Tag Archives: 2003 invasion of Iraq

The Shame of Being an American

 

by Paul Craig Roberts

Recently by Paul Craig Roberts: Has There Been an Egyptian Revolution?

Source: http://www.lewrockwell.com/roberts/roberts293.html

The United States government has overestimated the amount of shame that it and American citizens can live down. On February 15 “the indispensable people” had to suffer the hypocrisy of the U.S. Secretary of State delivering a speech about America’s commitment to Internet freedom while the U.S.Department of Justice (sic) brought unconstitutional action against Twitter to reveal any connection between WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, the American hero who, in keeping with the U.S. Military Code, exposed U.S. government war crimes and who is being held in punishing conditions not permitted by the U.S. Constitution. The corrupt U.S. government is trying to create a “conspiracy” case against Julian Assange in order to punish him for revealing U.S. government documents that prove beyond every doubt the mendacity of the U.S. government.

This is pretty bad, but it pales in comparison to the implications revealed on February 15 in the British newspaper, The Guardian.

The Guardian obtained an interview with “Curveball,” the source for Colin Powell’s speech of total lies to the United Nations about Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. Colin Powell’s speech created the stage for the illegal American invasion of Iraq.The Guardian describes “Curveball” as “the man who pulled off one of the greatest confidence tricks in the history of modern intelligence.” As The Guardian puts it, “Curveball” “manufactured a tale of dread.”

U.S. “intelligence” never interviewed “Curveball.” The Americans started a war based on second-hand information given to them by incompetent German intelligence, which fell for “Curveball’s” lies that today German intelligence disbelieves.

As the world now knows, Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Bush/Cheney Regime, of course, knew this, but “Curveball’s” lies were useful to their undeclared agenda. In his interview with The Guardian, “Curveball,” Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, admitted that he made the whole story up. He wanted to do in Saddam Hussein and told whatever fantasy lie he could make up that would serve his purpose.

If the Bush/Cheney Regime had really believed that Saddam Hussein had world-threatening weapons of mass destruction, it would have been a criminal act to concentrate America’s invading force in a small area of Kuwait where a few WMD could have wiped out the entire U.S. invasion force, thus ending the war before it began.

Some Americans are so thoughtless that they would say that Saddam Hussein would never have used the weapons, because we would have done this and that to Iraq, even nuking Baghdad. But why would Saddam Hussein care if he and his regime were already marked for death? Why would a doomed man desist from inflicting an extraordinary defeat on the American Superpower, thus encouraging Arabs everywhere? Moreover, if Saddam Hussein was unwilling to use his WMD against an invading force, when would he ever use them? It was completely obvious to the U.S. government that no such weapons existed. The weapons inspectors made that completely clear to the Bush/Cheney Regime. There were no Iraqi WMD, and everyone in the U.S. government was apprised of that fact.

Why was there no wonder or comment in the “free” media that the White House accused Iraq of possession of terrible weapons of mass destruction, but nevertheless concentrated its invasion force in such a small area that such weapons could easily have wiped out the invading force?

Does democracy really exist in a land where the media is incompetent and the government is unaccountable and lies through its teeth every time if opens its mouth?

“Curveball” represents a new level of immorality. Rafid al-Janabi shares responsibility for one million dead Iraqis, 4 million displaced Iraqis, a destroyed country, 4,754 dead American troops, 40,000 wounded and maimed American troops, $3 trillion of wasted US resources, every dollar of which is a debt burden to the American population and a threat to the dollar as reserve currency, ten years of propaganda and lies about terrorism and al Qaeda connections, an American “war on terror” that is destroying countless lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and which has targeted Iran, and which has destroyed the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution, and the civil liberties that they guarantee. And the piece of lying excrement, Rafid al-Janabi, is proud that he brought Saddam Hussein’s downfall at such enormous expense.

