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The Mechanisms of Denial

Justin Logan wonders if there is any piling on of empirical evidence that could convince hawks that they have been proven wrong. The answer, clearly, is no, thanks to two useful mechanisms of denial.

First, and most annoyingly, is simple revisionism. "Everybody said there were WMD in Iraq." Well, no, they didn't, especially not at the time of the war when inspectors were in the country saying they couldn't find any WMD programs. Second, and more threateningly, is stab-in-the-back stuff. Insofar as things go badly in Iraq, the cause of the badness is the perfidy of the anti-war faction. By definition the hawks are correct, and the worse things get, the righter the hawks are proven to have been, because it simply demonstrates that the circle of America's enemies is wider than previously believed, and the need for irrational lashing out therefore is proportionately greater.

In this regard, it's also worth reading Julian's post on the shifting goalposts in Iraq. He makes the point that, quite rightly, even if things turn out well from here on out in Iraq that would hardly constitute a justification for having launched the war. I -- or he -- could no doubt produce a long argument to that regard, but the simple argument is just that there's a reason Bush didn't say, "I want to invade a country that poses no threat to the United States, spend hundreds of billions of dollas and get thousands of people killed, in order to build a nice Shiite democracy." On the one hand, this argument is a needed debunking of much hawk propaganda. On the other hand, keeping the argument in mind will help non-hawks avoid any hint of subconscious desire for things to go poorly in Iraq. We can -- and should -- hope things turn out for the best, without believing that things turning out well in any way undermines our point.

February 17, 2005 | Permalink

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» Who's in Denial? from The Defeatist
Once again, a headline on the blog of Matthew Yglesias misleads me. Yesterday, as I was skimming his blog, I encounted this post, entitled "The Mechanics of Denial." If ever a headline sounded relevant to my immediate needs, that was it. [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 18, 2005 8:00:49 AM

Comments

Everyone wants things to turn out for the best. But we don't all have the same ideas about what the "best" is.

Consider the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The fable ends with the boy slaughtered and the villagers' flock of sheep devoured. Is that the "best" way the fable could have ended? If we can't agree on that, why should we be able to agree on the best outcome for Iraq?

Posted by: Matt G. | Feb 17, 2005 10:47:07 AM

Even a "best case scenario" is nothing more than a shape shifting beast of our creation

Posted by: Larry | Feb 17, 2005 10:54:09 AM

I want to invade a country that poses no threat to the United States

Matthew should read the Duelfer report. Because his ignorance is showing...

It is clear to most people who don't have their heads in the sands of Bush-hatred that Iraq was a grave threat to America.

Posted by: Al | Feb 17, 2005 11:14:00 AM

Eliot Weinberger's excellent 'What I Heard About Iraq' contains the quickest rebuttal to those saying "everyone thought Saddam had WMDs:"

In February 2001, I heard Colin Powell say that Saddam Hussein "has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."

That same month, I heard that a CIA report stated: "We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programmes."

In July 2001, I heard Condoleezza Rice say: "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

Posted by: o | Feb 17, 2005 11:14:14 AM

Iraq was a grave threat to America.

Al's head is buried in something... but i don't think it's sand.

Posted by: cleek | Feb 17, 2005 11:18:29 AM

Ah, but the strawberries! That's where I had them.

Posted by: Queeg | Feb 17, 2005 11:26:13 AM

O,

As much as I hate to argue the other side, those quotes don't show Saddam didn't have WMDs.

"has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction"
Not developing capabilities allows for retaining what one already has.

"He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."
WMDs are unconventional weapons, so this statements says nothing about WMDs.

"We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programmes."
If "programme" means "production", that doesn't show they weren't keeping their stocks. Also, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Of course one has to wonder what would constitute evidence of absence in this context; I don't see anything.

""We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."
That too concerns conventional weapons.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Feb 17, 2005 11:34:41 AM

Al, why are you so afraid of a decrepit tin-pot dictatorship?

"I want to invade a country that poses no threat to the United States, spend hundreds of billions of dollas and get thousands of people killed, in order to build a nice Shiite democracy."

When you put it that way ...

Posted by: praktike | Feb 17, 2005 11:34:45 AM

This applies to the entire Bush Presidency -- the economy would be doing unbelieveable right now if not for 9/11 (unpreventable, no one could have imagines that a non-state actor could be a threat, or that they would use airplanes as missiles), if Clinton had not created a recession (although Bush has done an amazing job of boosting productivity, but the employment situation he has no control over!).

