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Monday, April 17, 2006

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Sisyphus

"What I can't grasp is why, if you hold this view, you then fight tooth and claw against the growing pile of evidence that the books were cooked and the intelligence slanted and the nuclear threat turbo-hyped and the decision to go war was a foregone conclusion from 2002 on."

What I can't understand is why journalists - and journalism professors, who pride themselves as skeptics ("being a skeptical journalist is a patriotic thing to do"), see any comparing of the "growing pile of evidence" with the established evidence and history as "fighting tooth and nail?"

Janet Edens

The difference in views has nothing to do with journalists or journalism professors. It's a basic disagreement in the definition of "evidence."

What is indisputable evidence and what is merely opinionated interpretation?

What would convince you that "all is well/there's a problem?" What evidence of administration wrong-doing/heroism would you believe?

You, of course, get to decide. You can choose to throw out anything you read or hear that does not support your stance, no matter which side you are on.

So pick an issue. Pick a side. Pick a spokesman. My media tool can beat up your media tool. But don't look to convince anyone else. See, it's a double-edged sword. I say you are wrong, you say I am wrong and we sit in our corners and "bicker and argue over who killed who."

Meanwhile, nothing gets decided. Nothing gets better. We are no closer to solving the issues that created the gap in the first place.

So by all means, let's argue over definitions and who is on the side of the righteous, rather than trying to find common ground. The world is in such great shape, it's downright heroic to maintain the status quo.


Sisyphus

What is indisputable evidence and what is merely opinionated interpretation?

Bingo. That's what I don't get. For example, Murray Waas presents information, much anonymously sourced. I link to Congressional Research Service reports, to PBS Frontline and NewsHour interviews, Council for Foreign Relations, CIA white papers, to Air University papers, ....

There's not a discussion. There's no interest in analyzing why the "truth" may differ, may have changed, may be somewhere in between ....

Nope, instead I get let's "bicker and argue over who killed who." It's very frustrating for someone interested in testing his reality map with someone whose map is different.

Tim

A Spy Speaks Out

It seems Jay's right. More and more people are talking.

daniel

Tim:

Sorry to take so long to reply. It's just been kind of a busy few days.

In the first place, I'd be careful about assigning yourself within the group Jay describes here. We've known each other for a year or so and I still can't assign you to a simple category -- although yes, you do tend to come down on the conservative side. If anything, I'd assign you to the category of press critic, in which case you're arguing more about the reliability of people covering the government than the government itself.

One immediate response I can give you to your question about the comparisons that you offer is that replying to you is time-consuming. This is an observation, not a critique. Finding time to read the sometimes large documents to which you link is daunting if I've got a busy schedule that week.

But here's the critique: Where you wind up with the rear-guard Bush partisans is in offering these shotgun blasts of counter-indicatory links. And when I do read them, I don't always find the point that you seem to be suggesting. Others strike me as tangents. I've become particularly hesitant to follow any link that seems to be about the Clinton administration and Desert Fox. Or links that point to dumb things that Democrats said or did. Those links and arguments have been made, noted, included. But they are not the subject of the current debate, unless the argument is "Who is Dumber?"

I would never claim that you don't bring facts to the table. I give you all props for the way you conduct your arguments.

But here's my critique of your position: I don't understand why you're still offering individual bits of evidence that tend to support the administration's case. It's not that your evidence isn't interesting, it's that it's offered free of the context Jay describes above. You're an extremely intelligent man. I don't understand why the weight of that evidence hasn't led you to a different conclusion.

If you've read my writings on Spookworld then you know that I don't believe that some of these bits of information can ever truly be proven. Spookworld taints whatever it touches. Nor do I believe that the media has the tools cover Spookworld effectively. Obviously I think this is a bad situation for all of us, but as citizens I think we have to try to discern the best picture possible. So that picture changes.

Last week I made my first edit to the Xarker Manifesto since I wrote it back in June. In June I said the Bush administration went to war on a premeditated lie. On April 22, I said that I'd decided I was wrong, and I offered a new statement: "The Bush administration never seriously investigated claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, because its stated reasons for going to war never reflected its true reasons for conducting the invasion."

