Wednesday, October 9, 2002

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COCOONS AND WAR: Kausfiles makes

COCOONS AND WAR: Kausfiles makes an excellent observation on the tendency for both liberals and conservatives to interpret information selectively. Click here for more on the liberal cocoon; it's the conservative cocoon that worries me.

Kaus argues that conservatives tend to explain away all negative information that comes from New York Times as a product of liberal media bias. This can be dangerous if the information happens to be accurate on a fairly regular basis. Assume that half of what is in the Times is liberal exaggeration. That still leaves half that is dead-on accurate. To give an example: there are excellent reasons to discount the Times' interpretation of their Monday poll, but as Kaus himself points out, there are nuggets of accurate information in the article.

This leads to today's NYT report on the CIA assessment of Iraq's intentions and capabilities. It demands close scrutiny.

The article accurately captures the CIA assessment that Saddam Hussein is capable of being deterred from using weapons of mass destruction, unless he thinks the U.S. is going to attack, in which case the intelligence estimate is that there is a "pretty high" chance he'd use those weapons. In other words, the probability of a WMD attack against the United States increases if we launch an assault. This is a powerful argument against launching an attack, and a hurdle that the president needs to clear in order to justify the use of force: why is an invasion of Iraq worth the increased likelihood of an attempted WMD attack against the United States? Conservatives might be tempted to discount this information, because of the sources -- New York Times and the CIA. That would be a mistake.

On the other hand, if you read the full text of the CIA's letter to the Senate, you see both the tendency towards liberal media bias, and a possible answer to the question posed in the previous graf. The final section of the letter details the CIA's assessment of the links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. To quote:

"¶We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.

¶Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.

¶Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

¶We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.

¶Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of relationship with Al Qaeda. suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action." (my italics)

Until now, I had not given much credence to the argument that Iraq and Al Qaeda were linked, but the CIA assessment suggests otherwise. Substantively, this is the argument for an attack sooner rather than later -- the longer we wait, the more likely that Saddam will export W.M.D. to terrorists of the death-to-America persuasion. [What about the realists assertion that since Iraq is secular while Al Qaeda consists of Islamic fundamentalists, they would never cooperate?--ed. Bull. Realists assume that actors balance against the greater threat. The U.S. is the greatest threat to both Iraq and Al Qaeda at the moment. Realism would conclude that cooperation between the two actors is a foregone conclusion.] An attack now carries significant risks, but a failure to purge Iraq of weapons of mass destruction carries even greater risks. To conduct that purge, the U.S. and U.N. must be ready to attack.

Consistent with the assumption of liberal media bias, the Times story had seven paragraphs on the greater threat of an Iraqi response, but only one graf on the Iraq/Al-Qaeda link. That's better than the Washington Post story, which does not mention those links.

My point: the CIA letter contains information for and against an attack; both pieces of information need to be incorporated into the current debate.

posted by Dan on 10.09.02 at 10:33 AM