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Where the Equation Is Off

Minute Particulars Mark, with whom I had strong disagreement about the war on Iraq before the fact, begins a post today with an admirably balanced and intelligent passage:

Unless you are privy to intelligence information common citizens don't have access to or part of a well-connected investigative team with the time and resources necessary to track down these things, the debate about whether there were really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the quantity and quality of such weapons if they were present, and the role they may have played in convincing various leaders to go to war is, well, a debate that's a bit futile.

Think of it this way: let's say your neighborhood newspaper runs a local story that you want to verify. You probably could track down who said what, when, and where since you might be able to actually talk to the folks involved or go and see for yourself. But it would still be difficult and take more time than you probably have. In this context, something as international and cloaked in secrecy as the existence of WMDs in Iraq is likely too big and far away to get a complete handle on; certainly there's not much an ordinary citizen can dredge up on his or her own. And, really, would any of us actually know a weapon of mass destruction if we saw some satellite photos of one or stubbed our toe on it? At some point we all have to trust somebody on these issues, as on most issues of any importance, beyond our little patch of reality.

I also agree that finding an alternate justification for an action after the fact does not thereby make having taken the action moral. However, that's where the underlying differences that we had about the war begin to surface. Consider:

One way to shake out where we all really stand is to put forth a relevant but hypothetical situation, a situation about which we can indeed know the details. Let's say we invade a country for one reason, let's call it reason A, and discover after our invasion that reason A actually didn't pertain, (we might call this reaction OOPS); but let's also posit that we discover circumstances that present us with another reason, let's call it B, that would have been just as valid a reason as A was had we only known it prior to invading. In fact, A and B, while substantially different, seem to have equal moral weight and urgency. Now then, does the discovery of reason B after our invasion justify our invasion even if we had vehemently stated prior to attacking that we were doing so based on reason A?

To the extent that Mark equates this scenario with the war in Iraq, he has created a false representation of the argument for war. To simplify, the war had justifications A, B, and C. Post facto, A proved more harrowing than even the advocates for war expected, B proved just about as vague-but-real as was reasonable to hope, and C has proven to require more than a couple months to explore. Nonetheless, a less immediate, but no less critical, degree of C can already be reasonably claimed.

As silly as the lettering system may look, its inherent clarity is extremely useful in such instances. Unfortunately, in this case, that clarity exposes something about which I've been disappointed of late: that really, truly intelligent people have, for whatever reason, seemed prone to constructing inadequate models to present this particular argument in "more objective" ways that skew to their conclusions.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:47 PM EST

1 Comment

Your analysis of the inadequacy of Mark's analogy is quite correct. I am amazed at how (willfully?) obtuse some people are being about this WASH business. (War Against Saddam Hussein)

ELC @ 06/12/2003 10:35 PM EST