Friday, January 21, 2022

Ted Rall: Perhaps We Need More Uncertainty, Maybe

 "We know where they are," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in March 2003 about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." We found nothing. Rumsfeld knew nothing. A year after the invasion, most voters believed the Bush administration had lied America into war. 

    At the core of that lie: certainty.

    The 2002 run-up to war was marked by statements that characterized intelligence assessments as a slam dunk. "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," Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002. "These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence," Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations in 2003.

    Rumsfeld knew that if he said that Saddam probably had WMDs, it wouldn't have been enough. Americans required absolute certainty.

    Imagine if the Bushies had deployed an honest sales pitch: "Though it is impossible to know for sure, we believe there's a significant chance that Saddam illegally possesses weapons of mass destruction. Given the downside security risk and the indisputable fact that he is a vicious despot, we want to send in ground troops in order to remove him from power." The war would still have been wrong. But our subsequent failure to find WMDs wouldn't have tarnished Bush's presidency and America's international reputation. Trust in government wouldn't have been further eroded.

    False certainty has continued to poison our politics.

    Four months into Donald Trump's presidency, 65% of Democratic voters didn't believe he had won fairly or was legitimate; 71% of Republicans now say the same thing about President Joe Biden. What's interesting is the declared certainty of Democrats who decry Trump Republicans' "Big Lie." Biden probably did win. But it's hardly certain.
    It is not popular to say so, but there is nothing unreasonable or insane or unpatriotic about questioning election results. From Samuel Tilden vs. Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 to Bush vs. Gore in 2000, many Americans have had good reason to wonder whether the winner really won. Only an omniscient deity could know for certain whether all 161 million ballots were counted correctly at all 132,556 polling places in the 2020 election. 

    Democracy requires faith. If evidence indicates that our faith is unwarranted, it must be fully investigated; otherwise, we must assume that official results are accurate.

    The Republicans' refusal to accept the official results is only slightly less justifiable than the Democrats' overheated "Big Lie" meme.

    "We have been far too easy on those who embrace or even simply tolerate this idea (that Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election), perhaps because it has completely taken over the Republican Party, and we still approach any question on which Republicans and Democrats disagree as though it must be given an evenhanded, both-sides treatment," Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman wrote Jan. 6. "We have to treat those who claim Trump won in precisely the same way we do those who say the Earth is flat or that Hitler had some good ideas. They are not only deluded, they are either participating in, or at the very least directly enabling, an assault on our system of government with terrifying implications for the future. They are the United States' enemies. And they have to be treated that way."

    Whoa. I am terrified of the slippery-slope implication that even talking about a topic is out of bounds. If mistrust of the competence and integrity of thousands of boards of elections and secretaries of state and public and private voting machines makes one a domestic enemy of the United States, what does that say about the 65% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans who doubted the results of the last two elections? 

    Why not just say that we think Biden won, and there's no reason to believe otherwise? It may be easier to shout down doubters than to make a well-reasoned argument, but our laziness betrays insecurity.

    Every day we make decisions based on uncertainty. The plane will probably land safely. The restaurant food probably isn't poisoned. The dollar will probably retain most of its value. Why can't Democrats like Waldman admit that election results are inherently uncertain? Republicans know it -- at least they know it when the president is a Democrat -- and Democratic arguments to the contrary of what is obviously true only serves to increase polarization and mutual mistrust.

    Vaccination and masking politics are made particularly venomous by rhetorical certainty that, given that science is constantly evolving and COVID keeps unleashing new surprises, cannot be intellectually justified. Those of us who have embraced masks and vaccines (like me) ought to adopt a humbler posture: I'm not an epidemiologist. I assume that scientists know what they are doing. I'm scared of getting sick, so I'm following official guidance. Sometimes, as we know from history, official medical advice turns out to be mistaken. I'm making the best guess I can. Most of us are blindly feeling our way through this pandemic. We should say so.

    We also need to express uncertainty about climate change. There is scientific consensus that Earth is warming rapidly, that human beings are responsible and that climate change represents an existential threat to humanity. I believe in the general principle. But it's irresponsible and illogical to attribute specific incidents to climate change, considering that extreme weather existed centuries before the industrial revolution. We will never reach climate change deniers by overreaching as when the Post described late December's Colorado wildfires as "fueled by an extreme set of atmospheric conditions, intensified by climate change, and fanned by a violent windstorm." Why not instead say "probably intensified" or "believed to have been intensified"?

