Explosives, Round 3

Ding, ding:

Look, I don't know what happened to these explosives, and I'm pretty sure Ed Brayton doesn't either. But my point was not about what happened to them. My point was about whether it is fair to declare this as an example of alleged incompetence in the White House. Once again, without having the evidence at hand, with at least plausible alternative explanations for these missing weapons, Brayton leaps onto the Kerry explanation like a starving man on a steak--without pausing even to ask whether it is technically feasible for anyone to have kept track of this particular site.

Well, the reality is that I don't think we do have a plausible alternative explanation, and I addressed all the reasons why in my last post. The administration has given several explanations, none of them reasonable. They've played up hugely the statement by the NBC reporter without bothering to say that she in fact said that there was no search, just a few soldiers wandering off on their own - in a complex with over a hundred buildings and who knows how many bunkers. I did pause to ask if it's feasible to keep track of this particular site and concluded that it's not feasible NOT to keep track of it. We kept track of it throughout the year building up to the invasion, by the administration's admission. We knew it was one of Hussein's largest munitions factories and storage facilities. They thought there were chemical weapons there and they sent troops there as quickly as possible after the war started and there were immediately reports there on the fact that they found chemical weapons suits and anti-chemical serums there, but no chemical weapons. And of course, we knew that there was this enormous store of explosives there because it was in all the IAEA reports and we knew it was sealed. It's hardly conceivable that they would not keep track of the facility with air and satellite surveillance and then, once we went in, by guarding the facility to prevent looting. But in fact, that appears to be exactly what they did not do. Hence, the charge of incompetence. None of this substantive argument for my conclusion was addressed by Sandefur in his reply to me, he just continues to imply that my conclusion isn't reasonable. I think I've more than adequately defended that conclusion as not only reasonable, but almost inevitable.

It should also be said here that my conclusion also rests at least partly on past performance. The Bush administration HAS been thoroughly incompetent in its execution of the war and the post-war occupation. I have documented this in multiple posts, none of which have ever been disputed factually by Mr. Sandefur. Given this record of incompetence, admitted to even by staunch supporters of the war, many of whom are bitterly disappointed in the administrations bungling of the occupation (also admitted to by innumerable former Pentagon and administration officials who have documented them in enormous detail), is it really unreasonable to reach the conclusion that this is yet another example of that incompetence? I certainly don't think so. And Sandefur hasn't really offered any arguments that might lead to that conclusion. So for now, at least, I think I can safely rely on the fact that the evidence is on my side both in the long term and the short term.

Also, Mr. Brayton finally says that for John Edwards to promise that the lame will walk again if Kerry is elected president, was "a major exaggeration." An exaggeration! That's a perfect term for it. John Edwards said that people like Christopher Reeve will rise up out of their wheelchairs and walk again if John Kerry is elected president, and this is...an exaggeration. Not a lie, not contemptible pandering, not a disgusting absurdity, but an exaggeration.

Yes, I think exaggeration is exactly the right word for it. Sandefur and I agree on the issue of stem cell research, and in fact he has praised my writing on this issue only a couple weeks ago. He would no doubt agree that Bush's policy has slowed down the research greatly, and for no rational purpose whatsoever. He would no doubt agree that if Kerry lifts the Bush restrictions, that research would be spurred much faster than is currently happening. And he would no doubt agree that stem cell research offers a great deal of promise for curing the kind of spinal cord injury that Christopher Reeve had. So at the very least we should be able to agree that Kerry's position means people may well get up out of their wheelchairs sooner than with Bush's position. Ergo, it's an exaggeration. He should have put the word "sooner" in there and the statement would have been pretty accurate. This hardly seems like the kind of thing to be throwing a fit about. It was a dumb thing to say the way he said it, but it was hardly a ridiculous thing to say.

I think the real problem here, the real disagreement, is that Sandefur insists that anything I say that might be bad about Bush has something to do with my support for Kerry, someone I do not support. That's why he says that I immediately accepted "the Kerry explanation". But in fact my conclusions have nothing whatsoever to do with Kerry. I haven't seen what Kerry has said about the explosives (though I imagine he is making political hay out of them, as well he should), and I don't really care what he has said about them. My conclusions, based on the evidence that I have laid out in great detail, none of which has been denied by Sandefur, have nothing to do with Kerry. My conclusions about the incompetence with which the administration has executed the war and occupation have nothing to do with Kerry, and they are shared by a great many people who, like me, also don't support Kerry.

If you want to accuse me of despising Bush and his administration and of focusing most of my attention on them, I'll happily plead guilty to that. Hell, I pled guilty to that months ago. I think Bush is the single worst president of my lifetime (unless you want to put LBJ in "my lifetime", since he was out of office a year after I was born - and even then, at least LBJ has some real achievements to point to which might in some way balance out the obvious disasters of the rest of his administration, where Bush has none). Bush represents pretty much everything I despise in politics - he's ignorant and appears to have great confidence despite that fact; he's simpleminded; he's corrupt as hell, constantly seeking to destroy anyone who dares to tell the truth he wants revealed; he is mindlessly stubborn, refusing to change policies that have obviously failed; he panders to the most bigoted and repressive elements of the religious right. What exactly is there to like?

