Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Thoughts on the Iraq war

I don't think there is any particular justification for it, but I don't care for Saddam either. I'm not pro-war or anti-war. But I am pro-evidence.

If we were declaring war for any number of other reasons, I might just be tempted to support it. But the fact of the matter is, Bush is telling us we are supporting the war for two reasons.

1. "Hussein is behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11" - which he CLEARLY is not
2. "He is going to nuke us" - which, even if he HAD the invisible, undetectable nukes that no one can find, I would find unlikely in the extreme. Why would he do something so blatantly suicidal?

Bush says there is evidence for the above but is unable to state what it is (unless, apparently, he gets to forge something). The UN's job is to decide whether there is a compelling reason to go to war. Yes, it's *the UN's* job, of which we are only a small part. We, the states, do not rule the entire world. Put the shoe on the other foot. I wouldn't want, say, Germany to unilaterally declare that Pakistan pisses them off and they are going to blast them into the stone age, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks is right. It would scare the crap out of me if I saw that in the news.

I got into a discussion the other night, of the "What if you're wrong?" sort. What if the US waltzes in and finds that Iraq has a full arsenal of nukes. Well, what if that does happen? In fact, let's be more generous to the pro-war crowd. Let's say that we find the nukes, and the UN throws up their hands and says "Wow, how wrong we were to ever doubt the US! You guys were right about everything, and we will never ask you to back up your claims with evidence again. Now, o great and all-knowing United States... WHO SHALL WE GO AFTER NEXT?"

This is the Republicans' wet dream, isn't it? It's their ideal outcome. And yet, I think this is the most troubling possible situation. Because now that sets a precedent for attacking some other country just on our say so, without evidence and without the right to a hearing. I don't like it when it happens to someone in our country, and I'm not all that keen to see it happen in the rest of the world either.

It's like pseudo-science. When you're hawking a miracle drug that cures every disease known to man, or claiming you can talk to dead relatives, what do you say? "Just give me a chance and let me convince you." Then, when you are given the chance, you count the hits and ignore the misses. You gain anecdotal evidence so you can convince more people in the future. But however much it may APPEAR that you've proved your claims, being right some of the time IS NOT EVIDENCE unless you prove that you can right MORE OFTEN THAN WOULD BE DICTATED BY CHANCE.

Finally, compare this "what if you're wrong" question to Pascal's Wager. Clearly the assumption made is: "Just trust what we say If we are wrong (no nukes in Iraq) then there is no harm done. But if we are right, your choice to believe us is the difference between salvation (we stop them) and infinite punishment (kaboom)!"

It sounds persuasive, except that running roughshod over standards of evidence and setting that precedent is ***not*** "no harm done." And like in Pascal's Wager, we would be right to ask "what about all the other possible gods?" Doesn't the same argument apply to Canada? England? The United States? Or, a little more plausibly given the mood over here -- France?