The opportunities that have been wasted by this administration, over and over again, are simply breath-taking. Not only did we not take advantage of the post 9/11 opportunities, but we have squandered them to such a point that we are now more disadvantaged than we were before 9/11.

Posted by: theCoach | Feb 17, 2005 11:34:58 AM

Al, give us a break: we did read the Duelfur report. Iraq was nowhere close to a grave threat to America, and there are no arguments to justify that claim.

As Matthew implies, denial is a very powerful force, but the bottom line is that if Bush wanted to make an honest case for war, it was within his power to do so. He chose not to, almost certainly because he knew that the "honest case" for war wouldn't win sufficient support, although we can't lose track of the fact that Bush has precisely one political skill (although it is a magnificent one): crying wolf.

Posted by: howard | Feb 17, 2005 11:36:40 AM

"It is clear to most people who don't have their heads in the sands of Bush-hatred that Iraq was a grave threat to America."

The Mechanisms of Denial...

It's actually kinda nice to see the point in action.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 17, 2005 11:41:08 AM

When are you people going to realize that the right isn't interested in facts and debates? It cares about power, and nothing else. When the facts work against you, you either a) restate the facts and never admit they're wrong, b) change the argument, c) pretend you never did what you did, d) browbeat your opposition by accusing them of treason. In other words, trying to defeat the right with facts that debunk their basic claims won't work because the right understands - better than much of the left (not all of the left, mind you) - that people selectively choose which "facts" are real and which ones aren't. Right-wingers are the ultimately post-structuralist, post-modernists. They really do construct their own language that, in turn, creates their own reality and they let it reverberate to the point where it becomes conventional wisdom. The genius of it is that they do so in a late capitalist context, not a state-dominated totalitarian regime. And that's also why Michael Moore, whom I personally find to be a loathsome liar whose relationship to ethical journalism to be equal to those on the right - is so effective. Moore, unlike all the "reasonable" people has figured how to use propaganda to serve the Left. The right hates him so much not because he is a liar and a conspiracy theorist, but because so many idiots out there parrot all of his claims, and the right feels that it should have a monopoly on the heartstrings of the public. Michael Moore really is on "the other side". Not in any objective sense like Zarqawi or Bin Laden, who really do want to destroy every ideal of the US Constitution and the very people who live within our borders. But in his advancement of a set of images about America that defy the images of soaring eagles and fluttering flags and pious churchgoers and good, virile heterosexual couples that the right claims are the only acceptable images of America. It is an image war - not a rational battle of images, even if it is couched in fancy words like "discourse" and debate. It's theater, the sort that made Crossfire an object of replication, and ultimately, of derision. Limbaugh in his early years knew, as Jon Stewart does now, that he is in the entertainment business. And it's about language much more than it is about policy. Why haven't liberals figured out that in order to win you must associate the word "conservative" - not "right wing" but "conservative" - with everything bad under the sun - bigotry, warmongering, religious fanaticism, heartless greed? And associate "liberal" with everything decent about America - justice, equality, civil liberty, tolerance, opportunity? And say it over and over again. Mock every claim by conservatives the way Ann Coulter mocks liberals ("working families means broken families that don't work", for example). Politics is another form of entertainment for many. But the right to entertain lots of people means the right to hold power (this is why the right attacks Hollywood, after all). And if the left wants to get a say, then it better figure out how to play the game back.

Posted by: Elrod | Feb 17, 2005 11:51:52 AM

Yeah, Iraq was a grave threat. And I'm the lord high king of the moon. Bow!

Posted by: TJ | Feb 17, 2005 11:52:43 AM

I should try proofreading. I meant "rational battle of ideas". And right-wingers are the "ultimate" post-structuralist, post-modernists. Sorry.

Posted by: Elrod | Feb 17, 2005 11:56:25 AM

So if the whole Middle East improves because of Iraq, anti-war folks will be happy, but hawks are still warmongers?

The significant argument is whether the Middle East improves or whether regime change just creates more terrorists.

Or even if the Middle East improves, it wasn't worth it?

Posted by: Peter K. | Feb 17, 2005 12:02:50 PM

So if the whole Middle East improves because of Iraq, anti-war folks will be happy, but hawks are still warmongers?

The significant argument is whether the Middle East improves or whether regime change just creates more terrorists.

Or even if the Middle East improves, it wasn't worth it?

Posted by: Peter K. | Feb 17, 2005 12:02:50 PM

"there's a reason Bush didn't say, 'I want to invade a country that poses no threat to the United States, spend hundreds of billions of dollas and get thousands of people killed, in order to build a nice Shiite democracy.'"

Ah, memories. I remember him not saying that.

