Saturday, May 9, 2015

Political advocacy: Win by deceit and hypocrisy

An April 27, 2015, a Wall Street Journal editorial by William McGurn argued that when America loses a war, the losses are high and not fully appreciated. That is probably true for the most part. The point of the article was to provide a rationale for greater American persistence in the wars America gets into. Mr. McGurn argues that a false lesson from Vietnam was that U.S. withdrawal was a mistake because the killing did not stop and “the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.’ ” Mr. McGurn asserts that the price of U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam also includes “more aggressive Soviet intervention in the Third World that included in the invasion of Afghanistan.”

What are the lessons?
What can be learned doesn’t have anything to do with Mr. McGurn’s unsubstantiated speculations. This is about raw partisan advocacy in two-party politics. It is not about informing the public with unspun fact and unbiased logic. It is not about ideological fights on a level playing field. It has nothing to do with the vaunted, probably now discredited, concept of the nobility of an honest competition in the marketplace of ideas. This is all about defense of a failed, corrupt two-party status quo.

Deceit: Mr. McGurn’s assertions could be partially right or better, but there is no way to know. Maybe he is not even that close to the truth. For example, Russia may have invaded Afghanistan for geopolitical reasons such as (i) deterring U.S. interference in the USSR’s backyard, (ii) obtaining a strategic foothold in Southwest Asia, (iii) neutralizing an Islamic revolution,[1] and/or, (iv) simply to establish an ideologically-friendly puppet regime. Some or most of the ancient factors behind the blinding complexity America faces in the Middle East today were in play then, i.e., Sunni vs. Shia vs. profound corruption vs. ancient cultural norms and customs we know essentially nothing about vs. whatever else is relevant. This opinion piece is standard two-party partisan deceit for partisan advantage and defense of a failed two-party status quo.

With that context, how persuasive is Mr. McGurn’s argument that U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was the primary or even a significant cause of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan? How does he know what he claims to be the truth? What is his proof? He cannot know and he has no proof. That is why his essay is called opinion, not news. The lesson arguably is that partisan pundit opinion is mostly deceit based on a partisan-biased assessment of a few facts without reference to sufficient context with unspun facts.

Hypocrisy: Mr. McGurn argues that premature American withdrawal causes preventable civilian slaughter and misery in the countries we “abandon”. Mr. McGurn observes that “before President Bush had ordered the surge in Iraq, the argument for the futility of the fight there was filled with Vietnam analogies.” The American invasion of Iraq caused about 150,000 to 1,000,000 civilian casualties and, as of November 2006, about 1.8 million Iraqis refuges fled to neighboring countries, and about 1.6 million were displaced internally. During the Iraq war, which is now open to the argument that it was an unnecessary war, the Iraqi civilian casualty and refugee situation was rarely mentioned because that factor would undermine U.S. public support for the Iraq war.

Now, in a broader context, Mr. McGurn raises this as part of a rationale to at least stay in wars for a longer term.[2] That is pure partisan hypocrisy, at least in Dissident Politics (DP) opinion. During the Iraq war, concern for Iraqi civilians was minimal. Even today, America has been reluctant to allow both Iraqi military allies and civilians into the U.S. Conservatives are just as reluctant, or more so, to bar comfort to Iraqi civilians than liberals. When Mr. McGurn raises this as part of his rationale, in DP opinion it is the height of sheer self-interested partisan hypocrisy.

The real lessons here are simple. Overwhelming data shows that pundits like Mr. McGurn are bad at what they do. Their accuracy rate is typically about 5-10%. Mathematical models of predicting future events trounce human experts and pundits, with an accuracy rate of almost 50%. When Mr. McGurn asserts that more persistent American involvement in wars will lead to better outcomes, he has no more than about a 10% chance of being correct. In DP opinion, his chance of being mostly right is no more than about 1% because Mr. McGurn is not an expert in military science, history or strategic geopolitical policy. He has no security clearance to assess what remains confidential national security information. But, Mr. McGurn is an expert in partisan political ideology and how to deceive the public regardless of how much hypocrisy goes into the effort. Deceiving the public, not informing it, is the point of partisan political opinion such as this.

Unfortunately, as the DP has pointed out before, the damage from this typical form of free speech to the public interest is very high. In DP opinion, we cannot afford politics based on fantasy and illogic. The stakes are too high for self-interested partisan nonsense to guide or “inform” either public opinion or political policy debates or choices.

1. Iran supported Shia groups and the U.S., China and others supported Sunni groups known as the Peshawar Seven. Russia could very well have been worried that Islamic revolution from Iran to Afghanistan could spread to other parts of the USSR.
2. For the most part, Mr. McGurn ignores the flawed rationales for getting into at least some of America's wars in the first place, e.g., Al Qaeda in Iraq launched the 9/11 attacks. That was nonsense and president Bush finally admitted it after years of dithering for obvious partisan reasons.

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