Sunday, September 05, 2004

Running Down the Road, Part II

A few days ago, I posted this article about President Bush's words and real world events concerning the War on Terror, drawing parrells between the Bush Administration and Orwell's 1984.

I recieved a critiquing quote--something I enjoy as I like being challenged--and thought since I haven't written a post in the past few days, I'd write a response.

I agrued that the President lied about four issues--the safety of the average American, his sudden downplaying of Osama bin Laden, the strength of the intelligence and his inability to capture bin Laden. My reader correctly pointed out that these were not technically lies. The first is debatable, the second was an action, the third was a normal mistake and the fourth was understandable because it was about the future. Technically, he's right.

And if we lived in a world that was run by a giant computer, I wouldn't have written the article in the first place. But the fact of the matter is, in the real world, we have something what I call the "Oh Come On Rule."

For example, intelligence reports are wrong, a lot. That's true. It's a fickle thing and what was once true a week ago is rarely true now. Accurate information is the best weapon in any war, but it's always been the hardest to get. So when the President says that he's certain that the intelligence is accurate and he completely backs it, its reasonable to assume that he actually made sure it's accurate. That the facts won't suddenly change, that the information is checked and double checked and triple checked, that the intelligence agents who work for him know what they are doing. Saying its an honest mistake makes me say "Oh come on!" It could be that it was a mere error but its far more likely that the man is either a liar, an idiot or lazy. I thought I'd stick with the least damaging one.

My reader violates the Oh Come On Rule, too, so I'm not surprised that s/he is unaware of it. In my first post, I wrote: "[T]he President acted as if that didn’t matter—that he never cared about bin Laden in the first place—and shifted seamlessly to Iraq" to which my reader replied, "[Y]ou are now describing Bush's actions, but the topic was supposedly how Bush's rhetoric is the opposite of reality." Yes, technically, that's not true and according to the most literal interpretation of my language, you have a point. But again, we live in the real world and in the real world, writers use different words to describe the same action in order to keep their writing interesting. When I say acted, I'm saying that's what Bush said or implied in his speeches. And as long as we are on the subject, there is NO--count them NO--credible evidence that there's a link between bin Laden and Hussien. Osama bin Laden hated (and he still might) Sadam because he saw him as a Western puppet. If you want to tell me that intelligence gathering isn't a perfect science, read the paragraph before this one again.

In my original article I said, "one year Osama bin Laden was the main target and our forces will find him, but then we didn’t." It's true that's about the future and technically he couldn't know that but when you divert resources away from searching for bin Laden and to the War on Iraq--something you have to do if the military is as strained as I'm told--then you loose a lot of crediblity that bin Laden was ever a main concern. Technically we haven't given up but for all wants and purposes, we have. (Though I'll concede we might get lucky.)

The safety of the average American is debatable, I'll admit that. But the President himself told us that he's expecting an attack any day now. I hardly call looming threats, constant terror warnings and the dreaded Patriot Act "safer." Technically my reader is right, but come on... (Though I'll admit that in this case, it's more like "Words speak louder than words.")

There are other things that remind our President of Big Brother: that he has so few press conferences, thus limiting the opportunity to be faced with a hard quesiton; that he insists anyone who attends an open meeting sign an oath of loyalty; that he's proud he doesn't read the paper; that he looks down at having debates; that his administration blacks out scores and scores of lines of declassified texts on the grounds of "national security." There's a pattern here and it's more unAmerican than anything Kerry has even been accused of doing. For anyone that cares about this country, they should be holding out their leg in hope that our President will trip while sprinting down that cold, slippery road.

5 comments:

Constant said...

"There are other things that remind our President of Big Brother"

To me, Big Brother is a key element of a totalitarian system, and represents that system, embodies it in a person (who may or may not actually be a real person - it's been a while since I read the book). Remember, Big Brother is always watching you. That is an embodiment, in the person of Big Brother, of the totalitarian state's massive project of spying on its people. Remember, the protagonist was brainwashed into loving Big Brother. That is a fictional representation of the massive program of indoctrination that a totalitarian state subjects its people to - the people are taught to worship the state (embodied in Big Brother in 1984, and also in Stalin in real life - the cult of personality being a tool of political propaganda). Bush's personal style, his limited press conferences, do not make him Big Brother, because he's not in the right setting. The key to Big Brother isn't the guy, it's the state. Bush's personal ways, his reluctance to speak, does not chang the state. The state changes, it approaches totalitarianism, when speech is suppressed. If anything, in practical terms we have more power to express ourselves and our dissent than ever before, though of course this is not thanks to the beneficent state, it is thanks to the Internet.