    Those of us who believe greenhouse gases are warming the planet should argue that, while nothing is ever 100% certain, it's a high probability -- and, anyway, what's wrong with reducing pollution? People who are certain that climate change isn't real may be annoying, and given that the human race is at stake, perhaps dangerous. But the answer to incorrect certainty isn't equal-and-opposite correct certainty. 

    It's uncertainty.

    Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the weekly DMZ America podcast with conservative fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted's hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.



Anonymous said...

Good thing this guy is a successful cartoonist, because he sure as fuck can't string words together. Garbage drivel.

Anonymous said...

Tell that to the Kurds

Macy said...

Certainty sells, Ted. Honesty, nuance... not so much.

Anonymous said...

You know damn well there were no weapons of mass destruction.
There was oil in Iraq which was the only reason America killed Saddam.
Read a book.

Anonymous said...

Military will seize ballots now

So good luck

Anonymous said...

Ted, stop. Just stop.

Questioning whether an election result was helped by foreign influences and money and the act of fraud in voting aren't the same.

A lie is a lie not an " alternative truth".

And,you entirely miss that lies as policy cost taxpayer money and with the WMD lie, lives.

You overlook the fact that IF we had listened to our allies when it came to WMDs, we wouldn't have been snookered.

And, maybe, just maybe some of those who believe "lies of certainty", should wonder why all the millions and all the audits couldn't find fraud or even enough human errors to change the outcome. Nor could a group of politicians in Congress use all the powers and money available to them to prove get court worthy evidence sufficient to result in charges or arrests. That would suggest incompetence.

It's not 1960.Fact finding doesn't require prohibitive hours going through pages in a library.

Lies today are causing deaths. I wouldn't mind so much if it were only those who believe nonsense dying, but it isn't.

If you are a person waiting for JFK Jr. to run for VP, you are mentally ill or so gullible as to need a guardian. If you are believing because the lie serves your wallet or ego, you are a common criminal.

Anonymous said...

Ted needs to Google Muthana Bunkers…I was there and saw what they had…my discharge medical records prove it.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that he begins his argument against people stating things with certainty by stating his certainty Saddam didn't have "WMDs" when no one who is generally familiar with "WMDs" (including familiarity with the myriad definitions of them, including the many definitions of them in various US laws, policies, treaties, etc.) would say with certainty that "Saddam did not have any WMDs." The question of whether Saddam had WMDs depends entirely on which of those many legally and technically accepted definitions one uses.

If one uses what the average person around the world would call a "WMD" - something that is capable of killing a large number of people with little or no defense against its deployment - then yes, Saddam most certainly had ready access to WMDs because he had ready access to biologics like antrax, botulism, brucella, etc., which are easily weaponized, and he indisputably had delivery systems such as missiles, bombs, and explosives. However, when he indisputably had WMDs "ready-to-go" pre-1996/7, he did not deploy them against US and other non-regional forces. But they didn't invade Baghdad or attempt to depose him in GW1. He deployed mustard, sarin, tabun, etc. against regional enemies and Iraqi defectors reported he would have deployed chemicals and biologics (2 of the "big 3" of "WMDs") had Baghdad been attacked in GW1. To put it in local terms, many Jackson thugs have guns and readily use them against their "enemies." Very few if any of them shoot at random bystanders although bystanders are often caught in the crossfire. The majority of people would strongly prefer they did not possess them at all. To say each and every thug and each and every gun are a constant and immediate danger to each and every person in the region is an overstatement but to say those thugs and their guns aren't a danger to bystanders is a false statement.

In any event, Mr. Rall is on to something. The problem may not be that "people" speak with "certainty" about this or that, it may be (and almost certainly is) that people who have little or no knowledge, education, or training about a subject insist upon holding and declaring as fact whatever their uninformed opinions might be about that very subject. Which brings us full-circle to COVID-19...

Anonymous said...

"..most voters believed the Bush administration had lied America into war."

Not to mention most congressmen, most senators, most cabinet members including the woman who lost to Trump, most publishers and most editorial writers. That Bush musta been one helluva liar to be as dumb as you all claim him to have been.

Anonymous said...

Iraq vet here: It is and has been for 60 years ALL ABOUT the oil. Period. To think otherwise and to blame whoever is stupid and pointless. 95 % of the elected that go to D.C. profit from OIL.....send there kids to Harvard and keep the wifes happy with OIL kickbacks. This isn't going to change anytime soon.

Anonymous said... didn't watch our testimony before the UN and have forgotten the words " yellow cake" and ignore "delivery" issues beyond one's on borders as well as the ability in those days to obtain or manufacture quantity, much less deliver it as far away as the US...the labs and manufacturing plants for delivery system production would have still been discoverable.

Try to think past your egotistical need to defend being duped.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

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