Now that Rafid al-Janabi is revealed in the Guardian interview, how safe is he? There are millions of Iraqis capable of exterminating him for their suffering, and tens of thousands of Americans whose lives have been ruined by Rafid al-Janabi’s lies.

Why does the U.S. government pursue Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for telling the truth when “Curveball,” whose lies wiped out huge numbers of people along with America’s reputation, thinks he can start a political party in Iraq? If the piece of excrement, Rafid al-Janabi, is not killed the minute he appears in Iraq, it will be a miracle.

So we are left to contemplate that a totally incompetent American government has bought enormous instability to its puppet states in the Middle East, because it desperately wanted to believe faulty “intelligence” from Germany that an immoralist provided evidence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction.

And America is a superpower, an indispensable nation.

What a total joke!

February 17, 2010

Paul Craig Roberts [send him mail], a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, has been released by Random House.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Craig Roberts

The Best of Paul Craig Roberts

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Ray McGovern on WikiLeaks Assault

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By RT America
October 27, 2010

The U.S. news media is framing the debate about the WikiLeaks revelations of the Iraq War‘s savagery as a story about the alleged misconduct of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, in an attempt to destroy the message by discrediting the messenger, says former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

In an interview with RT America, McGovern criticized the U.S. media‘s focus on Assange and whether he should be prosecuted for releasing the secrets, rather than on the grisly details about the war contained in nearly 400,000 secret military field reports that WikiLeaks released last weekend.

(The story summary continues below.)

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McGovern suggests that the reason for this concentration on Assange instead of what the documents reveal is that otherwise the U.S. press corps would have to come to grips with the fact that the U.S. government committed “the supreme international crime” by invading Iraq and thus touching off the barbarity that the documents recount.

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The War On Terror

by Paul Craig Roberts
by Paul Craig Roberts
Recently by Paul Craig Roberts: It Is Official: The US Is a Police State

Does anyone remember the “cakewalk war” that would last six weeks, cost $50–60 billion, and be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues?

Does anyone remember that White House economist Lawrence Lindsey was fired by Dubya because Lindsey estimated that the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion?

Lindsey was fired for over-estimating the cost of a war that, according to Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, has cost 15 times more than Lindsey estimated. And the US still has 50,000 troops in Iraq.

Does anyone remember that just prior to the US invasion of Iraq, the US government declared victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Does anyone remember that the reason Dubya gave for invading Iraq was Saddam Hussein‘s weapons of mass destruction, weapons that the US government knew did not exist?

Are Americans aware that the same neoconservatives who made these fantastic mistakes, or told these fabulous lies, are still in control of the government in Washington?

The “war on terror” is now in its tenth year. What is it really all about?

The bottom line answer is that the “war on terror” is about creating real terrorists. The US government desperately needs real terrorists in order to justify its expansion of its wars against Muslim countries and to keep the American people sufficiently fearful that they continue to accept the police state that provides “security from terrorists,” but not from the government that has discarded civil liberties.

The US government creates terrorists by invading Muslim countries, wrecking infrastructure and killing vast numbers of civilians. The US also creates terrorists by installing puppet governments to rule over Muslims and by using the puppet governments to murder and persecute citizens as is occurring on a vast scale in Pakistan today.

Neoconservatives used 9/11 to launch their plan for US world hegemony. Their plan fit with the interests of America’s ruling oligarchies. Wars are good for the profits of the military/security complex, about which President Eisenhower warned us in vain a half century ago. American hegemony is good for the oil industry’s control over resources and resource flows. The transformation of the Middle East into a vast American puppet state serves well the Israel Lobby’s Zionist aspirations for Israeli territorial expansion.

Most Americans cannot see what is happening because of their conditioning. Most Americans believe that their government is the best on earth, that it is morally motivated to help others and to do good, that it rushes aid to countries where there is famine and natural catastrophes. Most believe that their presidents tell the truth, except about their sexual affairs.