Now, I could also give a similar rundown on Kerry, and I have many times. Kerry is the embodiment of everything that is empty in our political system. He doesn't appear to have any core principles whatsoever; he makes politically expedient votes (like for the war in Iraq, and for the Patriot Act, both votes given because he didn't want to appear "soft" on terrorism) and then flips to the opposite position and pretends he was consistent; he appears to have lived his entire life for the sole purpose of becoming President; he's been in the Senate for 20 years and accomplished virtually nothing; he has mastered the modern political art of talking forever and saying nothing. In short, he's a political vapor. I've said all of those things many times, and no one has ever accused me of accepting "the Bush explanation" or of having a pro-Bush bias, because my opinions do not fit into that simple little dichotomy where there are only two choices.

Both candidates suck, but that doesn't mean they suck in precisely the same ways. Yes, I do think that the Bush campaign team plays a lot dirtier than the Kerry team but that doesn't mean that Kerry's team doesn't play dirty. And again, this has nothing to do with a pro-Kerry bias. You should hear my Republican campaign consultant friend talk about Rove, you'd think he was talking about Darth Vader. Rove is the dirtiest player in the business, and that is admitted to by those IN the business, including Republicans. And the other big difference is that, while both sides lie and pander, Bush lies and panders to what I consider to be the worst and most dangerous elements in our political system, the theocratic right. So on balance, I do think one is worse than the other. But I sure as hell don't think that one is bad and therefore the other must be good.

Less poker, more objectivity!

LOL. Okay, that's really funny. I do think it's important that my readers, a couple of whom have come down unduly hard on Sandefur while taking my side in our frequent disagreements, recognize that all of this is done in good humor. Yes, he and I do have some intellectual disagreements, particularly on this election, but there is far more that we agree on. If you read both blogs (and if you don't, shame on you), you'll see how often we both link to something the other has written and praise it. Timothy is a first class writer and thinker, and a really good guy too. I suspect that both of us take a little bit of wicked fun in busting each other's balls in one of the few areas where we disagree. And the fact is, I take his criticism seriously. I'm not immune to overstatement and rationalization, nor is he, and I expect my friends to tell me I'm wrong if they think I am. I may not agree with their criticisms, but I'm actually glad they get made. It's an opportunity for dialogue and debate, and I'm not arrogant enough to think that I can't learn something from my friends.

Postscript: You really must go to his blog and click on the story about his girlfriend singing on an airplane. Absolutely hilarious.


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You are an example to us all Ed. You state your case forcefully, but take criticism cheerfully. That's the way it should be.

An observation: the word "bias" keeps coming up in Tim's criticisms of your position. It has always seemed to me that when people don't want to deal with my facts directly, they accuse me of bias. If I ask them if they have failed to refute my facts because they are biased against them (reciprocity in argumentation), the conversation has a tendancy to terminate. Sometimes the other person will then go and make an effort to find refutations of my facts, and then come back to me. But usually not. Accusations of bias are often the last refuge of a weak argument.

Tim is constantly accusing you of bias against Bush, while failing to deal with your facts. Is he biased in favor of Bush? I don't expect you to answer that question, but maybe Tim should.

By Perry Willis (not verified) on 27 Oct 2004 #permalink

"You are an example to us all Ed. You state your case forcefully, but take criticism cheerfully. That's the way it should be."

As long as he keeps wearing his steel jock ...


eon wrote: "As long as he keeps wearing his steel jock ..."

Oh, is that how he does it? How clever of him. ;)

By Perry Willis (not verified) on 27 Oct 2004 #permalink

I think you overstate the case quite a bit. I'm actually known to be fairly short-tempered with criticism, especially if it comes from someone I don't respect. But this is not one of those cases. I have great respect for Timothy, so I respond differently than if the criticism came from some random yahoo. And it's not that I think he's totally offbase, just mostly. I am biased against Bush, at least in the sense that I really do not care for his administration at all and I think he embodies much that I really despise about our political system. That does make me biased, and it does make me prone to seizing on those things that agree with my views as just more evidence of the same. That's a very normal human tendency and I'm not immune to it. But that's the kind of bias everyone has, and it doesn't mean that I'm not right. And on this one, I think the evidence is pretty squarely on my side. We don't know for sure what happened to the explosives, but we do know that we should know what happened to them, and that the administration has now peddled, and thereafter backpeddled, multiple contradictory stories and tried to cover up the fact that they have known about this for at least 16 months now. So my conclusions on this clearly are reasonable and therefore accusations of bias just don't matter much. If I'm wrong, tell me why I'm wrong, don't just claim I'm biased so you don't have to address my reasons.

Exactly. Everyone is biased in favor of their own views. So the real question is who has the better facts to support their views. I think you do in this case.

Bias may explain why someone got their facts wrong, but bias is not itself and argument for or against anything.

By Perry Willis (not verified) on 27 Oct 2004 #permalink