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06 September 2008


Jeff Pelline

Gadzooks, are George Rebane and Robert Bergman (NC council member) "separated at birth"? (I think you remember that comedy routine). I didn't think so, but my 6-year-old son walked by while I was reading George's blog this evening on my laptop and he said, "Hey, Dad is that the man with the husky?" Robert walks his husky by our home daily on his regular walk. All I could say is "No, son." Perhaps the two will meet some day, though. It would be a stimulating dialog, no doubt.

Larry Press

George, many of the quotes in the video began with the assumption that Iraq had weapons they turned out not to have. The Bush administration was responsible for that assumption.

Below is another quote from around 1998 -- while we did find Saddam and Noriega, the speculation on the aftermath of an invasion of Iraq proved accurate. The Bush administration chose to ignore this sort of warning:

Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome.

A World Transformed (1998) by George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft; also as an excerpt in Time Magazine in 1998.

George Rebane

Good points Larry. Do you believe that the Bush administration was the sole promoter of the WMD assumption and the sole developer of the intelligence du jour that had indicated Iraq's WMD activities even during Clinton's years?

Larry Press

They were surely the key promoters during the years and months directly preceding the invasion, when the stakes were highest, the focus most intense and the information most current and abundant.

No one can know for sure when or how the invasion decision was made, but I do believe in the notions of confabulation and cognitive dissonance, so can readily believe that the administration may been dismissive of discouraging opinions and reports like that of the first President Bush.

George Rebane

Thanks Jeff, would love to meet the gentleman.

George Rebane

Larry, given the statements by/during Clinton, how do you assess the possibility that Saddam transported his highly mobile chem and bio labs to Syria before the invasion? To my knowledge, that is still an unresolved question.

Larry Press

Anything is possible, but, unless the quantities were trivial, a lot of folks would have known about it and it seems that either the mobile labs or informants would have turned up by now. Same goes for atomic weapons. I guess I would say "unlikely."

What would it take to "resolve" that question in your mind? How does one resolve such an assertion?

On the other hand, the scenario posited by Bush's father and others has been demonstrated.

I also think you and I and George Bush and Dick Cheney and everyone else has a tendency toward cognitive dissonance (some of us more than others) -- we will always be able to come up with some sort of "yes, but what if ..."

Russell Steele


If I recall Israel recently bombed a secret facility in Syria. Wonder if some of the materials used in that facility came from Iraq with some experts from North Korea to assemble the material. The US military recently moved some yellow cake from Iraq to Canada according to the news releases while we were in Canada this spring. Do you think that might have been part of a nuclear program in Iraq? Wonder where that yellow cake came from? The US overhead spy resources saw in increase in heavy truck traffic going to Syria just before the US bombing started, but there was never any confirmation on what was moved to Syria in those trucks. What was moved to Syria in the civilian airliners with all the seats removed just before the bombing started? Could it have been the missing WMDs. We may never know for another 30-40 years when the intelligence is declassified. When Bush is walking around all smug and unconcerned what the press is saying, do you suppose he knows something only our children and grandchildren will find out 30-40 years from now. Bush is betting that history will set his legacy straight. I will take that bet, but at 70 will be long gone before I we see the results. Just a thought, or two.

George Rebane

Why would a lot of folks know about what was in the hundreds (thousands?) of trucks that headed for Syria in weeks/days before we invaded? Apparently a lot of folks didn't even know of the fixed Syrian nuclear facility that the Israelis recently destroyed. I'm not sure how to reconcile how certain kinds of intelligence could obviously be known by a lot of folks, and yet numerous instances of intelligence of similar import remain hidden until exposed to everyone. By this I don't mean to become an apologist for the CIA. In the final analysis, are you a member of the group holding that Bush et al fomented an intricate conspiracy in order to justify the invasion?

Larry Press

> are you a member of the group holding that Bush et al fomented an intricate conspiracy in order to justify the invasion?

As I have said a two or three times now, I think cognitive dissonance makes us all (some more than others, but all of us to a degree) susceptible to reaching a conclusion, and then confabulating when confronted with evidence or arguments, like that of Bush Sr., which tend to invalidate our conclusion and focusing on input that tends to support our conclusion, perhaps without carefully vetting or challenging it.

I have held this view since I did a study of Swedish executives and prominent management consultants when I lived is Sweden many years ago. I presented them each the same Harvard Business School case study, and, after giving them time to read the case, asked them to 1) tell me everything they recalled from the case and 2) speak aloud what they were thinking while "solving" the case (as Herbert Simon had done when asking students to think aloud when proving theorems when he was formulating GPS).

I was struck by the fact that 1) there was almost no overlap in their perception of the case -- they each perceived different aspects of the case study (i. e., their perceptions were governed by their prior experience and theoretical bias), and 2) they each stated a different strategy solution for the company in question *immediately* after part 1 was completed. They spent virtually all of the problem solving time justifying the conclusion they had reached by the start of the problem solving time.

They did this individually. I am sure Bush would have done the same sort of thing. It was probably exacerbated by his talking to people with like minds more than others.

Does that sound to you as if I am accusing them of "fomenting an intricate conspiracy?"

George Rebane

That's a beautiful 'No!' Larry. I recall your telling me about the study, and have recently completed the excellent 'The Logic of Failure' by Dorner who cites similar work. Conspiracy questions like mine have a place in discussions like this because there exists a large fraction of liberals who do indeed believe strongly that Bush, Cheney, et.al. did fiendishly rub their hands together and chortle as the plotted to get our country into this war. The only apparent solution to minimizing the effects of cognitive dissonance is more time and effort to gather additional evidence before reaching a conclusion. Sometimes life provides that, most certainly a longer life has more chance there as corroborating or contradicting evidence comes in. Unfortunately for most, decisions must be made in a dissonant environment. But by my lights, the prime progenitor of political polarity is that large cohorts of folks have very different objective functions or descriptions of what an exemplary society looks like. Perhaps if we used Fisher, Patton, & Ury's 'Getting to Yes', it would be a better place for us all to start.

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