The persistence of these delusions is extraordinary in the face of daily headlines that report US government bullying of, and interference with, virtually every country on earth. The US policy is to buy off, overthrow, or make war on leaders of other countries who represent their peoples’ interests instead of American interests. A recent victim was the president of Honduras who had the wild idea that the Honduran government should serve the Honduran people.

The American government was able to have the Honduran president discarded, because the Honduran military is trained and supplied by the US military. It is the same case in Pakistan, where the US government has the Pakistani government making war on its own people by invading tribal areas that the Americans consider to be friendly to the Taliban, al Qaeda, “militants” and “terrorists.”

Earlier this year a deputy US Treasury secretary ordered Pakistan to raise taxes so that the Pakistani government could more effectively make war on its own citizens for the Americans. On October 14 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered Pakistan to again raise taxes or the US would withhold flood aid. Clinton pressured America’s European puppet states to do the same, expressing in the same breath that the US government was worried by British cuts in the military budget. God forbid that the hard-pressed British, still reeling from American financial fraud, don’t allocate enough money to fight America’s wars.

On Washington’s orders, the Pakistani government launched a military offensive against Pakistani citizens in the Swat Valley that killed large numbers of Pakistanis and drove millions of civilians from their homes. Last July the US instructed Pakistan to send its troops against the Pakistani residents of North Waziristan. On July 6 Jason Ditz reported on Antiwar.com that “at America’s behest, Pakistan has launched offensives against [the Pakistani provinces of] Swat Valley, Bajaur, South Waziristan, Orakzai, and Khyber.”

A week later Israel’s US Senator Carl Levin (D,MI) called for escalating the Obama Administration’s policies of US airstrikes against Pakistan’s tribal areas. On September 30, the Pakistani newspaper, The Frontier Post, wrote that the American air strikes “are, plain and simple, a naked aggression against Pakistan.”

The US claims that its forces in Afghanistan have the right to cross into Pakistan in pursuit of “militants.” Recently US helicopter gunships killed three Pakistani soldiers who they mistook for Taliban. Pakistan closed the main US supply route to Afghanistan until the Americans apologized.

Pakistan warned Washington against future attacks. However, US military officials, under pressure from Obama to show progress in the endless Afghan war, responded to Pakistan’s warning by calling for expanding the Afghan war into Pakistan. On October 5 the Canadian journalist Eric Margolis wrote that “the US edges closer to invading Pakistan.”

In his book, Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward reports that America’s puppet president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, believes that terrorist bombing attacks inside Pakistan for which the Taliban are blamed are in fact CIA operations designed to destabilize Pakistan and allow Washington to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

To keep Pakistan in line, the US government changed its position that the “Times Square Bombing” was the work of a “lone wolf.” Attorney General Eric Holder switched the blame to the “Pakistani Taliban,” and Secretary of State Clinton threatened Pakistan with “very serious consequences” for the unsuccessful Times Square bombing, which likely was a false flag operation aimed at Pakistan.

To further heighten tensions, on September 1 the eight members of a high-ranking Pakistani military delegation in route to a meeting in Tampa, Florida, with US Central Command, were rudely treated and detained as terrorist suspects at Washington DC’s Dulles Airport.

For decades the US government has enabled repeated Israeli military aggression against Lebanon and now appears to be getting into gear for another Israeli assault on the former American protectorate of Lebanon. On October 14 the US government expressed its “outrage” that the Lebanese government had permitted a visit by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is the focus of Washington’s intense demonization efforts. Israel’s representatives in the US Congress threatened to stop US military aid to Lebanon, forgetting that US Rep. Howard Berman (D,CA) has had aid to Lebanon blocked since last August to punish Lebanon for a border clash with Israel.

Perhaps the most telling headline of all is the October 14 report, “Somalia’s New American Primer Minister.” An American has been installed as the Prime Minister of Somalia, an American puppet government in Mogadishu backed up by thousands of Ugandan troops paid by Washington.

