When Bad Analogies Go Rancid

by Kieran Healy on August 4, 2003

So I trot over to Instapundit for the first time in several months and find the latest version of “The absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” defence for the lack of Iraqi WMDs. (It’s been interesting to see the Hawks all become experts on the subtle metaphysics of causation, events and omissions, incidentally. They sound quite Hegelian with that line.)

OBVIOUSLY, THE ANTHRAX-BY-MAIL ATTACKS NEVER HAPPENED —otherwise surely the FBI would have found something by now … And they’ve had access to the entire country for months! Years, even.

Er, they did find something, just after the attacks. I believe it was anthrax. It arrived in the mail. It killed some people. The FBI also know the places in the country where weaponized anthrax can be made. They’ve been in and out of them for 18 months. And could you remind me of the parallel Iraqi WMD attack on the United States? Sorry, what was your point again?

See ya in another few months.



mitch 08.04.03 at 2:56 pm

I can’t resist stating my own pet theory: Iraq was behind 9/11 and the anthrax letters, but the details of how and why were too embarrassing for everyone from Bush 41 forwards, so first they covered it up, and then they manufactured a fake casus belli in order to finally get rid of Saddam.


Glenn Reynolds 08.04.03 at 3:22 pm

You do know that Saddam actually used weapons of mass destruction, right?


Richard Sandlant 08.04.03 at 3:33 pm

I think the point was that, if it weren’t for the fact that we know for a certainty that the anthrax was used, and so on, we might be reading about the “alleged anthrax threat” and the “anthrax lies” and so on.

We know for certain that the anthrax existed, and was used, but the FBI have been unable to find any further evidence despite scouring their own country for months.

Therefore (I feel I do have to explain this for Kieran) the failure, thus far, to find any secret anthrax programs, any hidden anthrax labs, or hidden stores of anthrax etc, is not raised (by anyone with half a brain) to cast doubt on the “anthrax threat” since (1) we all know only too clearly that the anthrax threat is real and (2) nobody disputes that it may still be a threat.

It’s something like that, but Kieran is the really clever guy so he will perhaps explain it a bit better for those of us who read Instapundit. By the way, I recommend reading a wide range of blogs – it helps you to keep an open mind.


dsquared 08.04.03 at 3:35 pm

>>I think the point was that, if it weren’t for the fact that we know for a certainty that the anthrax was used, and so on, we might be reading about the “alleged anthrax threat” and the “anthrax lies” and so on.

This is sophism of the most laughable kind. We all know that the person who denies the truth of the moon landings is not on the same logical footing as the person who denies the existence of the Bermuda Triangle.


ogged 08.04.03 at 4:22 pm


I’ve been reading you since you were A.G. Android and I can only guess that you’ve received a lot of rude mail from wacky leftists since then.

Your anthrax analogy rebuts the argument that Saddam never had WMD and therefore “Bush lied,” but that’s not the argument serious people are making. What the “16 words” and the failure to find WMD show is that the administration made claims and pretended to a degree of certainty not justified by even its own intelligence.

The question is not whether the war was justified, or whether Saddam was evil, or whether we’re safer now than before the war. It’s whether our trust was abused by our representatives.


Elliott Oti 08.04.03 at 4:27 pm

“You do know that Saddam actually used weapons of mass destruction, right?”

False. The bombings by the Iranians (1980) and the Israelis (1981) prevented Iraq from developing of weapons of mass destruction at Osirak.

Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.


Chun the Unavoidable 08.04.03 at 4:35 pm

Actually, I’m comfortable with calling chemical weapons, “WMD,” as long as we acknowledge that Hussein used his with either U.S. support and encouragement or a wink and nod.


jhp 08.04.03 at 4:51 pm

“You do know that Saddam actually used weapons of mass destruction, right?”

This is a straw man. Yes, he used chemical weapons: in 1988. *No one* denies that Iraq had chemical weapons in 1988 or in 1991. That’s not what’s at issue. What’s at issue is:

1. Did Iraq have significant chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, in a deliverable or exportable form, in 2001 when Bush decided to take us to war?

2. Did Iraq have significant connections to Al-Qaeda?

3. Whether or not Iraq had such weapons or connections, did the best evidence available support a good-faith belief that Iraq had such weapons or connections?

