Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Picking Up Some DaBrooks Slack

Everythings Ruined has yet to post its obligatory response to a David Brooks op-ed, so I thought I’d chime in.

David Brooks pulls a classic Thomas Friedman in this one—he boils down a complex series of arguments into two essentialist positions and then applies them to a debate, thus distorting everyone’s position.

In this case, he creates two new worldviews: The Schultzes and the Weinbergians. The Schultzes (named after George Schultz) are those that argue for aggressiveness in the face of uncertainty, the Weibergians are those arguing for caution in the face of uncertainty. Brooks clearly shares the Schultzian worldview (after all, he spends three graphs on it, and only one sentence spelling out the Weinbergian position) but, in the interest of fairness he writes that both “were clear and mature. Both understood there is no perfect answer to terror and both understood the downsides of their respective positions”.

He then contrasts this clear maturity with our current crop of administration critics:

“If you follow the 9/11 commission, you find yourself in a crowd of Shultzians. The critics savage the Clinton and Bush administrations for not moving aggressively enough against terror. Al Qaeda facilities should have been dismantled before 9/11, the critics say.

Then you look at the debate over Iraq and suddenly you see the same second-guessers posing as Weinbergerians. The U.S. should have been more cautious. We should have had concrete evidence about W.M.D.'s before invading Iraq.

Step back and you see millions of people who will pick up any stick they can to beat the administration. “

Can you spot the rhetorical bait-and-switch? People on the 9/11 Commission supporting harsher action vis-à-vis Al Qaeda pre-9/11 are largely people like Bob Kerrey, fervent war supporters and hawks. Furthermore, there was no uncertainty about Al Qaeda, they had attacked us before both at home and abroad, we had some details floating about in the ether about a specific plot using hijacking on American soil, etc. etc. and so forth. What we didn’t know is what the specific details of the 9/11 plot were. In other words, the uncertainty was only about the very specific details, we knew Al Qaeda was a threat to the United States, we’d known it for years.

What we didn’t know about Iraq was whether or not it was a threat. What we did know was that its ties to Al Qaeda were tenuous and none of the intelligence about its WMD programs was confirmable. This is why all us doves supported inspections. We didn’t know whether or not Iraq was a threat, and attacking a country that doesn’t pose a threat isn’t being strong in the face of uncertainty, it’s being foolish. If the inspections were allowed to continue, we would’ve seen that Saddam didn’t have anything and that war was unnecessary in this case.

I agree with DaBrooks that the world is uncertain and vague and that every now and then you just have to make a decision and live with consequences. When those consequences are thousands of lives lost, however, there is an obligation to the human race and to the country you govern to resolve as much of that ambiguity as possible. The Bush administration did not try to resolve the ambiguity; they tried to eliminate it with a campaign of half-truths, conspiracy theories, and flight of fancy fed to them by a group of exiles who had publicly stated that they were using the United States to do their dirty work for them.

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