This barely scratches the surface of Washington’s benevolence toward other countries and respect for their rights, borders, and lives of their citizens.

Meanwhile, to silence the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and to prevent any more revelations of American war crimes, the “freedom and democracy” government in DC has closed down WikiLeaks’ donations by placing the company that collects its money on its “watch list” and by having the Australian puppet government blacklist WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks is now akin to a terrorist organization. The American government’s practice of silencing critics will spread across the Internet.

Remember, they hate us because we have freedom and democracy, First Amendment rights, habeas corpus, respect for human rights, and show justice and mercy to all.

October 16, 2010

Paul Craig Roberts [send him mail], a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, has been released by Random House.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Craig Roberts

The Best of Paul Craig Roberts

 

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When Will the Bad Dream End?

by Anthony Gregory

In a normal country, war is front-page news. It is a big deal to invade and bomb another nation. Most of the world’s people can probably name all the foreign governments their own government is at war with. If any other industrialized nation were bombing Pakistan, for example, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, the average taxpayer would be aware. It would be the biggest news story. If you are a typical person living in a normal country, and your government threatens to invade, say, Eritrea, you would probably hear something about it. And you would probably even want to know where Eritrea is on a map.

The United States is not a normal country. If it ever was one, it certainly isn’t now. Its imperial foreign policy has long made it special, and now that it’s the world’s lone superpower – with an effective monopoly on aerial warfare, calling the shots as to who can have nukes, claiming the unilateral right to start wars against anyone – the U.S. government has become so belligerent, and especially in remote lands, that American wars have become routine, its casualties relegated to the back page.

This decade has obviously been especially bad. Nine years ago, the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and the United States, its government and political culture, fell under a spell of mass delusion that still shows no signs of abating. It has been nine whole years since 9/11, and it is starting to look like the “post-9/11” insanity that marked America under Bush has become a permanent feature of the American landscape.


Looking around at what has happened in these last nine years, we are reminded of what a long period of time this is in the modern age. iPods took the world by storm and became obsolete. Such movies as the Lord of the Rings trilogy forever changed film in ways we now take for granted. Trashy reality TV conquered most of the airwaves, but television has at the same time blossomed into a bona fide art form, with HBO, Showtime and even network TV producing programs of a quality previously unimagined. The internet has gone from being a ubiquitous convenience to becoming the major network of all communication, to which practically every other communicative and technological medium is to be connected.

In nine years, we’ve seen the housing market boom and bust. We’ve seen, according to the hyperbolic media, our nation’s greatest environmental disaster, one of the worst natural disasters, and a nearly unprecedented financial collapse. And speaking of the old media, the giant newspapers still seemed like leaders in 2001. Now they look like a dying breed, with whole enterprises selling for literally less than a single issue at a newsstand price. Meanwhile, many consumer goods, including food staples, have nearly doubled in cost.  China is now the second biggest economy in the world.

And certainly, nine years is quite some time in the lives of actual people. We all know folks who’ve had children or passed away. Kids have grown from losing their baby teeth to taking their SATs. We’ve been to many weddings.

On the political scene, in the last nine years we have watched nearly two full terms of one president and half a term of another – two presidents who represent different parties, opposing sides of the culture war and, ostensibly, contrasting approaches on how to govern the country. We’ve seen the Republicans capture the federal legislature and then lose it all again. We’ve seen both parties undergo significant rhetorical makeovers.

But one thing that hasn’t changed at all is U.S. foreign policy, and the entire American style of responding to supposed threats abroad with the brute force of war and the continual expansion of government power at home.