4. Finally, when making the case for war, did the Bush administration present the evidence in hand and its beliefs about Iraq’s weapons and Al-Qaeda connections honestly or deceptively?

The analogy to the anthrax case is just as specious as the argument that Saddam must never have existed because we haven’t caught him yet. There is significant public evidence of the recent existence of Saddam and of the anthrax attacks. There is not significant public evidence that Saddam had chemical weapons this year, last year, or in 2001. Ten years, under sanctions, most of that time under inspections, with occasional bombing of suspect facilities, is a long time. We don’t know what happened to Iraq’s weapons and weapon programs in that time. Suggesting otherwise for the sake of a cheap debating point is disingenuous and sophomoric.


PG 08.04.03 at 6:50 pm

You do know that Saddam actually used weapons of mass destruction, right?

I’m willing to consider chemical weapons to be WMDs. So, who was clamoring for us to fight Saddam back when he actually was using WMDs?
Or was regime change the equivalent of punishing him for his crime 15 years late?


Walt Pohl 08.05.03 at 2:52 am

I think Kieran’s point is pretty obvious: we have direct evidence that there were anthax attacks — the anthrax itself. What’s the evidence that Saddam had WMD? We had the word of the Bush administration, which now pretty obviously looks like it was based on dodgy intelligence.

I’m as surprised as anyone that Saddam doesn’t seem to have any WMD. He clearly had it fifteen years ago, and it’s not like he got nicer in those fifteen years. But Bush told us that if we knew what he knew, we would realize that Iraq needed to be invaded, and quickly. I for one believed him. Now it turns out he didn’t know much of anything at all.

What I find most peculiar is how invested so many of the pro-war people are in the idea that Saddam must have WMD. Bush didn’t just lie to the anti-war side about it: he lied to Glenn Reynolds just as much as he lied to Norm Chomsky. And what I mainly care about is this: he lied to me. Never again.


richard 08.05.03 at 3:41 am

dsquared – “we all know”? I was interested in your argument but you didn’t provide enough information.

ogged – you say: “The question is not whether (1) the war was justified, or (2) whether Saddam was evil, or (3) whether we’re safer now than before the war. It’s (4) whether our trust was abused by our representatives”. Assume that Bush believed that the answer was “yes” to the first 3 but lacked sufficient evidence to prove them. You’re saying he abused your trust by asserting his full confidence? Good luck finding a politician who doesn’t do that.

Chun the Unavoidable – I don’t think your two options would exhaust the possibilities

jhp – there was a case made and some thin evidence that Saddam had WMD but the debate was over whether it was “sufficient” (eg Powell / UN). The Bush / Blair position (as I read it) was that, in a post-9-11 world, “sufficient” had a much lower threshhold. And yet, Bush / Blair gave Saddam one last chance to prove that Iraq had disarmed. Would the war have taken place if Hans Blix could stand up and say “I am confident Iraq has disarmed”?

pg – if Saddam had not invaded Kuwait, and 9-11 had never happened, who knows if the US would have gone to war with Iraq over MWD. I doubt it. Nobody claimed the purpose of the war was to right a previous wrong. The purpose of the war, as I understand it, was to remove a potential threat and attempt to reshape the ME (both seen as necessary in the light of 9-11).

Walt Pohl – if Bush’s evidence was based on dodgy intelligence and he believed it, then how did he “lie”? As you say yourself: “I’m as surprised as anyone that Saddam doesn’t seem to have any WMD”. Do you think Bush somehow knew there WASN’T ANY WMD in Iraq? You say: “Now it turns out he didn’t know much of anything at all”. Isn’t it still too early to conclude that? ( “WMD hunters tell lawmakers of progress in Iraq”, http://edition.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/07/31/wmd.search/index.html ).


Walt Pohl 08.05.03 at 6:36 am

Richard: I think Bush knew that the intelligence was bull, but he was betting that Saddam really did have WMDs, so it wouldn’t matter that we didn’t have any evidence of it. Not a bad bet, but one he sure looks like he’s going to lose.

And whether or not they find WMDs later, it’s too late. The lie has been revealed. From now until the end of time, whenever I hear Bush open his mouth, I’m going to be wondering: does he believe what he’s saying, or am I just party to another bet?


Sven 08.05.03 at 2:11 pm

I submit that George Bush is a dangerous drunkard. We all know that he actually abused alcohol, right?

