Getting It Wrong Again

“The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.” — Mark Twain.

The logical fallacy argumentum ad misercordiam asks us to accept the truth of a proposition out of pity for the sorry state of those making an argument. It is only by evoking such sympathy that mainstream news organizations can hope that we accept conspicuous and persistent inaccuracies in their coverage of the War on Terrorism. Not only have there been minor inconsistencies in coverage, but there have been unrelenting errors that betray a fundamental misunderstanding of President Bush’s case for the War on Terror. It is not just that major new organizations display disagreement with Bush’s position, but they display a depth of misunderstanding so deep that it is doubtfuk that some news organizations can ever emerge. Consider the following fantasies of the Left (oops, of the National Media): The Bush Administration was wrong in arguing that that (1) the threat for Iraq was imminent and (2) that Saddam’s Iraq materially conspired with Al Qaeda to execute the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Well. The Bush Administration did not make those argument and assertions that they did are either incredibly misinformed or are aimed at scorching the Administration in the flames of burning strawmen.

Consider first the issue of whether the Bush Administration argued that Iraqi threat to the United States was “imminent.”

In September 2002, the White House published the National Security Strategy of the United States. The report explicitly recognized that threats facing the US came largely from stateless (though perhaps state-supported) institutions. During the Cold War, no matter how distasteful, we depended upon nuclear deterrence to prevent attacks. The new threat from stateless terrorist can not be dealt with similarly. In the words of the report:

“Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents; whose so-called soldiers seek martyrdom in death and whose most potent protection is statelessness.”In a world where it might be possible for terrorist to acquire weapons that might kill thousands of innocents, waiting until a threat is “imminent” or “immediate” might to be grievously too late. More “anticipatory” action might be required. While some suggest that the preemption doctrine is a new one, it rests on at least a forty-year heritage. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John Kennedy’s Administration argued that the blockade of Cuba — an act of war by any conventional definition — to prevent deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba was justified even if the threat from such missiles was not immediate or imminent. By the time such a threat would become imminent, any action would be too late. The Kennedy Administration argued that self-defense might require military action before hostilities were imminent and exercised the prerogative.

By extension, the National Security Strategy of the United States. report argued that:

“The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction — and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”

Now it is reasonable to either agree or disagree with this doctrine. However, it can not be reasonably asserted that the doctrine suggests need for imminent threats to justify preemptive action. The doctrine was clearly lays out the opposite.

However, that has not stopped presumably responsible media outlets from repeatedly suggesting that the Bush Administration was calling Saddam’s threat imminent. One might expect Liberal PBS commentator Bill Moyers to mistakenly suggest “We were at the mercy of the official view that he was an ‘imminent threat’ without any reliable information to back it up.” Moyers’s has, in recent years, cultivated a fondness for convenient fictions. However, it was a grave error for the New York Times, the self-appointed newspaper of record, to assert that “Nothing found so far backs up administration claims that Mr. Hussein posed an imminent threat to the world.” It is only slightly less egregious to for the Los Angeles Times to suggest that Bush’s State of the Union address “[promised] new evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime poses an imminent danger to the world.”

What the president actually said in was, “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.” No imminence was a suggested or required. [1]

The second issue centers around the claim that the Bush Administration suggested the attacks on September were jointly conducted by Hussein’s regime and Al Qaeda.

A preliminary report by the staff of the September 11 Commission finds no evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda worked jointly to execute the 9/11 attacks. USAToday began their coverage of the report with peculiar assertion, “There is `no credible evidence’ that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda plan and train for attacks against the United States, the commission investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks said Wednesday. That finding disputes a rationale the Bush administration gave for invading Iraq.” But that clearly was not was not the rationale. The argument was that given the links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, their joint motivation to attack the US, and Saddam’s refusal to compile with UN resolutions to rid Iraq of WMD, we need to act before any threat became imminent.

The Associated Press covered the Commission Report by with the lead: “Rebuffing Bush administration claims, the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks said Wednesday no evidence exists that al-Qaeda had strong ties to Saddam Hussein.” Other news reports suggested that the Commission’s report had dismissed the Bush Administration’s assertion that Al Qaeda and Iraq cooperated in the 9/11 attack.

Unfortunately, the differences any subtle difference between the Commission’s Report and Administration statements were exaggerated beyond all reasonable recognition.

Within a couple of days, the Co-Chairmen of the Commission, Democrat Lee Hamilton, grew frustrated with all the miss coverage. Hamilton explained, “…I have trouble understanding all the flak over this…Sharp differences that the press has drawn, that the media have drawn, are not that apparent to me.” Indeed, everyone concedes that there were high-level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the extent and nature of the relationship is difficult to assess. The Clinton Administration was at least as insistent on the operational links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. In their 1998 formal legal indictment against bin Laden, the Clinton Administration cited ties between bin Laden and Iraq. It also used such links as justification for attack on the pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan.

For the record, the Administration never claimed that Iraq directly participated in the 9/11 attacks. On September 16, 2001 days after the attack, Vice-President Dick Cheney was asked on by Tim Russert on Meet the Press “Do we have any evidence linking Saddam or Iraqis to this operation.” Cheney’s direction answer was simply, “No.” Bush himself stated last September, “…we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September 11th.” Perhaps the statements were too nuanced and equivocal for major media outlets to parse.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.