Dagger in hand
A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.
--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.
Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
I finally got around to reading Jim Henley's attempted debunking of Kenneth Pollack. I have some problems with it. Here's the first one:
Pollack cites three Iraqi defectors whose positions would have given them access to the truth about Iraq's nuclear program. All three apparently reported that the program was bigger and better concealed than the international inspectors had believed. Jim, citing Hesiod, points out that one of these defectors, Kamel, called another, Hamza, a "professional liar" who had provided some forged documents. From this, Jim concludes that Kamel and Hamza "can't both be telling the truth."
Well, not about everything perhaps. But the only proposition for which Pollack is citing them is that Iraq had a concealed nuclear program. If in fact they both reported this, then with regard to that point they must both be telling the truth. Or both lying. Indeed, when two people who otherwise criticize each other agree on some point, we usually take that to corroborate it, not undermine it. And here, unless Pollack is lying, they're both corroborated by a third defector that Jim hasn't given us any reason to doubt, other than generalized caution that not every defector is "noble or reliable." Fair enough. Maybe they're saying what they know we want to hear. But the other doubt-engendering possibility Jim raises--that these guys are plants that Saddam deliberately sent out--seems fanciful. What does Saddam have to gain from telling the world that there's a secret nuclear program? If Kamel had called Hamza a liar and said there was no remaining nuclear program, the idea that maybe he was sent out deliberately to discredit Hamza would make sense. The way I read the interview excerpts Hesiod quoted, it sounds like Kamel was saying "That guy doesn't really know what he's talking about. I'm the guy with the real goods." But he's not disputing what kind of goods they are, and that's the crucial point.
Jim also doesn't comment on Hesiod's addendum:
It just occurred to me why the Bush administration is so blatantly lying about what Kamal said, and is contantly hyping the quality of the information he provided.
Might it be that Pollack doesn't give us all the details about why we believe these defectors because he can't for reasons like those Hesiod identified? Ultimately, the problem comes down to this: Do you believe it to be possible that there could exist a weapons program hidden in Iraq that the inspectors didn't find? If the answer is yes, and you're concerned about responding to that possibility, you can't set your standards of proof at a level that are impossible to meet. Trust me, I share Jim's dislike of giving the government the benefit of the doubt on things like this. They have lied before. But we also have to look at things in context. It's not like we're faced with some Allende figure and the CIA is saying trust us, we have to get rid of him because he'll never relinquish power. We're talking about a fully actualized mass murdering totalitarian who nobody doubts would give nearly anything to see us fry. Under those circumstances, I think we give the benefit of the doubt to defectors, and to our elected officials when they tell us they have the goods even if they can't show all of them to us yet. And if they turn out to have lied to us, we should hold them responsible. But right now that's the kind of call we put them there to make, and it can't be a prerequisite for action that they first present all of us with direct declassified evidence beyond any reasonable doubt.
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