The only evidence we have that he stopped drinking is his word. And we all know how much that’s worth.


jhp 08.05.03 at 4:08 pm

richard writes:

Would the war have taken place if Hans Blix could stand up and say “I am confident Iraq has disarmed”?

Obviously, we can only speculate about that. But I think that given that Wolfowitz, et al, had been pushing for a full-scale war against Iraq for 10 years, that Bush said ‘Fuck Saddam, we’re taking him out’ in March 2002, and that during the run-up to war any suggestion that anything short of war or exile for Hussein would be sufficient was dismissed as appeasement, I think it’s clear what would have happened. Bush would have smeared Blix like he smeared France and every other nation, person, and organization that didn’t fall in line with his desired policy, and gone to war anyway.

But that’s not the point. The point is that Bush chose to present murky evidence as concrete proof. He may have been certain of that proof in his own mind, but that doesn’t mean the proof itself was certain. He deceived the country, whether or not he also deceived himself.


Sven 08.05.03 at 4:41 pm

There was a case made and some thin evidence that Saddam had WMD but the debate was over whether it was “sufficient” (eg Powell / UN). The Bush / Blair position (as I read it) was that, in a post-9-11 world, “sufficient” had a much lower threshhold. Yes, and the Administration engaged in further deception — by linking al Qaida directly to Iraq and implicitly to 9/11 — in an attempt to prove that the threshold had been lowered.


Demosthenes 08.05.03 at 11:16 pm

A simple question: on the day when Blix gave his final report, the day the war started, what was his opinion on Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors?

I ask this because I was under the impression that he said that Iraq was complying to a satisfactory degree, and I’m pretty sure that he maintained that position after the war.

Indeed, this makes sense: the only way that one could show that Iraq was not complying was if they had the weapons and were not revealing it, which was Bush’s position… given that the United States cannot find the weapons either, however, that position is untenable.

(Unless, of course, that rumor about the weapons having been hid by the Americans for an “October surprise” next year is actually true.)


Hackenkaus 08.06.03 at 1:35 am

Well said Glenn.

If I were a hack desperately trying to cover up a mountain of erroneous pre-war predictions, I can only hope I’d say it as well as you.


SqueakyRat 08.06.03 at 1:43 am

Absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence. But absence of presence is sure presence of absence.


Monkey 08.06.03 at 2:01 am

The CIA tried to pin Hallabja on the Iranians, IIRC.

But Saddam was our friend back then, you know.


R. Robot 08.06.03 at 2:22 am

Isn’t it time Americans knew the truth about the Pretzel Incident?


Bat Guano 08.06.03 at 3:16 am

Bush actually used coke, and he actully did all he could do to avoid serving in Vietnam.

He’s still not in Vietnam. Therefor he’s still on coke. And what proof do we have that he’s not hittin’ the crack pipe?

Logic is fun to play with!


brian 08.06.03 at 3:42 am

I just want to know why Bush started on Cipro on Sep. 12th, nearly a month before the anthrax mail attacks. (Easy one while we’re at it: why was Cipro pushed when penicillin was shown to be equally if not more effective?)


Hesiod 08.06.03 at 4:27 am


We KNOW that George W. Bush was a fall-down drunk until the age of 40.

Thus, the mere fact that we haven’t found any evidence that he’s been drunk on the job for the past 3 years is not proof that he’s been sober.

Therefore, we should immediately impeach and remove him from office becuse he’s been derelict in his duties and drunk.

Sounds about right.




raj 08.06.03 at 4:35 am

Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, but at some point, absence of evidence–coupled with an obvious disinterest by the claimants in finding evidence–is tantamount to an admission of absence.


JRoth 08.06.03 at 5:32 am

You do know that Germany actually _used_ missiles against Britain, right?

So how could you possibly object to Britain bombing Germany?

All facts past are present. The fourth dimension has collapsed, and anyone who has committed an act in the past is clearly capable of doing it again in the present.

