resembling proof. It's merely an assertion, repeated over and over again, that "you'd have to be nuts to believe this". I'll admit that the conventional wisdom is that Saddam maintained the ability, but there is a difference between conventional wisdom and proven fact. Sherlock Holmes said "once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth". The idea that the WMDs just up and vanished is impossible, and that leaves the possibility that the weapons were destroyed a long time ago because Saddam realized that he'd have little opportunity to use anything like that living in the fishbowl that the U.S. had placed around his country, and proof of posession of them would ruin him. It's improbable, but not impossible- even if it "doesn't make sense", discounting it is poor reasoning and poorer analysis.

(It's also possible that he destroyed them or shipped them out right before the war. Experts have said that they would, however, leave a trace of their presence, and that trace has not been found. Right now that's also improbable, but it's moving quickly towards "impossible".)

Anyway, be careful of "what everybody knows". Often enough, the majority is full of it.

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