This is not to say that there was a qualitative break in U.S. policy nine years ago, not even as far as the Muslim world was concerned. The U.S. overthrew Iran’s government in 1953, installed a dictator and taught his goons how to torture. The U.S. backed Saddam and his ilk from the late 50s through the 1980s. The U.S. engineered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and continued to meddle in that country, radicalizing Islamist fighters and helping to create the modern fanaticism there. In the 1980s, the U.S. government bombed Libya and encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, even as President Reagan secretly sent weapons to Iran. In 1990, the U.S. government started a war with Iraq that has essentially continued to this day. Clinton bombed Iraq and Afghanistan. In the decades leading to 9/11, it is fair to say that the U.S. government directly or indirectly murdered millions of innocent people in its interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia. Every president from Eisenhower through Clinton shares some of the blame.

But there has been something particularly insane about U.S. policy since the events of 9/11. Previous limits upon imperial boldness, even if they existed only out of pragmatic concerns, have been swept aside. What was once considered beyond the pale is now accepted as normal.

Abroad, there is the war with Iraq that seems crazy even for the U.S. empire. It used to take something like the Soviet Menace, with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons – or someone like Hitler or Tojo, with some of the mightiest militaries on earth – to scare the living daylights out of Americans. But the Iraq war showed that the most ludicrous of pretenses – that a lame duck dictator like Saddam, who had never attacked the United States and showed no signs of doing so, was somehow a threat to America – could now be used to justify a project to “liberate” and bring democracy to a whole nation that itself was cobbled together by the West, held precariously intact under a brutal strongman, and that would inevitably fall short of American dreams of democracy no matter how many times its people voted.


Then there’s the fact that the U.S. government now goes to war, and is peripherally involved in even more wars, without anyone in America seeming to care. This is an era when threatening Eritrea is the least of it. The U.S. supports an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia – barely a blip in the news. The U.S. backs an ally, Israel, that invades its other ally, Lebanon, and maybe the talking heads care for about a day. The U.S. is essentially at war with its own nuclear-armed ally, Pakistan – and many Americans have no clue. The U.S. backs suicide bombers in Iran with possible ties to al Qaeda who are bent on changing Tehran’s government – not that most Americans even know the difference between Iran and al Qaeda, Persians and Arabs or Sunni and Shi’ia. And then, when an airplane passenger fails in his attempt to kill Americans on Christmas Day with explosives hidden in his underwear, the media scream that perhaps it’s time to wage war on Yemen. No one of prominence even mentions that Obama was already bombing Yemen, days before the underwear bomber almost struck.

But Afghanistan has got to be the most insane example of what’s going on. This is the war that marks the shift since 9/11 – even more than Iraq. The U.S. realists, in one of their only foreign policy successes ever, used Afghanistan against the Soviets, knowing it was the graveyard of invading empires. Now the U.S. is, in the midst of a recession, tripling down on a completely unjust and completely unwinnable project to save Afghanistan from its own tribal people, win the war on drugs there, bring freedom to the land and defeat a terrorist network that barely even exists in the country.

This is a reminder of why it’s so important to oppose a war before it begins. The Afghanistan war was always a terrible idea. Nine years ago, a few Americans stood up and pointed out that the 9/11 attacks were retaliation for U.S. foreign policy, which must be changed if we are ever to address the problem of terrorism. But these voices were in the minority. More than 90% of Americans cheered the invasion of Afghanistan. Now many on the left think it was folly, but the U.S. can’t pull out. Or they are quiet because their beloved president is doing the killing.

The Democrats practically all backed this war, and in both 2004 and 2008 attacked Bush for “neglecting” Afghanistan. Obama always promised us he’d be even worse on this war than his predecessor. It almost inspires nostalgia for Bush, who was essentially no more aggressive than Obama but who seemed to get away with less.


Obama has meanwhile “ended” the war in Iraq by keeping 50,000 troops there – troops involved in shooting and killing. Then there are the 100,000 contractors and permanent bases. Americans are snoozing. Who cares about Iraq? That’s so 2003. And on the civil liberties front – detention, rendition, surveillance, even the unilateral presidential right to assassinate US citizens he deems terrorists – Obama has pushed the envelope further than Bush. But what’s the big deal? Even conservatives who think Obama a totalitarian tyrant don’t seem to care about these, his most totalitarian and tyrannical policies.

