Selective Amnesia

by Henry on July 10, 2004

Ted says

There ought to be a word for these kinds of arguments, in which one simultaneously displays and condemns hypocrisy. They happen a lot.

There should be a word too for the kind of self-deconstructing display of bad faith that Charles Krauthammer treats us to in his latest piece of hackwork, entitled “Blixful Amnesia.” If someone other than Krauthammer were involved, you might imagine that a post thus entitled would be an apology for repeated assertions that Hans Blix was a craven, incompetent fool for not finding WMDs in Iraq. Instead it’s yet another incoherent harangue; this time against a recent talk given by Blix in Vienna. Blix’s speech begins with an aside – that hundreds of millions of people are more directly threatened by hunger than by weapons of mass destruction – and then launches into a detailed and lengthy discussion of non-proliferation, Krauthammer, who doesn’t appear to have read beyond the opening paragraphs, sees this as telling evidence of the failure of the “decadent European left” to face up to the problems of proliferation of nuclear weapons. In fact, Blix offers a series of proposals for addressing proliferation – starting with a real commitment by the existing nuclear powers to stop producing nuclear weapons material.

There’s something rather odd about Krauthammer’s continued obsession with Blix. My suspicion is that it’s because Blix’s credibility (at least with regard to the most recent round of weapons inspections) has increased over time, while Krauthammer’s has evaporated. In Krauthammer’s own words fifteen months ago.

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

Indeed. It’s high time that the Washington Post took him at his word, and dealt with his continuing “credibility problem” by suggesting that he seek employment elsewhere.

{ 43 comments }

1

Elaine Supkis 07.10.04 at 3:27 am

If they fired all the fucked up pundits, there would be not a soul left. Actually, they don’t have souls even now so no biggie, eh?

2

Rok 07.10.04 at 3:55 am

A hypodox. It’s a combining of hypocrisy and paradox. Let’s face it, condeming hypocrisy while at the same time being hypcritical is a paradox.

3

Rook 07.10.04 at 4:00 am

Ok, first, I can’t type. Second, I had another thought (yes they are few and far between, but I do have them): A person who condems hypocrisy while being hypocritical could be called a hypodoxiac. Then there’s hypodoxial behavior.

There could be a whole school of study in this area. Honestly, one should look into getting a grant.

4

Kath 07.10.04 at 5:51 am

“Physician – Heal thyself,” because you’re nuts.

5

IXLNXS 07.10.04 at 5:51 am

I find him offensive to my toliet reading.

6

Anthony 07.10.04 at 6:41 am

Isn’t this missing the point that Blix wasn’t meant to be looking for WMD, but looking for compliance with 1441?

7

mc 07.10.04 at 10:23 am

You don’t get it. He’s right. Moore, Blix, Meyssan, that’s who’s _preventing_ the US from pursuing serious and coherent anti-terrorist policies. It’s entirely the fault of the overwhelming leftist and decadent and paranoid propaganda in both Europe and America, if no WMD were found in Iraq and the place is turning into a terrorist playground that just _needs_ martial laws and military occupation and Abu Ghraib-style prisons.

You know you just can’t wait for four more years of this sort of precious insight. Vote Bush!

8

mc 07.10.04 at 10:30 am

See, see how Krauthammer is in touch:

And yet here we are three years after Sept. 11, *with the dots already connected*, and we are under a powerful urge to ignore them completely.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, one of the authors of yesterday’s report:

“Leading up to September 11, *our government didn’t connect the dots*. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because *the dots themselves never existed*,”

9

yabonn 07.10.04 at 11:06 am

There should be a word too for the kind of self-deconstructing display of bad faith that Charles Krauthammer treats us

In other terms, “no it’s you who are are the hyporite”. Isn’t that relatively new?

I sometimes get the impression that one of the big advantages of these raving nuts is that you can’t really argue with them, unless by going “ahm, no , i think you’re completely cuckoo”.

You usually don’t do that. You want to pick a subtle flaw in some subtle argumentation. That’s what interesting and fun. But you can’t really argue with, say, coulter’s paranoia, unless by pointing she’s a lunatic.

