Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Rationalizations are a wonderful thing

William Saletan provides an excellent write-up of last nights press conference. In it he identifies what might be the key flaw in George W. Bush's personality: he believes that as long as he is consistent in what he says then what he says must be credible, regardless of whether what he says has any correspondence with reality.

Consider the question of WMD:

As to the WMD, Bush said the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq had confirmed that Iraq was "hiding things. A country that hides something is a country that is afraid of getting caught." See the logic? A country that hides something must be afraid of getting caught, and a country afraid of getting caught must be hiding something. Each statement validates the other, sparing Bush the need to find the WMD.

Bush does occasionally cite other people's statements to support his credibility. Saddam Hussein "was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States," Bush told Moran. "That's … the assessment that Congress made from the intelligence. That's the exact same assessment that the United Nations Security Council made with the intelligence." Actually, the Security Council didn't say Iraq was a threat to the United States, but never mind. The more fundamental problem with Bush's appeal to prewar assessments by Congress and the Security Council is that these assessments weren't reality. They were attempts—not even independent attempts, since the administration heavily lobbied both bodies—to approximate reality. When they turned out not to match reality, members of Congress (including Republicans) and the Security Council (including U.S. allies) repudiated them.

Not Bush. He's impervious to evidence. "I look forward to hearing the truth as to exactly where [the WMD] are," he told Time's John Dickerson at the press conference. A year after Saddam's ouster and four months after Saddam's capture, Bush continued to insist that "people who should know about weapons" are still "worried about getting killed, and therefore they're not going to talk. … We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point." You can agree or disagree with this theory. But you can't falsify it.

In other words, Bush still insists that the evidence for WMD is as credible now as it was two years ago and that they will be found some day.

This is truly incredible, but it fits into a theory I have had for some time that some people become so invested in their belief of their own correctness that they will deny reality to the last minute if it threatens that belief. Whether this is because of an overwhelming hubris (in the case of Bush) or the simple fear of what it might mean if they are wrong I can't say.

On a related note, I was watching a few minutes of Larry King last night in which he was interviewing some relatives of soldiers in Iraq to get their reaction to Bush's press conference. Two of them were the father and wife of a man who was recently killed. They were absolutely steadfast in their support of Bush and their belief that going into Iraq was the right thing to do while the third, the brother of another killed soldier and soldier himself who was injured in Iraq, expressed skepticism about Bush and the reasons for going there.

What was interesting about this segment was that when King heard the brother saying that we shouldn't have gone to Iraq, Larry asked him, "So you think your brother's death was meaningless?" The brother answered emphatically not. But it raises the point that some people seem to think that, unless the war in Iraq was justified, that must necessarily mean that all the soldiers who have died their "died in vain".

This is bullshit. The reasons why the United States decides to send the military in does not have any relation to the honor of the soldiers who put their lives on the line to defend their nation. The simple fact that they have joined up and gone into combat automatically conveys honor on them regardless of the reason for them being there.

The father and wife, insisted, like Bush, that the WMD would eventually be found. Which tells me that they still buy into the "justified cause" = "honorable death" equation and that if the cause is shown to have been unjustified then that means their son/husband "died in vain". They would rather hang on to the increasingly laughable idea that Saddam had WMD and was an imminent threat to the United States than have to face the idea that their loved died for nothing.

Frankly, the father and wife team looked terrified as they kept insisting that the WMD would be found and that Dubya was a good leader. They were terrified because, in their hearts, they are scared that either might not be true.


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