Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Subjects were right to doubt a CIA report

In 2003 Pres. G.W. Bush asked the US Congress and the UN to authorize war against Iraq. The main reasons given were that Iraq had WND programs in the past, and had not complied with UN resolutions and inspections. The concern was that Iraq would develop either chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

A widely reported 2006 social science study found:
When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions
by Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler

An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions. Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.
Their best example was giving subjects quotes about Bush, Iraq, and WMD to convince them that Iraq had WMD, and then later giving them a CIA report saying that no WMD were found in Iraq:
In other words, the correction backfired – conservatives who received a correction telling them that Iraq did not have WMD were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD than those in the control condition.
The study did not actually ask the subjects to explain their reasoning. The researchers say that is a waste of time, because psychology research shows that people are too dumb to know why they believe what they do.

This appeared to be convincing evidence that some conservatives just irrationally believe what they want to believe in spite of the facts, because only the craziest conspiracy theorist would claim that the Bush administration covered up the WMD evidence that would vindicate its war theory.

But a NY Times story last month says exactly that. The CIA found WND in Iraq and covered it up:
The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.

The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

The effort was run out of the C.I.A. station in Baghdad in collaboration with the Army’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion and teams of chemical-defense and explosive ordnance disposal troops, officials and veterans of the units said. Many rockets were in poor condition and some were empty or held a nonlethal liquid, the officials said. But others contained the nerve agent sarin, which analysis showed to be purer than the intelligence community had expected given the age of the stock.

A New York Times investigation published in October found that the military had recovered thousands of old chemical warheads and shells in Iraq and that Americans and Iraqis had been wounded by them, but the government kept much of this information secret, from the public and troops alike. ...

Most of the officials and veterans who spoke about the program did so anonymously because, they said, the details remain classified. The C.I.A. declined to comment. The Pentagon, citing continuing secrecy about the effort, did not answer written questions and acknowledged its role only obliquely. ...

Not long after Operation Avarice had secured its 400th rocket, in 2006, American troops were exposed several times to other chemical weapons. ...

In some cases, victims of exposure said, officers forbade them to discuss what had occurred. ...
As an American citizen, I do not want to believe that our President lied to us to get us into war. But there is overwhelming evidence that Wilson (WWI), FDR (WWII), and LBJ (Vietnam) did exactly that. Now it has somehow become accepted wisdom that Bush also lied to get us into the Iraq War.

Those political scientists should go back and study those liberals who believe that Bush lied to justify the Iraq War. Present them the evidence, and then see whether they re-align their opinions to the facts.

Some people will still say that Bush exaggerated the threat, or that the WMD did not justify the war, or that Bush deserves contempt for various other reasons. Maybe so. It also appears that many people are not rational about issues like this.

But people are wrong when they say that Bush took us to war under false pretenses of WMD. The war was as openly and honestly debated as any war. Congress and the UN had the facts, and voted for it. Some of the intelligence info turned out to be wrong, but the war had the support of the Democrat leadership for reasons that were essentially correct.

No comments: