Saturday, December 10, 2005

Thoughtful Response From The Left

The comments to follow are from Elendil of Rummy's Diaries, who posted a very thoughtful comment to my last post. She is admitedly on the left and offered some very good explanations as to why folks of her persuasion do not believe in the ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. I will follow up with a response on the main page shortly. For now here are her comments:

Okay, as the token leftist in the room I'll try to answer your question, as you seem to be sincerely interested in the answer.

I am not familiar with all the items that you list, and that's probably half the issue. There has been a polarisation in the discourse, so that while I've heard, for example, of Saddam paying compensation to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, I had not heard of any phone records. I don't think it would be honest of me to say that's simply because I don't have full access to American media. We are all subject to confirmation bias, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and very few of us have the time to keep up with these issues.

The other items you list do not strike me as compelling evidence of a link between the Saddam regime and Al Qaida. Saddam's praise for the attacks could be more about his dislike for America than his liking of Al Qaida. The existence of AQ people travelling freely in Iraq does not necessarily imply that they were welcome there. ... but the _underlying_ reason why they are not compelling is a bit more complicated.

Many leftwing commentators stated that the link would be unlikely for practical and ideological reasons. Rather than quote Juan Cole at you, I'll give you the words from DITSUM 044-02 itself, where the DIA opined "Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control."

With this belief in place, the leftwinger sees the list above as circumstantial evidence, perhaps supporting, but definitely not proving the link. There's a higher weight of evidence required to convince someone of something they think is unlikely.

Of course, it works the other way too. If you already think it's likely that Saddam and AQ would cooperate, then the items you list are seen as confirmation of this, and the circumstantial nature of them becomes less relevant.

Then there's the issue of suspicion....

The left generally suspects that the Administration had ulterior motives in invading Iraq. When they observe that the threat WMD from Iraq was vastly overestimated, they will likely conclude that the latter was a consequence of the former. The issue of an AQ-Iraq connection is viewed as another part of this deception, and is doubted in much the same way.

I should say on the issue of "deception" that there is a strong current of thought in leftwing circles that the Administration behaved like lawyers rather than scientists. i.e. they reached their conclusion first, and then found the evidence to support it second, rather than the other way around. This runs the gamut from "they believed their own bs" to "they lied". (For the record, I am in the former group.) It also finds expression in the phrase "reality-based community", which is a rejection of the idea that one should conduct foreign policy in this way.

The example of al-Libi then becomes a pointed lesson about this error. Because the Administration already had their conclusion, they only found what they had already decided was true. Even when presented with differing opinions from within, the selection bias was in favour of using the false testimony.

For those with the more extreme view (i.e. "they lied"), the use of the testimony despite knowing about contradictory evidence becomes more sinister. Perhaps they even tortured him specifically so that they could extract false evidence from him? I cannot really speak on that though, because although I've mused on it I've decided it's not very parimonious.

I have added her to my blog roll based on this comment and will be visiting her blog in the days to come to see what she has to say. The Purpose of Elendil's blog:

An archive of information on human rights abuses, prisoner abuse, and torture committed by the Coalition of the Willing in the Global War on Terror.


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