You and others have convinced me that the "Bush Lied" statement doesn't further this discussion. But by arguing that individual bits of evidence suggest that Bush somehow didn't (open quotation fingers) "lie" (close quotation fingers), you miss the larger context.

And that larger context has ramifications. Even in Iran is the problem that the White House says it is (and I'm not equipped to argue the case either way at the moment), the administration's record since 2002 has cost it the ability to build a case for any kind of action. This is true abroad, but it's also now true at home.

Sometimes I think you're playing devil's advocate. I don't give that same respect to some of the other contrary voices on Press Think.

Sisyphus

Dan,

"But they are not the subject of the current debate, unless the argument is 'Who is Dumber?'"

That is a point of frustration for me. I do not want my comments to be manifestos (which would not be rare in PressThink comments) or - what did you call them - "goat-chokers." It's not a comparison of this Republican President vs. that Democrat President or Dubya vs. Bubba.

Instead, it's meant to be a longer view than that allowed in the narrative bias of news journalism.

For example, prior to Desert Storm, the intelligence was that Saddam had stocks of chem/bio from the Iran-Iraq war and would use them. It was the first modern war to be fought in MOPP4. Didn't happen.

Then there was Khamisiyah

Iraq was years away from acquiring centrifuges and bombs, but they were much closer than we thought.

As best as I can tell, we've been "all wrong" about Iraq's WMD from before Desert Storm, both underestimating and overestimating.

So then I wonder, as if in a Die Hard sequel, "Why does this keep happening to us?"

But I find that such strategic errors are common. I find similarities in the intel leading up to the Korean War, occupying South Korea, and so on.

So yes, I understand that I offer links to a longer view than the story context "that must have a beginning, middle, and end--in other words, a plot with antagonists and protagonists." [Cline]

When you ask, "I don't understand why the weight of that evidence hasn't led you to a different conclusion." What conclusion? That there are protagonists and antagonists? That your protagonists and antagonists are the correct ones?

Daniel

Tim:

Nope, and I think that's a question leading to an oxbow. We both understand the narrative bias concept, and I think we can agree there's more going on here than just poor construction of the public narrative. In fact, framing this in terms of press criticism is simply too limited a frame of reference. There IS a press story here (and Jay Rosen is deconstructing it), but I think even Jay has reached the point where he's acknowledging that the press story is just a sidebar.

So when I talk about conclusions, I'm talking about evaluating credibility of sources. And the conclusion that I've reached is that the current administration just doesn't have much left. That's not a statement about the administration's critics, so arguing the credibility of this critic or that critic doesn't get us anywhere.

Do we need to catalog the weight of the evidence? Is there a standard that I would have to meet to pursuade you that the administration no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt on matters of national security? At what point do you say "this is a failure, the nation has been damaged, and it's time to start figuring out how to fix this?"

Because to be blunt, having bad intelligence and pursuing a policy of containment is one thing. But to doggedly pursue a course that leads to war? I think it's important for the future health of our democratic institutions that government officials who ask the people for their support in such an endeavor rigorously vett their claims. Are you satisfied that this was done? Was it done to your satisfaction?

Daniel

You know, maybe it's just this: When you are solving a mystery, you have have a hypothesis, because you're looking for an explanation that best fits the available facts. So maybe i'm wrong to talk about conclusions. Maybe the real conversation is about working hypotheses.

My original hypothesis was that the administration was correct and that the war was a good gamble given the risks of nuclear and biological terror. That changed to a hypothesis that the intel had been flawed but some good could still come of our engagement in the Middle East. That was replaced by a sense of profound betrayal, and eventually by my current hypothesis: That the administration, for motives I do not know, pursued a war with Iraq based on shoddy evidence, shut out the voices of restraint within its ranks, ignored warnings from professionals, and basically mishandled the operation from the beginning. Based on that picture of their performance, I don't trust this group to be able to fix the mess they've created, and I'd wager that serious Congressional investigation will find further problems.

Your hypothesis?

Sisyphus

Dan,

re: At what point do you say "this is a failure, the nation has been damaged, and it's time to start figuring out how to fix this?"

Starting on Day 1 and ending the day you give up.

re: Are you satisfied that this was done? Was it done to your satisfaction?

No and no.

re: Your hypothesis?

See Truman and Korea.

Daniel

OK buddy -- fair enough.

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