Friday, July 15, 2005

AM (part 2, addendum): Government By Flattery

Last night I brought up the concept of "epistemological relativism," which I defined as an ideologically-driven pattern of selective attention to only those facts that support one's case. To stem any confusion between this concept and a normal disagreement with full consideration of all relevant information, a few detailed examples are in order.

(1) Citing established but inapplicable facts when the relevant evidence is inconvenient.
On Sept. 7, meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David, Bush told reporters: "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied, finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA -- that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."

The IAEA did issue a report in 1998, around the time weapons inspectors were denied access to Iraq for the final time, but the report made no such assertion. It declared: "Based on all credible information to date, the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material." The report said Iraq had been six to 24 months away from nuclear capability before the 1991 Gulf War.
Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2002

(2) Directing intelligence departments to find information that supports one's goals rather than to search for the truth.
SEPTEMBER 2001 – WHITE HOUSE CREATES OFFICE TO CIRCUMVENT INTEL AGENCIES: The Pentagon creates the Office of Special Plans "in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true-that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States…The rising influence of the Office of Special Plans was accompanied by a decline in the influence of the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. bringing about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community." The office, hand-picked by the Administration, specifically "cherry-picked intelligence that supported its pre-existing position and ignoring all the rest" while officials deliberately "bypassed the government's customary procedures for vetting intelligence." [Sources: New Yorker, 5/12/03; Atlantic Monthly, 1/04; New Yorker, 10/20/03]

Center for American Progress, January 28, 2004

On Jan. 24, 2003, four days before President Bush delivered his State of the Union address presenting the case for war against Iraq, the National Security Council staff put out a call for new intelligence to bolster claims that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or programs.
Washington Post, May 22, 2005

(3) Bullying, marginalizing, or firing subordinates for disagreeing with the party line.
Senators questioned Carl W. Ford Jr., former chief of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, about allegations that Bolton tried to have analyst Christian Westermann reassigned because the analyst did not agree with the undersecretary's views on Cuba.

Bolton had planned to say in a May 2002 speech to the Heritage Foundation that Cuba had a secret bioweapons program, but Westermann would not approve the language used until it reflected more ambiguous intelligence assessments.


Ford told the panel he later had a heated discussion with Bolton about the matter.

"I left that meeting with the perception that I had been asked for the first time to fire an intelligence analyst for what he had said and done," Ford recalled., April 12, 2005

Notice that there's no discussion, no weighing of contrary evidence followed by an informed decision--just directives to deliver only "helpful" evidence, "creative" interpretations of the facts, and removal of dissenters. This is not government by reason; it's government by flattery.