Friday, February 07, 2003

I suppose if I still worried about anyone who reads the blog I might feel a bit guilty that I am consumed with a single topic, but...(OK, the 2 posts that immediately follow this are whimsical so if my inability to ignore actual events bores you, move on. (Believe me, I do everything humanly possible to avoid the real...I seem to have no choice at the moment, though.

I title this: The chances of being physically assaulted in your lifetime are 1 in 10. So let's all start carrying grenades around, shall we?

Isn't it that: The country has to be a potential aggresor. Not that it would be an aggresor. Not that 'if I was that country I would be an agressor...' Or: That country wishes it could be an aggresor. Or: They're bad. They're just bad, that's all!, etc.

The country has to be a potential aggresor. Moreover, the country has to be a threat to your own country if the primary justification you use for war is your own national security.

You could use other justifications--but this is the current one going (it may change next week but it is the current one).

Why? Because you are going to kill people. You are going to kill a lot of people and spend billions of dollars. You are furthermore going to affect the lives--dramatically, irrevocably--of millions of people without their consent and--for the most part--contrary to their express wishes. People in Iraq. People in the region. In fact, you affect the world.

I said below many of the 'dangerousness' arguments are very speculative. But this is countered by the following reasoning: ..."...if your worry is along the lines of what Rumsfeld is saying--another major attack on the U.S., possibly with biological or chemical weapons--and you look at the consequences of September 11th, then the equation of risk changes. You have to be prepared to go forward with a lot lower level of confidence in the evidence you have. A fifty percent chance of such an attack happening is so terrible that it changes the calculation of risk..." (Quote from Gates, former CIA director under Bush in Feb. 10th edition of the New Yorker: "The Unknown."

This is a link to Goldberg's article. Goldberg's general view seems to be that the CIA, the NSA, the defense department has somehow--due to the genius of Tenet and Rumsfeld--found a way around the fact that they know so little and can be sure of so little. The solution? A much wider set of speculation. The assumption that virtually anything could happen at any time. The view that threat is everywhere. Consider, however, that this 'intelligence strategy' is supposed to justify foreign policy. The worry that mere guessing will itself be dangerous does not seem to have crossed their minds.

Read between the lines in the quote above: "If we assume a biological and chemical attack..." First, is it likely that Iraq could bomb us with chemical weapons or biological weapons? (Notice that the nuclear bomb theory has been dropped. What happened to that argument?)

No. In fact, it is impossible for them to do so. They cannot bomb us.

However, terrorists could utilize chemicals or biological agents in relatively small quantities within the U.S.. Yes, they could kill people. And yes, they would create havoc and this would have an effect on many--particularly those within the U.S. (and those subject to the U.S.'s scattershot backlash.) The rate of death would be low--but the level of fear and anxiety would be high.

The reasonable thing to say here is: Well, obviously what this requires is not a war but rather very extensive defensive measures within the country.

Can't you just imagine Rumsfeld saying Oh, that's too difficult. A war is much more efficient.

Yes...I see...A war: A gigantic action which will have millions of unintended consequences (the 'blowback') and whose outcome in terms of these consequences cannot be anticipated is a much more prudential course of action.

With respect to 'blowback' I refer you to the CIA's intervention in Iran in the 1950's. Read: a history of folly

Is this absurd reasoning? What happened to ordinary logic, the calculation of probabilities based on what sort of outcomes you might have, the idea that human lives have roughly the same weight regardless of nationality, the fact that insecurity and worry weigh very little when measured against widespread death and destruction?

Further, our primary concern with respect to national security is not Iraq...The whole of Iraq could vanish in a puff of smoke and our problems would be entirely the same.

It boggles the mind. The CIA and NSA virtually admit in this article (although the tone of it is actually quite positive) that they simply lack information and are going with the 'best guess' based on hundreds of unproven and unprovable hypotheses.

So here is the reasoning in a nutshell:
(1) We imagine the worst thing we possibly can
(2) Because it is so bad, we assign the highest level of probability to the possibility of its happening--although we are genuinely uncertain of its likelihood, we play it safe by assuming it is likely.
(3) Given the fact that this thing is so bad we decide that a low level of probability is sufficient to license us to act.
(4) Given that the thing is so bad we decide that--even though many of the actions we contemplate also have a low level of probability of success in protecting us from the bad thing--we believe we should perform them because any level of probability of success suggests we should try them.
(5) We go ahead with the action.

I'm not going to bother to analyze just how incredibly stupid this is in detail. You should notice that one of the main problems with it--perhaps the thing that makes it the most stupid is that there is a failure to measure the bad consequences of the action against the bad consequences of inaction.

The idea seems to be that any action will be better than no action. It is 'safer.'

Suppose you have a reason to suspect that someone wants to murder you in the indefinite future. The above reasoning is fine when it comes to locking your doors at night--there are few bad consequences of that. However, it is certainly not true--e.g.--of putting land mines on the walkway to your house and throughout the front yard. Yes, you may prevent a murderer from breaking in. Yet, even if you do not expect visitors it is obvious the land-mine solution is unwise for many reasons.

A less sympathetic view: (1) We assume something that cannot conceivably occur might occur because it is within the realm of physical possibility. (2) We decide that if this thing occurred it would be so horrible that we must act (3) We then perform an action which--on every reasonable measure--will be extremely destructive and have many unintended consequences which may be as horrible as the thing which we are trying to prevent.

It's enough to make you weep with frustration simply because of how completely fallacious the reasoning is.

Then you realize the reasoning means nothing because in fact it amounts to a lie. Perhaps a self-deceptive lie? Perhaps a lie that the main actors here regard as the truth. But a lie nevertheless.

Then you tear your hair out.

Then you realize that it is not merely a case of bad reasoning but of the intention to commit what is--at the least--a kind of manslaughter of thousands of innocent persons.

You rend your clothing.

Then you realize that it is not merely them who will suffer--Iraqi civilians, the people who joined the U.S. army to get 'money for college,' the soldiers in Iraq who have no choice but to fight--but you and the people you love. (Less than they, of course, but your life will not be the same).

For example,
--You won't be safe anymore. Your country--and your travels--will become far, far more dangerous perhaps for the rest of your life.
--The people you love are no longer safe.
--You won't ever be morally secure. You will always know that your fellow citizens and you have blood on your hands. Maybe not from what you did...but others died and it spattered. (In moments of lightheartedness, I feel guilty and foolish. Who am I to be lighthearted...when someone else has to be afraid?)
--The great wealth that accumulated due to the recent prosperity is squandered--for years again--Your hopes for improving the social fabric of your own country go down the drain.

And then you are afraid.


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