Are PhDs irrevocable?


richard 08.06.03 at 5:40 am

Walt Pohl – I find it interesting that you argue that Bush “knew that the intelligence was bull” (I take it you mean ‘some of’) as it implies that you think him quite the intelligence expert. Did Tony Blair also “know” that [some of] the intelligence he cited was “bull”?

jhp – and if you were President of the USA, and certain in your own mind that Saddam was lying, had WMD, and was likely to give it to al Qaida, how would you present the murky evidence?

sven – and what if the administration *really did believe* that al Qaida had linkages with Iraq? EG, Former Navy secretary John Lehman: “There is no doubt in my mind that [Iraq] trained [Al Qaeda] in how to prepare and deliver anthrax and to use terror weapons,” including teaching operatives hijacking techniques at a camp in Salman Pak, Iraq. ( http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/191/nation/Sept_11_panel_discusses_possibility_of_Iraq_link+.shtml )

If the administration *really did believe* that al Qaida had linkages with Iraq, then they are not engaging in “further deceoption”.

Interesting article recently about the Iraqi intelligence officer, Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, who was assigned to the Iraq embassy in Pakistan, and “responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group” ( Babylon Daily Political Newspaper, Nov. 14, 2002; see http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/889jldct.asp )

Demosthenes – find the quotes and links please. “I was under the impression that he said …” is insufficient.

Hesiod et al – Bush has no record of hiding any “drinking on the job” whilst in office, nor has anyone seriously claimed that he has been “drinking on the job”, whereas Saddam’s record of hiding WMD programs from UN inspectors is well known.

raj – there is no “obvious disinterest by the claimants in finding evidence”

JRoth – Germany actually used missiles against Britain and Britain actually bombed Germany – see Dresden


ryan b 08.06.03 at 7:34 am

Absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.

The longer we don’t find any evidence of WMD, the stronger the case that they weren’t there in the first place.

What about that is so hard to understand?

Evidence =/= proof. That’s why they call it “evidence.”


contract3d 08.06.03 at 8:26 am

To use the term “WMD” is to embrace a chimera. The chimera, as I’m sure everyone recalls, was an imaginary beast cobbled together from three real ones – a lion’s head on a goat’s body with a serpent’s tail.

The lion is the only part with teeth, just as only nuclear weapons cause mass destruction. They are city&nbspkillers –  the only city killers.

A chemical weapon is a tool of mass murder.  So is a truck full of fertilizer, (Oklahoma City, 1995) a dufflebag full of guns, (Austin, 1966) or a plane full of jet fuel.

And while a biological weapon may be, someday, the tool of our mass extinction, we are decades and megabucks shy of that point. Only a very wealthy and paranoid superpower willing to burn vast sums for its wartoys could even begin to create such a thing.

Here in the 200x’s, biological weapons are serial killers, as we saw with anthrax. (We have, according to the FBI 20-30 serial killers active in this country at any given time) Stopping either kind of killer requires early recognition that the victims are linked, a coordinated multiregional and multispeciality response, and a whole lot of shoeleather spent in old-fashioned detective work.

This is also the prescription to save us from the next SARS, AIDS or Spanish Influenza. Putting these tools in place is, therefore, a far better use of our resources than bloodily bombing our way into a long and costly occupation of a nation that was not demonstrably closer to building nuclear weapons than, say, Lichtenstein.

All that blood was shed, and a great deal of treasure spent, in pursuit of a chimera.


elizabeth 08.06.03 at 1:17 pm


The war was fought to re-shape the Middle East? That is news to me, and to most Americans, I am guessing. In a true democracy, we would have debated that point before the war, and decided if it was worth losing American lives for it, and killing thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians in the process.

Instead, we were treated with the hyped threat of WMD’s before the war, to scare the pants off of an already fearful American public due to 9/11. Now we are being told it was to re-shape the Middle East.

The neocons have hijacked our government, and are deciding for the rest of the world, what is “right” for the Middle East, including the use of preemptive war.

What a sorry, tragic joke that we will be paying for for years to come.


richard 08.06.03 at 2:05 pm

ryan b – see Carl Sagan’s baloney detection kit ( “Appeal to ignorance”, http://www.xenu.net/archive/baloney_detection.html ) or if you prefer the original: “The Demon-Haunted World”, Ballantine Books, New York, 1996, p.213. You might enjoy Douglas G Altman and J Martin Bland, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, British Medical Journal, 1995 http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/311/7003/485.

