Saturday, March 10, 2007

Facts Are Your Friend

From time to time, we all encounter folks who hold opinions that strike us as a bit toward the under-informed side. This is quite understandable, really, because most of the news presented by the mainstream media is context-free, or more accurately, wrapped in a context defined by (1) politics and (2) a perpetual state of amoral, values-free conflict.

Propaganda, in other words. Which is just the way the news media likes it.

But for those of us who use facts and context -- a.k.a, reality -- to inform our world views, these encounters can be frustrating. There are few things worse than some fairly innocuous comment in a social setting leading to some emotion-charged, illogical, confrontational argument that goes in circles. So, many of us, perhaps wisely, tend to shy away from even bringing up these "radioactive" topics that we know are likely to lead us down that path.

But it is my contention that, even with all those potential downsides, we all lose out on valuable social interaction that could help us become wiser, better-informed citizens, and that we can use this new knowledge to inform public debates, and then to make better policy decisions.

Never going to happen, I realize. Too many people live in fantasy land - yesterday I saw a book by Neal Boortz where he says 50% of the population is too dumb to vote, or something like that, and I gotta tell ya, that is pretty hard to refute. One could make the case that paying any attention at all to the mainstream media should render one ineligible.

What good does it do me to watch the news, or read the front page of the paper any more? I can count both factual errors and contextual errors in nearly every article I read these days, and not just tiny insignificant ones either.

Yet, in social discourse, we are encouraged to "keep the peace" and avoid certain topics. Like, politics, and especially, the war.

It seems that some of us think we are all better off in our own little worlds, impervious to the power and meaning of the ideas we carry with us. Even if those ideas are factually, provably, wrong.

In other words, according to this view, we are better off being spoon-fed news, about transitory, mostly meaningless events, that lack factual and historical context. Mostly because we are too busy, probably, to pay enough attention, and to seek out the proper sources, to inform our world views.

Which, you know, makes me ask, what makes you think you need to hold opinions on things that you don't have enough time and energy to investigate in the first place? That's like asking a four year old what kind of car to buy.

Are such opinions, not grounded in factual knowledge about the subject at hand, worth holding? And if one is shown factual evidence that demonstrates beyond a doubt that those opinions are simply wrong, should we allow people to act as if none of that factual evidence carries any weight?

Wouldn't one be better off reserving judgment on matters that one is clearly not qualified to judge?

For instance, Iraq and the WMD issue.

How many people who raise questions about the lack of WMD found in Iraq can tell you how many United Nations Security Council resolutions were passed in the years after the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, in a bid to nail down their biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs? The answer is 17. Seventeen times, the overfed diplomats met in New York City arriving via limousine at catered meetings to attempt to solve sticky issues halfway around the world. Is this any indication that "the process is working"?

How many people are aware that Iraq repeatedly chose confrontation over cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors, finally kicking them out in late 98? And that Iraq was free to do whatever it wanted after that time, until it relucatantly allowed inspectors back in in late 2002, and then only because of the threat of war led by President Bush?

How many people are aware that many of those suprise weapons inspections often resulted in having to wait at the front door for minutes or hours, only to encounter freshly scrubbed facilities smelling of bleach? Odd, isn't it? Does this suggest compliance, or deceit, to you?

How many people are aware that the official U.S. policy towards Iraq was one of regime change, well before Bush was elected?

How many people are aware that one of the weapons inspectors, Scott Ritter, completely changed his stance regarding Iraq from 1998 to 2003, from "hawk" to "dove", and in an amazing coincidence, was paid $400k to help promote a movie made to enhance Iraq's image in the West during that time?

How many people are aware that we were putting our forces at risk every day in the Northern and Southern No-Fly Zones, to protect the Kurds and Shiites who had been slaughtered repeatedly with helicopter gunships and bombers over a period of decades, and that this protection was by U.N. mandate? So we get to risk our personnel and equipment, in a perpetual state of tension and passivity.

How many people are aware that the Oil For Food Program, another feckless U.N. attempt to contribute somehow, was corrupt, and was providing off-the-books cash to Saddam Hussein, freeing him to do anything he wanted with it, such as restart weapons programs, since the inspectors were out of the country?

How many people are aware that many chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are so close in chemical composition to chemical weapons that they are considered "dual use" and therefore can be manufactured legally even by a nation under U.N.S.C. watch? And that Iraq bought plenty of the raw materials to make these?

How many people are aware that numerous Iraqi defectors told U.S. de-briefers about a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak (near Baghdad) that was run by a combination of Iraqi Intelligence and Al-Qaeda, and trained terrorists for years, and that it included a parked Boeing passenger airliner for training to take control of an aircraft without guns or knives?

How many people are aware that nearly all of Iraq's weapons were supplied by Russia, China, and France? And that some of these were illegal because of the strict sanctions applied by the U.N.S.C.? Anybody remember who the biggest roadblocks on the Security Council were? Russia. China. And France.

How many people are aware that satellites spotted a massive movement of semi-trucks out of Iraq and into Syria just days before the U.S. launched war in Iraq, and that various sources claim that much of this was WMD contraband smuggled out of the country by Russia, since it would have proven Russian complicity in banned weapons? As for what might have become of this material, bet on the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, under Syrian or Hamas control. And later, in Iraq: "hey, look, no WMD stockpiles! Bush is a liar!"

And I am just starting to scratch the surface here. There is lots more, once you start digging.

So I would posit that it is readily apparent, to all those with an open mind, that after examining all this evidence, it is at least feasible that Saddam Hussein was gaming the system to enhance his own power in both the Middle East (always the primary objective in that region) and the world. And various others have taken this position well before me, it is hardly my idea. Yet it gets zero attention in the mainstream media.

One might wonder why.

No matter what your politics, the fact that none of this information is provided in any article, ever, about Bush or WMD or justifications for war is a very sad state of affairs. Knowledge is power, and conversely, ignorance is weakness.

It is easy to look back now and offer armchair criticism about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the facts, as history will show, supported it, despite protestations by the Congress that it was misled, or that intel was cherry-picked, or that Bush flat out lied.

Here's what I think: The Left is just mad that Bush dared do anything about it at all, since doing nothing, while discussing it ad nauseum, is their preferred position.

It's always easier to sit in the darkened theatre and yell insults at the performers than to get up on the stage and take a risk. But when you're done, all you are is a spectator, instead of an actor. It takes guts to be an actor.

So there it is: my dangerous and scary opinions. Based on information. And analysis. And Eyes Wide Open.

Now, that wasn't so bad, was it? :-)