Skepticism, Politics, and Governance

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Skepticism, Politics, and Governance
  • Skepticism of politics and governance is essential.
    • Politicians, elected officials, and governments make false, unsupported, and misleading claims.
    • Governments make consequential decisions, sometimes based on false or unsupported claims:
      • LBJ’s decision to Americanize the Vietnam War
      • Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
LBJ’s Decision to Americanize the Vietnam War
Deception
  • In his presidential campaign of 1964 Johnson said over and over that he wasn’t going to “send American boys to fight a war Asian boys should fight for themselves.”
    • We now know that during 1964, long before the election in November, the Johnson administration was developing plans to Americanize the war after the election.
  • Johnson used the alleged attacks on US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 to persuade Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing him to wage war in Southeast Asia.
    • It’s questionable whether the first attack, on the destroyer Maddox, was unprovoked because the Maddox was in the Gulf eavesdropping for the NSA and the South Vietnamese were conducting guerilla raids nearby.
    • The second attack, on the Maddox and C. Turner Joy, appears never to have happened.
Bad Decision-Making
  • The Johnson Administration misjudged the objectives and motivations of the Vietcong and North Vietnam. As Robert McNamara, LBJ’s Secretary of Defense, later wrote in his memoirs:
    • “We misjudged then — as we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries (in this case, North Vietnam and the Vietcong, supported by China and the Soviet Union), and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.”
    • “We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.”
    • “Our misjudgments of friend and foe, alike, reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.”
Bush’s Decision to Invade Iraq
Deception
  • Many Americans believed in 2003, falsely and without evidence, that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • The justification for attacking Iraq was its possession of chemical and biological WMDs and development of nuclear weapons; and that these weapons might be used against the U.S.  As Vice President Cheney put it on 8/26/2002:
    •  “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”
    • But after an 18-month investigation, the Iraq Survey Group concluded that Iraq had no WMDs.
  • Story of Wilton Sekzer
    • Wilton Sekzer’s son Jason was killed in the 9/11 attacks.
    • As the US began the invasion of Iraq, he wrote the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force with a request: ‘I would appreciate it if you could put his name on some piece of ordnance so his name stays alive.”
    • One bomb was inscribed “In loving memory of Jason Sekzer.”  Another said: “Regards from Jason Sekzer.”
    • Six months after the invasion, President Bush answered a reporter’s question about Iraq. “No,” Mr. Bush said, “we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with Sept. 11.”
    • Mr. Sekzer saw the exchange. “I heard the president saying, ‘I don’t know where people got the idea that Iraq was the culprit,’ ” Mr. Sekzer said. “I thought I would go through the roof.”
    • Referring to the Iraqis, Mr Sekzer said: “Had Bush said precisely that they did 9/11?  He said everything else, everything that inferred that. Why the hell else did we go in there?”
    • Since then, Mr. Sekzer appeared in a documentary about the war, Why We Fight. He takes a measure of the world through different eyes.
    • “The next time something happens, let’s think hard about why we’re sending troops,” he said.
Bad Decision-Making
  • How could the US have waged war based on a mistake, resulting in the deaths of thousands?  The 2004 Senate Report on Prewar Intelligence concluded the US Intelligence Community jumped to the conclusion that Iraq had WMDs because of inadequate intelligence, confirmation bias, and groupthink.
  • Members of the Bush administration were predisposed to invade Iraq.  Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Richard Armitage had signed a 1998 letter to President Clinton urging him to take military action against Iraq because of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.