Saddam had lots of practice at hiding things, however regardless of whether anything is now found a case can be made for serious failures of intelligence ( see for example http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5693-2003Jul30.html ).

contract3d – I found some light bedtime reading for you:

elizabeth – you don’t appear to listen to what Bush says very closely: “The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat. Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq”.
Bush, speech at AEI Annual Dinner, February 28, 2003 ( http://www.aei.org/news/newsID.16197/news_detail.asp )


jesse 08.06.03 at 3:04 pm

Hesiod et al – Bush has no record of hiding any “drinking on the job” whilst in office, nor has anyone seriously claimed that he has been “drinking on the job”, whereas Saddam’s record of hiding WMD programs from UN inspectors is well known.–

That argument is nonsensical. If nobody asked, he can’t be said to be hiding it, and just because nobody claimed it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Bush could be a compulsive masturbator, for all I know, but nobody’s asked and nobody’s claimed it, therefore it couldn’t possibly ever happen?

And I ask – if he didn’t *have* WMD programs after 1991, then how could he be said to have been hiding them?


Sven 08.06.03 at 3:14 pm


If members of the Administration really did believe in an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, then we should be questioning their judgement and competence as well as their veracity.


kodi 08.06.03 at 4:11 pm

Ok. Let’s take the statement at face value. Iraq had WMD, we know this because someone in Iraq used them. Therefore, any nation in the world is justified in deposing the government of Iraq.

The U.S. had anthrax, a WMD. We know this because someone in the U.S. used it. Therefore…


neil 08.06.03 at 4:44 pm

Assuming that actually was Glenn who posted the snarky little comment in reply to this post, I think it’s quite silly that anybody posted in response thinking they’d start a dialogue or something. One line of off-topic snark is all Instapunditis good for… or hadn’t you noticed?


richard 08.06.03 at 4:47 pm

jesse – and Bush could be a compulsive eater of jelly beans. Just because nobody claims it doesn’t mean it can’t be so. But in fact nobody is claiming it, there is no evidence of it, and nobody cares. The same applies to “Bush drinking on the job” and Bush masturbating. Compare that with Saddam and WMD over the past decade.

Sven – if you feel like questioning their judgement and competence as well as their veracity then perhaps you should formulate some questions.

kodi – this sums up the difference between Iraq and the US: http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/02110803.htm


Squee 08.06.03 at 5:54 pm

Why do you keep going on about Saddam’s ability to hide things from the world? What has he been able to hide, and what evidence do you have that he has been hiding anything (besides some redneck Texans word on it)? The whole point is that there is no evidence, and assuming about this stuff can be dangerous, if you were in a position of power, people could die because of it.
I’m sorry to say, but you are a sucker who wil sop up anything they tell you and repeat it as gospel because you are too afraid to live in a world where your leaders don’t know what’s right. Isn’t there some Ann Coulter blog you’d rather be posting at?


Sven 08.06.03 at 6:51 pm

The questions are obvious, Richard.
Why would a competent Administration conclude, without one iota of evidence and despite conclusions to the contrary by both and inside and outside experts, that Iraq and al Qaeda were connected? Why would it divert counterterrorism resources away from the hunt for al Qaeda in Afganistan to Iraq based on nothing more than an unproven and implausible theory?


ryan b 08.06.03 at 7:41 pm

Richard, thanks for the links. The BMJ paper, which I’d read before, addresses a situation that is markedly different from that in Iraq.

To wit: A&B’s point is that in many studies “nonsignificant” statistical findings – results which might be considered clinically significant – stem from a lack of a large sample. In this case, the data are unchanging and the information is fixed and limited.

In Iraq, by contrast, more and more evidence accrues every day to suggest a lack of WMD; the quantity of information is large and growning. Take it to the extreme – if we turned over every rock in Iraq, and there were no WMDs under any of them, we would have proven that there are no WMDs. Period.

Moreover: unlike the case in A&B’s argument, there is no evidence of ANY significance (clinical or otherwise) that WMDs are floating around.

Most clinical stat analyses set up a straw-man “null” hypothesis and then attempt to knock it down. A&B are simply pointing out that if you don’t try very hard, not knocking it down doesn’t transform the straw man into a burnished truth.

But the hypothesis “there are no WMDs in Iraq” doesn’t fit that straw-man mold. It has weathered the repeated, concerted and desperate attempts of the coalition to knock it down, and it stands firmly. It is being validated in the same way that scientific truth is always validated – by standing up to experiment.


richard 08.07.03 at 12:50 am

ryan b – I think you could argue that “the absence of evidence is evidence of a massive intelligence failure” but I think the argumentative fallacy still stands firmly despite your protestations to the contrary. The reason it still stands is because we are nowhere near having exhausted all possibilities, and that is true even if some of those possibilities are now far removed from claims made by the Bush administration before the war.

