September 07, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Bush wants the Iraq war to continue on for years because he believes that if America stays and stays and stays, eventually the bad guys will call it quits and Bush will be vindicated. Thursday, KQED's Michael Krasny discussed the upcoming Petraeus report which seeks to keep us trapped in Bush's war with several guests:

  • Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, an organization focusing on terrorism
  • Mark Danner, New Yorker staff writer and professor at UC Berkeley and Bard College
  • Megan Greenwell, staff writer at the Washington Post currently in Baghdad
  • Barbara Lee, congresswoman from California's 9th District

Clifford May spent his time on the air to strongly make three right-wing talking points: 1) the surge is working, 2) we're fighting and winning against Al Qaeda, and 3) if we leave the world is doomed horrific things will happen.

I hate the fact that Forum is on while I'm at work because it seems to me that we absolutely have to have stronger callers disputing the garbage that these war-mongers spew over our airwaves.

If I had had a chance to challenge Mr. Mays, I would have asked him what evidence he has that Bush's surge is doing anything about Al Qaeda or that Al Qaeda is responsible for all the bad things happening in Iraq. Because May had supposedly been listening to Megan Greenwell when she explained how the various tribal chiefs were accusing their rivals of being Al Qaeda when in actuality, neither had anything to do with Al Qaeda. And, of course, it would have been an even more effective program if Andrew Tilghman, former reporter for Stars and Stripes and author of The Myth of AQI could have challenged the war-mongering and fact-challenged Mr. Mays.

The only reason the rightwingers continue to use Al Qaeda in their arguments is because that is the only way they can inject sufficient quantities of fear into the debate. The most extreme rightwingers are absolutely hysterical about how scary the Islamic terrorists are and believe that we are only days away from being taken over by those incredibly powerful devils. (One wonders if they actually believe what they are saying or if they just like having such a good way to bully the public.)

Next week General Petraeus will come before the Congress with his lies, damned lies and statistics to convince the Congress that we must continue to support George Bush's war. Most Americans think the Iraq war has been an abject failure and don't see that there is any reason to be in this war. Yet, Bush's Potemkin war on terror appears to be winning the hearts and minds of too many of the key players, including Rep. Baird (D-WA). But the problem is the Bush administration has been conducting a propaganda war which pollutes the data that we need to use to make good decisions.

It is dangerous to have lies be the basis of our policies. If we don't really understand the problem, we absolutely will not be able to find a solution. In 2004, I wrote about the danger of using deceptive language as the basis for finding answers to our problems.

The problem is not simply that lying is morally wrong; it is also dangerous for the country. If you want to get answers to hard problems, one essential requirement is to ask the right questions. If you ask the wrong questions, the likelihood of getting a good answer is close to zero. Scientists are known to say, by clearly understanding the problem, you are half way to finding a solution. When one uses language that is deceitful, the policies that are proposed are also suspect. When the Bush administration decided to sell the war on Iraq as a part of the War on Terror, they created a nightmare for our troops and for the ordinary Iraqis who are now living in a chaotic, war-torn country. They also created the cesspool of Abu Ghraib where soldiers believing that the prisoners in their power were terrorists or had information about terrorists, were given the green light to indulge in torture and sadism because terrorists are evil. Americans will feel the consequences of Bush’s war of choice justified with lies for years, if not decades.

The danger we face is that all our numbers, all our statistics are based on dubious data. The Iraq mess is a terrible problem that only can be resolved or mitigated by real data, an honest assessment of where we are, and a vigorous debate about how we can possibly weave a trail to escape the conflagration that threatens to consume us.

Update: Josh also remarks on the fact that there are no reliable statistics to be found.

Posted by Mary at September 7, 2007 09:13 AM | War on Terrorism | TrackBack(0) | Technorati links |

If you ever look at The Brookings Institution's Saban report (done by O'Hanlon, et. al.), please explain to me where they get those stats from. They explain absolutely nothing about the methodology they use, and the footnotes are endless strings of references to news articles that aren't even formatted in such a way that you can read them. Do they add up all the numbers in the news reports? Do they cross reference them in any way to ensure that they aren't counting people twice?

I'm starting to realize that "think tank" is another oxymoron.

Posted by: Cujo359 at September 7, 2007 03:20 PM