I also remember him saying that Saddam could continue to tyrannize as long as he gave up da weppons.

Someone should ask the President about this -- did he mean it when he said Saddam could stay in power as long as he disarmed? Let's all chip in to hire a male prostitute who can pose the question at the next WH presser.

Posted by: Grumpy | Feb 17, 2005 12:13:27 PM

WeSafer:

thanks for the reply. Putting aside the question of different interpretations of some of the statements, I was reading these quotes against the background of extensive prior inspections not having turned anything up. Also, I thought that it had been regarded as established after the first war that SH's WMD stocks had been depleted. I'm sure there's disagreement about that as well.

But you're right: they aren't knockdown arguments, if someone is determined to cling to their position. What they should do, though, is raise doubt about the extent to which the administration sincerely believed SH was a serious, immediate threat, due to WMD or otherwise.

Posted by: o | Feb 17, 2005 12:14:34 PM

As Matthew implies, denial is a very powerful force, but the bottom line is that if Bush wanted to make an honest case for war, it was within his power to do so.


Of course, he did make an honest case for war, based on the available intelligence at the time. I mean, really, the monotonous repetition of the the false claim that "Bush Lied" isn't much of an argument for anything.

What is really quite sad is seeing the left reduced to irrelevant personal attacks (e.g., the right is "in denial"), rather than having the ability to present evidence to support their argument. At least with respect to Social Security, the left seems to have the ability to use evidence. When it comes to Iraq (or foreign policy in general), the left offers no evidence, thinking none is needed.

I mean, just look at the linked post by Logan. Is there anything at all in the entire post remotely resembling evidence to support a case against the war? No. He posts a couple of lines from a newspaper article and assumes that it is completely obvious to all involved that they support his anti-war take. I suppose Logan would be shocked to learn that terrorists in the Middle East were recruiting new anti-U.S. jihadists before the war and that our policies in the Middle East fueled resentment before the war too. So Logan SHOULD be explaining why he thinks these headlines provide any avidence at all to support an anti-war position. But he doesn't; he simply uses them to present a hypothetical case against Bush. And yet WE'RE the ones in denial. Uh huh.

Let's face it, it becomes clearer by the day that the war has been vindicated. Iraq is on the road to democracy. Jihadist attacks in the US since 9/11 have been nil. The Middle East IS turning against terrorism (heck, you just have to look at Abbas's policies in Palestine and the massive outpouring against Syria after the Hariri assassination). So it seems to me that the accusations of "denial" are mere projection, nothing more. If you disagree, you should present evidence in support of your position, not merely repeating that your opponents are "in denial". It's just not that useful a claim.

Posted by: Al | Feb 17, 2005 12:18:38 PM

So if the whole Middle East improves because of Iraq, anti-war folks will be happy, but hawks are still warmongers?

Yes, in the same way that even if, say, assassinating a US President resulted in better policies, it would still be murder and worthy of condemnation, both morally and under the law.

An unjust war of aggression isn't made just, or less a war of aggerssion, because it has beneficial side effects in third countries.

Posted by: cmdicely | Feb 17, 2005 12:18:57 PM

Al, why are you so afraid of a decrepit tin-pot dictatorship?

Heck, praktike, I'm afraid of 19 guys with a couple of hundred thousand dollars and some box cutters. And with good reason!

I think the appropriate question is: why does the left trust the likes of Saddam?

Posted by: Al | Feb 17, 2005 12:23:22 PM

Isn't it amazing, though - the number of people practicing Denial, the number of useful idiots?

I was reading recently about the North Koreans, how a vast majority of them really-really adore and worship Kim Jong Il. And I remember when reading it in the past I was always skeptical. But this time I realized that it's not really surprising at all.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 17, 2005 12:24:43 PM

"An unjust war of aggression isn't made just, or less a war of aggerssion, because it has beneficial side effects in third countries."

Well, since the potential beneficial side effects in third countries is the whole reason we're in Iraq in the first place, I'd tend to disagree.

If in a couple of years we have liberal democracies in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, along with a lasting peace in Israel/Palestine, I'd say the Iraq war would've been a wonderful success.

Of course, I don't think that's the likely outcome. But that was the original gameplan...

Posted by: Petey | Feb 17, 2005 12:25:08 PM

Vietnam today is a stable, relatively prosperous country. Ergo, we were right to fight the war there.

Posted by: BillD | Feb 17, 2005 12:29:22 PM

"I think the appropriate question is: why does the left trust the likes of Saddam?"

I think the appropriate question is: what is your major malfunction, Al?

Posted by: Petey | Feb 17, 2005 12:29:31 PM

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