So lunatics may have an advantage in this modern mediatic landscape. They can speak without real contradiciton, while all the others look at it with round eyes and gaping mouth, recoiling at the idea of having to deal with that crap.

It may be changing now -right at the same time the right began to lament itself on the lost civility of the political debate.

… Any tip for curing my hangover btw?

10

gavin 07.10.04 at 11:09 am

A surpringly thoughtful piece by Blix I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not sure I’d want him running my local police force though, the qualities that make a thoughtful Swedish academic (which is what he seems to be) don’t necessarily make a good policeman (or WMD inspector, seemingly).

As for his suggestion that disarmament among the 5 NWS is a top priority for the future, it’s a little bit dangerous. It’s quite easy to imagine a world where, as the 5 NWS reduce their arsenals, other countries (not rogue states) might want to acquire weapons. To give a concrete example, Japan could build a bomb fairly quickly and might well choose to do so if the US and China reduced their nuclear arsenals but China maintained its conventional forces. Similarly, Taiwan and South Korea might want to do the same. I’m not arguing that it’s justthe US nuclear umbrella that keeps the peace, just that nuclear weapons in the US are, to some extent, substitutes for nuclear weapons in its allies.

11

Henry 07.10.04 at 1:29 pm

Gavin – yeah, I think that your criticisms of Blix are fair and good ones (although I also think that Blix would have a response). It would be nice to have actual debate like this – instead of a partisan clown-show – on the op-ed pages of the Post.

12

nnyhav 07.10.04 at 2:17 pm

Punditry merely mirrors process: Pot v Kettle.

13

Jason Kuznicki 07.10.04 at 3:02 pm

Hypodox is a great word, in part because a “naive etymology” of it would yield

hypo- (under, insufficient, too little)

-doxa (opinion, thought)

And when you find what it really means, it’s just the same, but better.

14

q 07.10.04 at 3:21 pm

Fakery, fraud, fraudulence, hypocrisy, insincerity, mendacity or skullduggery.

In this case, “fraudulent pundits”, captures the nature of the beast.

Same as a money swindler, but swindles your time and conversation instead.

(Defn: Deception deliberately practiced with a view to gaining an unlawful or unfair advantage; artifice by which the right or interest of another is injured; injurious stratagem; deceit; trick.)

15

Giles 07.10.04 at 5:59 pm

The problem with Blix was not that he couldn’t find WMD, but rather that over 10years, he and the weapons inspectors were unable or unwilling to certify that there were none. they were thereby part of an impasse that made revocation of the sanctions regime impossible.

And I think alot of the personal animus towards Blix is that some peopel feel he was implicitly happy to lket this situation continue since it kept him in pay and power. This impresion is reinforced by his determination to keep on poping up on TV commneintg on all and sunder.

16

Matt McIrvin 07.10.04 at 6:40 pm

“A hypodox. It’s a combining of hypocrisy and paradox.”

For some reason, I can only imagine Stephen Colbert saying this.

17

eudoxis 07.10.04 at 6:48 pm

“There should be a word too for the kind of self-deconstructing display of bad faith that Charles Krauthammer treats us to in his latest piece of hackwork, entitled “Blixful Amnesia.” ”

This is strong, Henry, and all that for Krauthammer taking issue with a crucial particular in the Blix speech.

I find the initial risk comparison by Blix of the importance of WMD dubious at best. It isn’t just and “aside”, it is a provision of context for the rest of the speech. It diminishes the urgency for treating the threat of WMD, allowing more weight for the Blix approach of, primarily, inspections.

Blix has a useful position as an essential voice for a reasoned political approach to WMD. His advantage is that he is disengaged, in a neutral way, from a national forum that would be easily dismissed by those on the right as something like French chest-beating or German quasi pacifism. However, Blix would be far more effective if he refrained from a partisan alignment. Clearly irritating to Krauthammer, this aspect is better alleviated than highlighted, but is he wrong about that? The nit he chooses to pick for this purpose is precisely the problem why there is a shading of dubiousness over all of Blix’s work.

18

Ophelia Benson 07.10.04 at 7:05 pm

“The problem with Blix was not that he couldn’t find WMD, but rather that over 10years, he and the weapons inspectors were unable or unwilling to certify that there were none. they were thereby part of an impasse that made revocation of the sanctions regime impossible.”