"but when you divert resources away from searching for bin Laden and to the War on Iraq--something you have to do if the military is as strained as I'm told--then you loose a lot of crediblity that bin Laden was ever a main concern."

The world does not stand still while Osama remains at large. Other events happen, and attention and effort does need to be diverted. Your implied recommendation that Bush set aside everything for the pursuit of Osama, like Captain Ahab looking for the White Whale, seems like a recipe for insanity.

"its reasonable to assume that he actually made sure it's accurate."

And how is he supposed to do that? Is he not only the President, but also America's premier spy? Were President Bush's vacations merely covers for personal covert ops inside of Saddam's palaces, verifying the reports of the CIA by hiding under Saddam's bed and listening to him talk in his sleep?

Bush cannot personally check these things. He relies on what he is told, on what he is assured. He has no choice. The intelligence fiasco is a major fiasco, but it is a fiasco of the intelligence community.

"And as long as we are on the subject, there is NO--count them NO--credible evidence that there's a link between bin Laden and Hussien."

That's actually not an accurate report of the Commission's findings. You might take a look at this blog post.

http://instapundit.com/archives/016162.php

Emphasis: "there were links between Saddam and al-Qaida"

OK? There were links. However, to quote the words of Bush:

"We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September 11th,"

According to Bush, Hussein was not involved in 9/11, or at least there's no evidence of it. That's Bush speaking, in 2003.

Don't believe me? Here's BBC reporting on this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3118262.stm

The title of this article is: "Bush rejects Saddam 9/11 link" That article is from 2003.

Given that Bush not only (as far as I know) did not stress ties between Hussein and Osama, but actually denied evidence of the kind of tie that would really put Hussein on our shit list (i.e., involvement in 9/11), really I think this is a minor issue. The question of Hussein's ties to Osama never even registered in my mind among the reasons for war, and I was genuinely surprised that anyone thought otherwise. I will tell you that when a friend first pointed out the news story about there being supposedly no link between Hussein and Osama, my immediate reaction was, so? As I understood it at the time (in June 2004, I think - i.e., when the staff report came out), the war to remove Hussein had been about the fear that Hussein would use WMDs, it was not a retaliation for supposed links either to 9/11 or generally to Osama.

By the way, I opposed the war in Iraq and argued against it, I oppose the doctrine of pre-emptive war, I oppose the project of nation-building, I oppose the confiscation of nail clippers, I oppose the government's broadened powers of spying on Americans, and so on and so forth. However, I haven't really been impressed with the arguments against Bush's plan - those arguments that have dominated public criticism of it. For example, one thing I heard over and over was that invading Iraq was wrong, but would not have been wrong if we had UN go-ahead. And how is the permission of the UN supposed to make it all better? I am not impressed by the notion that Bush "lied". I think Bush didn't lie about anything, and I don't even need Bush to be wrong about any facts, in order to hold my position, because my beef is with his doctrine. Your criticism of Bush comes down to Bush's failure to be omniscient (which is somewhat ironic, given that you compare Bush to Big Brother, who was effectively omniscient, at least as far as the poor protagonist was concerned).

Constant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Constant said...

Ah. I was wondering what that icon was, and it turns out to be to delete my comment. So here it is back again:

By the way, I wouldn't be responding if I wasn't a reader, and I wouldn't be a reader if I didn't think highly of the blog. You're on my short list of blogs to read frequently.

David said...

Ok there's a few things going on here. First, I'm keenly aware that our President and Big Brother are miles apart. Of course they are (thank God). But the 1984 scenario is so scary, so inhumane, so horrific, that I refuse to accept even miles within it. Yes, the Bush Administration isn't spying on its citizens like in Oceania (or in EurAsia or EastAsia) but that's not the common ground I'm citing. It's the lack of transparency. And yes, the Party is far less transparent than the White House, it's still tending in that direction. If it's part of the President's personality not to hold conferences or be open about the administration, then he shouldn't be President.