As for the national debate about U.S. foreign policy, there is none. The idea that the minority was pushing even on 9/12 – that the attacks were blowback from decades of U.S. aggression – is still hardly more discussed than it was back then. Ron Paul made it a somewhat common point of discussion back in 2007, but since then, who has even touched upon the fundamental nature of 9/11? Instead, Americans are divided as to whether to blame all of Islam or whether to blame radical Islam, when revenge over U.S. aggression is the true motivation behind the anti-U.S. attacks, and stopping the wars is the only answer.

But far from finally being open to the truth of blowback and the insanity of the Afghanistan project, and far from having learned from Iraq to distrust U.S. war propaganda, the American people appear to have forgotten about these wars, to have stopped caring about U.S. foreign policy, except to be worried, once in a while, about the next supposed foreign threat. The media claim, without justification, that Iran is getting close to having a nuke. The press, year after year, spins a story up about how Iran is just one year away, but there is no proof this is even an Iranian goal, and practically no one ever talks about the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory, except to dishonestly imply that Iran has violated it. A poll this year reveals that 70% of Americans believe Iran already has a nuclear weapon – an astonishing accusation that the U.S. establishment has never outright articulated. But just as the Bush administration, without ever saying it, got Americans to believe that Saddam was behind 9/11, the powers that be are now doing nothing to dissuade the American public from these dangerous misconceptions about Iran. Indeed, all the actual aggressiveness is coming from Washington, in the form of sanctions and threats, and is directed against the Iranians – not the other way around.


Will the U.S. really go to war with Iran – a nation that has never attacked America, a nation that offered its support right after 9/11 in the fight against al Qaeda, a nation that would be even more unconquerable than Iraq and could become the trip wire for world conflict? Is the government going to challenge another country when it’s already in the middle of more than two wars with no end in sight? In a normal country, this would be an easier question to answer.

It is just an accepted fact that the wars and siege mentality must continue, that we cannot give up the empire lest we surrender to the terrorists. Instead, we must give away more and more of our freedoms for which we are supposedly hated. And how much longer can this charade go on? How much longer will the president be seen as the proper arbiter of life or death for all people everywhere, the judge, jury and executioner at the top of the U.S. justice system, with no territorial bounds on his power? How much longer will we deal with increasing humiliations at the airports, the rapid militarization of our police, the economy-crushing Pentagon that seems to double in size every few years, the demonization of Muslims that has become so commonplace? Will the U.S. be occupying Afghanistan nine years from now?

And it goes without saying that the U.S. government hasn’t even caught Osama bin Laden. Not that his capture would vindicate the million killed, the trillions squandered and the liberties smashed in this war. This would be obvious to people in a normal country.

But the madness will end, eventually. The bad dream that is post-9/11 America must at last give way to something else. If the people don’t get sick of it and demand that it end, or military defeat doesn’t do it, the U.S. empire will simply run out of money. Its days are numbered. It’s just tragic and sickening that many more will die before that happens.

September 11, 2010

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. He lives in Oakland, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

The Best of Anthony Gregory



Must We Do Something, Anything, about Global Warming?

Mises Daily: Friday, September 10, 2010 by

A friend of mine sent me a link to a video labeled “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See.” According to YouTube, this video has been viewed over 3.5 million times. Narrator Greg Craven, a high-school science teacher, presents an application of the precautionary principle to the debate over anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Craven claims to have found an argument that does not depend on the resolution of the scientific controversy — a “silver bullet argument,” an argument that leads to an “inescapable conclusion,” one “that even the most hardened skeptic and the most panicked activist can agree on.”

I beg to differ.

Craven starts out with the premise that we can reduce the problem to one of four possible outcomes, which he places on a grid (as shown below). The rows represent the proposition that the worst outcome of AGW (the end of human life on earth) is on its way or is not. The columns represent the choice to do something or do nothing.