But that’s so inane. (Not the post; I mean that general objection, which I’ve heard for instance interviewers on the BBC urging on Blix.) How could they possibly certify that? It’s the black swan thing. The fact that one has not, to date, found X is a billion miles from proving or establishing that X does not exist or is not present. How the hell could a finite and in fact quite small number of inspectors possibly establish with certainty that there were no WMDs in all of Iraq? And yet that’s what I kept hearing interviewers insist on. ‘But why won’t you say there aren’t any?’

19

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.10.04 at 8:11 pm

The Blix findings are a good answer to those who believe that waiting longer would have produced an international coalition to get rid of Saddam.

We now know that Blix wasn’t going to find much.

So Saddam was going to be staying in power right?

20

Ophelia Benson 07.10.04 at 8:33 pm

That doesn’t follow. As Blix also tried to make clear. The standard does not have to be absolute certainty of a negative.

Or to put it another way, there’s an epistemological issue here that’s separate from the political one. There can be a political decision, what sort of standard one is looking for. But demanding that Blix declare certainty is just silly.

21

eudoxis 07.10.04 at 8:38 pm

Curiously, Blix mentions in his speech that after 1991 “The IAEA removed all fissionable material from Iraq by flying it to Russia.” How is this possible with the finding of yellowcake at Tuwaitha?

22

Zizka 07.10.04 at 9:21 pm

Beyond his Blix criticism, Krauthammer also came up with ten nuclear devices set off simultaneously in ten different American cities. He thinks that everything we think about anything at all should be in the context of the possibility of that event, so this wasn’t really be about Blix at all. With all those bombs going off in Krathammer’s Freudian head, nothing really can be about much of anything at all except the bombs.

Giles’ red herring deserves some kind of prize: the reason people don’t like Blix is because he failed to certify Iraq as WMD-free. Where were YOU two years ago, Giles?

Sebastian just deserves another re-award of the eponymous Sebastian Prize. The problem with Blix is that, since there were no WMD’s to find, Blix NEVER would have found a pretext for attacking Iraq, and so everyone who failed to smear Blix was objectively pro-Saddam.

23

Antoni Jaume 07.10.04 at 11:45 pm

Eudoxis, yellowcake is an Uranium chemical product, in practical circumstances “fissile material” imply either an Uranium very enriched in his 235 isotope, or Plutonium.
“A sample of natural uranium (as mined) is composed of 99.3% uranium-238, 0.7% Uranium-235, and a negligible amount of uranium-234 (by weight), as well as a number of radioactive decay products.”
from http://web.ead.anl.gov/uranium/faq/uproperties/faq5.cfm

“The fissile materials used both in nuclear weapons and nuclear power reactors are the same– Uranium and Plutonium. But the useful isotope of Uranium is Uranium 235 which has to be in a concentration of 90 percent and above for a weapon. Unlike Uranium, Plutonium of any composition of isotopes can be used for a nuclear weapon.”
from http://www.saag.org/papers/paper14.html
DSW

24

eudoxis 07.11.04 at 12:42 am

The use of the word “fissionable” is important in this instance. Consider that Blix is not a layman and that the IAEA has further definitions for enriched uranium, namely “special fissionable” material. U-238 is fissionable with enough energy. That is why weapons grade uranium or special fissionable material need not be more than say 4% U-235. U-238 is fissionable but not fissile. Yellowcake is fissionable.

Consider futher the absurdity of the IAEA removing weapons grade material from a nuclear facility but leaving behind the drums filled with yellowcake.

25

eudoxis 07.11.04 at 1:00 am

Update: Apparently that is not absurd. According to this report from the IAEA “several tons of yellow cake and other natural uranium and some low enriched and depleted uranium” remained in Iraq “under IAEA seal” after the IAEA left in 1998.

26

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.11.04 at 2:21 am

“The problem with Blix is that, since there were no WMD’s to find, Blix NEVER would have found a pretext for attacking Iraq, and so everyone who failed to smear Blix was objectively pro-Saddam.”