As for what could have been done to double check the intelligence, I gave several examples ("That the facts won't suddenly change, that the information is checked and double checked and triple checked, that the intelligence agents who work for him know what they are doing"). Ultimately, he can ask questions and challenge assumptions while being briefed (and addressing these things requires time from the departments and officers). And since I'm no intelligence expert, I'm sure there are dozens of other things that could have been done that I can't even imagine. Defense is one of the few things I think government should do; call me crazy, but that takes precedence over fishing in Texas.

Do we have to set everything aside to try to capture bin Laden? No. Should we be realistic about our capacities and not engage in a major undertaking while still working on an existing problem of epic proportions? Yes.

I wasn't talking about a 9/11 link, I was talking about a Hussien/bin Laden link. And while the Adminstration may claim there's evidence for it, I don't trust them to tell the truth about it. Re-read the article to learn why. The reason why people assume there was presumed to be a link between the two characters is because that's the most reasonable way to justify a new war while we're busy with the other one. If President Bush didn't want to create that conclusion, he should finish what he's started. (Who begins too much accomplishes little. -German Proverb)

A UN resolution would have made the war an international consenus, in other words legitmate; it makes all the difference in international politics.

I've always said that war is rarely quick and never clean. Considering you're against nation-building, I'll assume you agree with me. That's my problem with the Administration--they don't understand that. Our President spends far too much time on stuff he shouldn't do (promoting the Patriot Act, fishing) and far too little time doing the handful of things he definetly should (post-war politics, intelligence perfection). He lies to us to make it seem like his acts are justified.

PS. I'm pleased that you read the blog regularly. I'm curious on how you found it considering we don't do any advertising.

David said...

Ok there's a few things going on here. First, I'm keenly aware that our President and Big Brother are miles apart. Of course they are (thank God). But the 1984 scenario is so scary, so inhumane, so horrific, that I refuse to accept even miles within it. Yes, the Bush Administration isn't spying on its citizens like in Oceania (or in EurAsia or EastAsia) but that's not the common ground I'm citing. It's the lack of transparency. And yes, the Party is far less transparent than the White House, it's still tending in that direction. If it's part of the President's personality not to hold conferences or be open about the administration, then he shouldn't be President.

As for what could have been done to double check the intelligence, I gave several examples ("That the facts won't suddenly change, that the information is checked and double checked and triple checked, that the intelligence agents who work for him know what they are doing"). Ultimately, he can ask questions and challenge assumptions while being briefed (and addressing these things requires time from the departments and officers). And since I'm no intelligence expert, I'm sure there are dozens of other things that could have been done that I can't even imagine. Defense is one of the few things I think government should do; call me crazy, but that takes precedence over fishing in Texas.

Do we have to set everything aside to try to capture bin Laden? No. Should we be realistic about our capacities and not engage in a major undertaking while still working on an existing problem of epic proportions? Yes.

I wasn't talking about a 9/11 link, I was talking about a Hussien/bin Laden link. And while the Adminstration may claim there's evidence for it, I don't trust them to tell the truth about it. Re-read the article to learn why. The reason why people assume there was presumed to be a link between the two characters is because that's the most reasonable way to justify a new war while we're busy with the other one. If President Bush didn't want to create that conclusion, he should finish what he's started. (Who begins too much accomplishes little. -German Proverb)

A UN resolution would have made the war an international consenus, in other words legitmate; it makes all the difference in international politics.

I've always said that war is rarely quick and never clean. Considering you're against nation-building, I'll assume you agree with me. That's my problem with the Administration--they don't understand that. Our President spends far too much time on stuff he shouldn't do (promoting the Patriot Act, fishing) and far too little time doing the handful of things he definetly should (post-war politics, intelligence perfection). He lies to us to make it seem like his acts are justified.

PS. I'm pleased that you read the blog regularly. I'm curious on how you found it considering we don't do any advertising.