A View From The Handbasket

Friday, March 03, 2006
Willing to die for a lie
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:25 PM
In the runup to the last election, I thought this survey from October 2004 was enormously important. While I'm not naive or proud enough to think that everyone who disagrees with me politically is an idiot, it's not often that you get empirical proof that a candidate's support on a vital issue is predicated on misinformation:

Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.

While it's hardly new or unique that people would willfully ignore facts when they conflict with their political worldview (and I have no doubt that the left is not immune to such lapses), this was a particularly striking example. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about mistrust of the media, where people get their information, and other such topics.

But for me, what hit home most was the tragedy that we had gone to war based on massive confusion. Whether or not Bush actively encouraged the impression that Saddam was connected to 9/11 (I think he did, but it's an arguable point), the entire administration most certainly expressed certainly that he had vast stocks of WMD. And having committed to sacrificing soldiers for that cause, Bush's supporters were unwilling to consider that they had been sold a bill of goods (also from the 10/2004 survey):

Remarkably, asked whether the United States should have gone to war with Iraq if U.S. intelligence had concluded Baghdad did not have a WMD programme and was not supporting al-Qaeda, 58 percent of Bush supporters said no, and 61 percent said they assumed the president would also not have gone to war under those circumstances.

"To support the president and to accept that he took the U.S. to war based on mistaken assumptions," said Kull, "likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about pre-war Iraq."

If voters at home were actively "suppressing awareness" of the realities on the ground in Iraq, I wondered, then what about the soldiers who were fighting and dying there? What did they tell themselves in response to the inevitable question of "What the hell am I doing here?"

Now we know.

The respondents -- 41 percent regular Army; 25 percent Marines; and the rest National Guard and Reserves -- also showed uncertainty about their mission in Iraq.

While some 27 percent said they were "very clear" about the mission, nearly one third said they were "somewhat clear," 20 percent "somewhat unclear;" and nearly 25 percent either "very unclear," "not sure," or had "no understanding."

Asked to assess the relative importance of the different justifications for the war articulated by Bush over the last several years, three in four soldiers said "establish(ing) a democracy that could be a model for the Arab world" -- the justification most recently cited by Bush -- was neither the "main" nor even a "major reason" for the U.S. intervention.

More than 90 percent also did not accept the justification most cited by the administration before the war -- to enforce U.N. resolutions requiring the destruction or removal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from Iraq. Less than five percent of respondents cited that as the "main" or a "major reason."

Remarkably, the two justifications most frequently mentioned by the troops were those that were discredited after the invasion. Forty-one percent said stopping "Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq" was the "main reason," while another 36 percent said it was a "major reason." At the same time, 35 percent said "retaliat(ing) for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks" was the "main reason", and 50 percent called it a "major reason."

While the troops aren't buying what Bush was selling in the march to war -- the threat of Saddam's alleged WMD -- they appear to have swallowed whole the thing that Bush himself never said explicitly (and even occasionally explicitly denied) but hoped people would infer: that Saddam had a hand in 9/11.

Because if you take that away, what's left? They don't believe the WMD angle. They aren't getting on board with the "spreading democracy" talking points. Fighting terror and avenging 9/11 is the only thing remaining. Believing that Saddam's Iraq wasn't an al Qaeda stronghold and that Saddam didn't bring down the WTC would be too horrible to comtemplate, as you trudge through another extended tour at best, and get shot at, wounded or killed at worst. Bush's supporters at home only have their consciences to protect from inconvenient facts -- for the troops in Iraq (people largely motivated by a desire to serve and protect America, not act as instruments of foreign policy), their entire day-to-day existences are founded on those illusions.

So I can hardly blame those serving in Iraq for believing that Saddam was bin Laden. But I can blame the administration for sending them there believing that, and later acting like it was all a big joke:

During the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner this week, Bush presented a slide show of quirky photographs from inside the White House. In one, the president is looking under furniture in the Oval Office.

"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," Bush joked. "Nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?"

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