Nope, that is overarguing my point. It isn’t that such people are objectively pro-Saddam. It is just that they are deluding themselves if they believe that the international process was going to lead to Saddam’s removal. With Blix finding nothing, it was not.

And of course I’m not just talking just about hypothetical people deluding themselves here. I’m talking about at least a few actual main-page posters of Crooked Timber.

27

q 07.11.04 at 6:08 am

sebastian-
What was you’re original “point”?

28

John Quiggin 07.11.04 at 6:25 am

Sebastian, if I read him correctly, is asserting that many people, including CT posters, believed (at some unstated time, but presumably in 2002 and early 2003), the proposition “The WMD inspection process will lead inevitably to Saddam’s forcible removal.”

Those interested can read a bunch of my posts on the topic, starting with my November 2002 archive. I wasn’t right on every count, but I certainly didn’t entertain the the view posited by Sebastian – very much the opposite.

I thought, and still think that, in the absence of some sort of legitimate international procedure for removing and trying tyrants like Saddam an outcome where he was disarmed was preferable to war.

29

q 07.11.04 at 8:30 am

The power of human mind

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t
mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt
tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset
can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit mcuh
porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey
lteter by istlef, it atcaluly tkaes in the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig
huh?

The interpretation of the arguments about the US-Iraq relationship for many people are very similar to the interpretation of the above sentence…it does not matter the arrangement of the individual facts, since people believe what they want to believe.

One way to improve the level of information flowing on this topic and combat blind ignorance is to expand the number of social links between Iraq and other countries, cultural exchanges, educational exchanges and academic exchanges.

Conferences on political and social theory with colocations in Iraq, through audio-visual links, groupware, virtual libaries and meeting rooms, and physical visits to Iraq by academics would all help initiate understanding and break down prejudices. I hope that academics reading this blog might give a thought to the extent to which they could build links between Iraq and their own country.

On a small but important level, it would be possible to offer scholarships to Iraqi students abroad, especially in History, Social Policy and Political Organisation. I would suggest that these are offered in groups rather than individually, since cultural dislocation is likely to be a problem.

It would also be possible to sponsor Iraqi academics to visit foreign institutions in order to help build understanding and relationships.

There are many improvements in the understanding of Middle Eastern politics and history which could be beneficial to all parties.

30

q 07.11.04 at 9:16 am

Example relating to the Maghreb: Britain & the Maghreb Conference 2004

31

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.11.04 at 10:07 am

John, quite right, your position was that if the inspectors couldn’t find anything that Saddam should be left in power. (“in the absence of some sort of legitimate international procedure for removing and trying tyrants like Saddam” being the same as “impossible” in this context). You also took a rather broad view of what compliance with the inspectors was.

I was specifically speaking to those who were particularly concerned with the humanitarian disaster of leaving Saddam in power and entertained fantasies of an international coalition to get rid of Saddam if we the US ‘had just waited a bit longer’. I believe Daniel is one such. That combined with the sanctions combined with the UN Oil for Bribes plan, doesn’t leave us with a very pretty picture either.

I’m not asking anyone to say that they WANTED Saddam to remain in power. I’m merely pointing out that he would have remained in power, and that ought to be part of the calculation.

And if continual disarmament was the goal, please remember that France and Russia were trying to remove sanctions–making that goal highly unlikely to be fulfilled. Unless you have other, yet to be revealed, ideas about realistic levers to apply against Saddam in the absence of sanctions.

32

John Isbell 07.11.04 at 2:30 pm

And if a feather up my butt made me a hen, I could be laying eggs.

My own belief is that Krauthammer resents Blix not just for being right where he himself was gloriously wrong, but for having a name that doesn’t mean Cabbage hammer. I shall venture into GOP territory and declare my absolute indifference to the fact that Kraut doesn’t mean cabbage. It just *feels* so right!

33

Giles 07.11.04 at 3:29 pm

“But that’s so inane”

Correct – but that was the fundamental flaw in the UN arms inspection regime and Blix is its public face…………Its unfair but presumably he did want the job and so accpeted its premis with all its flaws.

34

Rook 07.11.04 at 7:58 pm

You know what is scary? I read that entire first graph of scrambled words and only struggled with two of them!