Take your extreme case of turning over every rock. You must have heard of the 12 year old centrifuge components and documents hidden in a barrel under a rose bush in a private garden (“Obeidi told CNN the parts of a gas centrifuge system for enriching uranium were part of a highly sophisticated system he was ordered to hide to be ready to rebuild the bomb program at some time in the future” http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/06/25/cnna.gallucci.iraq/ ) or the “aircraft under the sand” (“Our guys have found 30-something brand new aircraft buried in the sand to deny us access to them … These are craft we didn’t know about.” http://afr.com/articles/2003/08/01/1059480545424.html ).

But even if every rock were turned over that still doesn’t exhaust the possibilities. What if Saddam destroyed WMD just before the war or moved it to Syria? What if he stripped down and redesigned his programs so that everything was “dual use” and / or ready to be reconstituted?

Sven – Nobody disputes that the evidence is disputed “by both and inside and outside experts” (and Sven), but it is just not factually correct that the administration came to its conclusions “without one iota of evidence”. See, for example, Powell / UN. Since that evidence was deemed “plausible” by the policy-makers, your second question is answered.

Squee – eg “Iraq has often followed a pattern of denial of clandestine activities until the evidence is overwhelming, followed by cooperation until the next case of concealment is revealed. The denials of activities have in many cases been accompanied by active concealment and deception.” Statement of IAEA Director General Hans Blix to the UN Security Council on IAEA Inspections in Iraq, UN Security Council on IAEA Inspections in Iraq, New York, USA, 11 March 1992 ( http://www.iaea.or.at/worldatom/Press/Statements/FormerDG/dgsp1992n20.html )


Lordwhorfin 08.07.03 at 3:29 am

Richard, you’ve drunk the coolaid, so there is really no point in discussing any of this with you.


Where would the residue, etc. from destroyed weapons end up? Where is the evidence that LARGE stockpiles of WMD were destroyed RIGHT before the invasion? Is that Occam’s Razor, of which your ilk is so fond, at work?

Second, if they were transported, what does this say about the ability of the US military and intelligence services to intercept said transit? It would have to have been well-planned and executed w/o US knowledge or detection at a time when US forces were actually inside Northern Iraq building airstrips and HUNTING FOR WMD.

There are no circumstances, however, under which you’ll EVER be convinced that you backed the wrong policy.


richard 08.07.03 at 4:06 am

Lordwhorfin – actually I’m waiting for the upcoming report from David Kay.

I believe there has been a massive intelligence failure and I have many unresolved questions.

Saddam may well have disarmed voluntarily and then failed to demonstrate that fact to Hans Blix. You may well be right.

Then again, you may be wrong. You don’t appear to allow that possibility any longer though. My mind is still open.

I enjoy discussing these issues with (mostly) intelligent people who disagree strongly with me and I think it valuable to have my views challenged.


mrkmyr 08.07.03 at 6:25 am

Richard seems to be believe that if Bush believed he was doing the right thing then the ends (ousting Saddam) justify the means (presenting skewed evidence to the public). I don’t know if that is acceptable in a democratic nation. While we do have an executive, it is one that has the duty of carring out our desires. And we will soon have the chance to evaluate his decision making skills.

I remember how Bush ran for President that he would not know everything himself, but have intelligent thoughful advisors (this was to make people feel comfortable with the conventional wisdom that he is stupid). His leadership skills do not seem to be functioning very well. While we cannot know anything for certian, it looks more probable that we would be better off without Bush as President.

Richard, I admire your willingness to have a dialogue. I just wish bush was so democratic.

As a related point: Was Bush justified in demonizing nations that thought (correctly) the evidence of WMD and the rational for war was weak. Lets not forget Bush did nothing to promote an open dialogue, but let terms like “objectively pro-Saddam” and “traitor” be used by his supporters on those that (very reasonably) disagreed with him.


dave heasman 08.07.03 at 2:53 pm

> the “aircraft under the sand” (“Our guys have found 30-something brand new aircraft buried in the sand to deny us access to them … These are craft we didn’t know about.”

