The Frontal Cortex

Visiting Iraq

There’s been a bit of controversy over John McCain’s recent remarks suggesting that Baghdad was much safer than conventional media descriptions suggest. “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods,” McCain said, before castigating Baghdad reporters for not “getting out more”.

McCain was part of a Congressional delegation visiting Iraq. At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that these visits are rather useless. They aren’t serious fact-finding missions. Instead, they are little more than dangerous photo-ops. Congressmen don’t go to Iraq to learn about Iraq. They go to Iraq so that they might cite their “first-hand experience” in Iraq as supporting their position, regardless of what their position actually is. It’s the worst kind of confirmation bias.

I certainly wish our politicians were a little more interested in empiricism, or at least showed a bit more flexibility when determining their beliefs. (I’m convinced that all politicians should have to sit through a mandatory lecture on Bayesian reasoning.) McCain manages to spin the fact that only a hundred soldiers (and a few Apache helicopters) were needed to secure a marketplace as evidence of Baghdad’s safety. That’s just sheer stubbornness. I’d be curious what evidence would lead to McCain to admit that Baghdad wasn’t safe. Are his beliefs even falsifiable at this point?

Of course, if the surge does show some signs of progress, then how long will it take Democrats to admit that the progress is real? Hopefully, they’ll be a little bit better than Republicans at adjusting their beliefs to reflect the changing facts on the ground. It’s hard to imagine how they could be any worse. Here’s the Times:

Visits to Iraq have become a required part of the political wardrobe for lawmakers hoping to be taken seriously in the debate over the future of the war.

Over the past two months, as lawmakers have debated the supplemental spending bill for the war and the troop buildup, they have brought up their trips again and again, wielding their experiences as rhetorical weapons to bolster their case.

According to the Pentagon, as of mid-March, 365 members of Congress had visited the country since May 2003, when Mr. Bush declared the end of major combat operations. But it is unclear just how illuminating the trips have been.

The duration and scope of Congressional visits are tightly controlled. Lawmakers from opposing parties often travel together, but draw opposite conclusions from the same trip on the war’s progress. And while lawmakers say they are deeply moved by their experiences, they almost always return with their previous convictions firmly reinforced.

“I was there in Iraq,” Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, said several weeks ago while detailing her reasons for opposing Mr. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 additional troops to the region.

Rising in support of the president’s strategy, Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, said he spoke as “one who has been there.” [He made his fifth trip over the weekend].

Comments

  1. #1 tinisoli
    April 4, 2007

    McCain is in la-la land, which he exiled himself to after calculating that his best shot at winning the GOP nomination is to be the “maverick” who isn’t calling for troop withdrawal or bashing Bush. His photo-op and ludicrous comments from Iraq revealed that he is either adept at lying or Dubya-like in his delusions about the viability of waging a war within a war. And he also looked very very old.

  2. #2 The Ridger
    April 4, 2007

    Petraeus was just asked by Jim Lehrer point-blank about the security around McCain, and his answer was that he thought it was “pretty routine” and the same thing that happened when he went there because “after all you never want to lose a senior senator or a force commander”. He’s as out of touch as the rest of the people involved in this…

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