35

Rook 07.11.04 at 8:00 pm

Huh. It would let me post a comment. Let me try this a second time.

I read that first graph of scrambled words and only struggled with understanding two of them. That is really scary.

36

Another Voice 07.12.04 at 12:36 am

Ok, want a real perspective on the alternatvies:

http://www.sftt.org/cgi-bin/csNews/csNews.cgi?database=DefenseWatch.db&command=viewone&op=t&id=561&rnd=713.9062175551647

and more. The real military types out there aren’t happy with the current situation in Iraq.

You will learn more about what is going wrong over there by reading material like this than you will ever get here.

Or from the Greens.

37

zizka 07.12.04 at 12:51 am

Sebastian, Jesus Christ, Blix’s mandate was never to get Saddam out of there. It was to deal with WMD, and he did a good job of it. And for that he got smeared, and the facts about Saddam were also unjustifiably misrepresented (NOT an honest mistake).

Considering that we’ve just replaced Saddam with a former enforcer goon of his (who was on the outs with Saddam for some reason or another), and the goon who is rehabilitating the Ba’athist police, talking about martial law, etc., the bait-and-switch “bring democracy to Iraq” reason for the war is looking more and more dubious.

38

zizka 07.12.04 at 12:51 am

Sebastian, Jesus Christ, Blix’s mandate was never to get Saddam out of there. It was to deal with WMD, and he did a good job of it. And for that he got smeared, and the facts about Saddam were also unjustifiably misrepresented (NOT an honest mistake).

Considering that we’ve just replaced Saddam with a former enforcer goon of his (who was on the outs with Saddam for some reason or another), and the goon who is rehabilitating the Ba’athist police, talking about martial law, etc., the bait-and-switch “bring democracy to Iraq” reason for the war is looking more and more dubious.

39

Zizka 07.12.04 at 12:52 am

Sebastian, Jesus Christ, Blix’s mandate was never to get Saddam out of there. It was to deal with WMD, and he did a good job of it. And for that he got smeared, and the facts about Saddam were also unjustifiably misrepresented (NOT an honest mistake).

Considering that we’ve just replaced Saddam with a former enforcer goon of his (who was on the outs with Saddam for some reason or another), and the goon who is rehabilitating the Ba’athist police, talking about martial law, etc., the bait-and-switch “bring democracy to Iraq” reason for the war is looking more and more dubious.

40

Zizka 07.12.04 at 12:59 am

Sebastian, Jesus Christ, Blix’s mandate was never to get Saddam out of there. It was to deal with WMD, and he did a good job of it. And for that he got smeared, and the facts about Saddam were also unjustifiably misrepresented (NOT an honest mistake).

Considering that we’ve just replaced Saddam with a former enforcer goon of his (who was on the outs with Saddam for some reason or another), and the goon who is rehabilitating the Ba’athist police, talking about martial law, etc., the bait-and-switch “bring democracy to Iraq” reason for the war is looking more and more dubious.

41

al 07.12.04 at 12:59 am

Sebastian, Jesus Christ, Blix’s mandate was never to get Saddam out of there. It was to deal with WMD, and he did a good job of it. And for that he got smeared, and the facts about Saddam were also unjustifiably misrepresented (NOT an honest mistake).

Considering that we’ve just replaced Saddam with a former enforcer goon of his (who was on the outs with Saddam for some reason or another), and the goon who is rehabilitating the Ba’athist police, talking about martial law, etc., the bait-and-switch “bring democracy to Iraq” reason for the war is looking more and more dubious.

42

GMT 07.12.04 at 6:48 pm

Is there an echo in here?
And why was it so all-fire important to remove our old friend Saddam from power? Think of the billions we’d invested in him that would be wasted!
I mean, used to we’d just pay Saddam to kill Iraqis for us. Nice scary man. Keeps the region stable, what with Islamist governments to the East and South and all. Then, we cut out the middle man and butcher thousands of Iraqis ourselves. Reason? Because Saddam was a Bad Man!
Get it?
Talk about your selective amnesia!

43

Zizka 07.12.04 at 9:32 pm

Sorry, guys. I was getting repeated error messages.

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