No. They are craft they did know about. They were only buried inches deep in a country that been overflown non-stop for 12 years. The only “authoriatative” source who’s intimated they weren’t known about is Rumsfeld. And he’s notoriously scrupulous about the truth. One way or another.


third cent 08.07.03 at 5:34 pm

This debate is missing a key point or two. Its not like there was just “evidence” of a nuclear program in Iraq just lying around that couldn’t be ignored by the administration. Cheney et al were ACTIVELY PRESSURING CIA analysts to come up with damning info on Iraq. These guys were scared for their jobs, trying like hell to find this stuff, and all that anyone could come up with were the Niger forgeries and Blair’s plageurized “dossier”. Its ridiculous to base the debate on the fact that Iraq was a major danger to the US, when it is clear that the administration had decided long ago they were going to attack, and were merely trying to fill in the gaps to justify their plan. By the way, stories of the false Niger docs, and of CIA analysts being pressured directly by OVP have been available since early Marcha at least…where was the press then? They were also being pressured to be Bush friendly…as is now being reported here and there, people coverig the war are starting to say, I mean even a reporter from the NYPost is claiming that his stories are being docotered to be less damning. I don’t have the link here, but its out there, you can find it if you really wanna see…


third cent 08.07.03 at 5:49 pm

Also, there is simply no way that Saddam destroyed the weapons right before the war. Aside from there being absolutely no logic to this idea, it is the kind of thing that creates a massive trail of evidence. Remember, these chemicals can be detected at microscopic levels…nor were they transported into Syria, which we would have so easily picked up on satellite photos…and again this would leave a trail of evidence. You just retrace the route they took (coordinates pinpointed by satellite) and collect soil samples. also, testimony from previous inspectors reveals that Iraq’s chem weapons were well past their half-life, and their alleged bio-weapons were also, not to mention that they weren’t kept in a munition-type format, they were basically sludge that you use to propegate new batches, but they had been determined to be too old for use years ago. Unless they had purchased new ones, but again, there’s no evidence of this as its the kind of things that if Bush had it, he would have whipped it out long ago…


ryan b 08.07.03 at 7:29 pm

Richard, you wrote: “The reason [absence of evidence etc] still stands is because we are nowhere near having exhausted all possibilities, and that is true even if some of those possibilities are now far removed from claims made by the Bush administration before the war.”

To which I would reply – again, you are conflating “proof” with “evidence.” Of course we haven’t exhausted each and every possible hiding location for WMDs – nor have we shown that Saddam didn’t give them to Al Qaeda right before the war (great job Dubya!) – but as days go by, and as more and more hiding spots are cleared, the EVIDENCE points more strongly toward the hypothesis that there are no WMDs.

In A&B’s construction, evidence could not accrue – it was a fixed quantity because no more data could be gathered. But over time on the ground in Iraq, evidence DOES accrue. Right now, all the evidence we have suggests a lack of WMDs. We haven’t PROVEN it, but the evidence gets stronger every day.

You insist that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Well I’ll tell you – it sure as hell isn’t evidence of PRESENCE. A&B’s statement was made in a very strict and limited context; you’re taking it out of that context in making your argument.


richard 08.08.03 at 12:08 am

ryan b – I don’t think I’m conflating “proof” with “evidence”. My understanding is that to have “evidence of absence” you need “evidence”, which is logically not the same thing as “absence of evidence” (hence the argumentative fallacy). Hans Blix asked Saddam for evidence of absence and I expect that dictators in future will keep excellent records of any WMD destruction, wind down of programs etc. If all the scientists say: “they closed the programs down, we stopped working on WMD” then that is also evidence (but then why was Saddam so cagey about scientist interviews? maybe he thought they’d tell tall tales). This sort of evidence can accumulate. I’m even willing to concede that if you can’t find the pink elephant in the drawing room then that would be evidence of absence, but only at the time you were looking (and I expect many philosophers would disagree with me there). Not finding WMD at any of the sites you expected to find them at is evidence of massive intelligence failure, and I expect it impacts the overall probability of finding WMD (assuming that the likelihood of finding WMD somewhere else is lower). But I don’t think the failure (so far) to find WMD, which could be hidden in an entire country (or any of those other possibilities), constitutes “evidence” of absence.

I’ll try and get back to those other points later, if anyone is interested.

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