Craven then proceeds to examine the implications of ending up in each one of his four quadrants. I have written an abbreviation of his conclusion in the cells of the table:

Do Something Do Nothing
AGW – true avert total disaster total disaster
AGW – false wasted resources avoid waste of resources

According to Craven, because we cannot be totally certain about the science, we need to find another way to choose our course of action. And Craven aims to show that this is possible. He states that “we begin by acknowledging that no one can know with absolute certainty what the future will bring.” This argument is a variant of Pascal’s Wager, which structures the issue of belief in God the same way, with punishment for nonbelievers as the worst case.

Pascal's wager

Craven’s reasoning is that the objective of our decision-making process should be to avoid the top right cell. He observes that we cannot control which row we are in because we don’t know for sure the outcome of the science; but we can avoid the top right cell (total disaster) because we can control which column we are in. We should choose to “do something” to ensure that we end up in the right column rather than the left column.

There are many problems with this approach.

The first problem is that this argument proves too much. The premise — that something really, really bad might happen — is undoubtedly true: there is a virtually unlimited supply of hypotheses about things that might go wrong. The less evidence required for any particular catastrophe, the longer the list of bad things we can make. Craven’s mode of argument could be used to prove that we should “do something” about any — or all — of them.

Go through the entire video and replace “global warming” with “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction”:

Saddam Hussein might have WMDs, which he could be planning to use against the United States. No one can prove that he does not because, as members of the neocon war party enjoyed pointing out, you can’t prove a negative.

Even trying to use reason to figure out whether or not Saddam has WMDs is what Mr. Craven would call “row thinking,” while what we need in dark times such as these is “column thinking.”

As Craven would undoubtedly agree, we don’t know whether Saddam has WMDs or not. In the worst case, Saddam has WMDs and he will use them against the United States. If we “take action” by invading Iraq and deposing Saddam, then we can eliminate the worst case. If we “do nothing” through “inaction” then the worst case might happen anyway.

It is true that we will incur costs by invading Iraq: dollars, some American deaths. Maybe we disrupt the lives of Iraqis a bit. But the cost of the worst case is incalculable.

The conclusion is therefore inescapable to all rational and right-minded people: we must invade Iraq.

Glenn Greenwald, in a recent piece, points out that this exact argument is being used to defend the decision to go to war in Iraq.  And now the war party is using the same argument to lie the country into a war with Iran (“we cannot allow a nuclear Iran“) even though there is no credible evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program — it takes Scott Horton less than seven minutes to debunk the propaganda on this issue.

The second problem I will address is that Craven’s argument proves nothing at all. His objective is to show that we should do something to avoid the worst case. But to prove that we must “do something” is to prove nothing. He organizes the problem around a set of abstract choices. But in life, we face only concrete choices, not abstract ones. While deciding to “do something” about an issue in your life that you have been ignoring might be an important psychological step, it is still not an actionable decision. What to do is the real decision and cannot be separated from the decision to “do something.”

Another way of saying this is that the grid describing reality has more than two columns. It has infinitely many columns representing the infinite range of choices that exist in the real world. Craven’s mode of argument provides no guidance as to how many resources should be expended or in what direction to address the problem.

The aim of Craven’s argument is to show that we can avoid the worse case without resolving the science. But this is only true if we choose a concrete plan that has the desired result. We have an infinite range of choices that all involve doing something — and some other choices that involve watching and waiting. Because our resources are finite, we could not adopt all policy proposals. To avoid the worse case, we would have to evaluate whether each proposal might have any benefits at all and whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Should we choose one staggeringly expensive plan that might work? Or ten less expensive plans that each have a chance of working?

If we use up a vast amount of resources on one very small risk, then we will be in a worse position to deal with other problems that do materialize. Maybe the best course is to do nothing right now, relying on economic growth to increase our wealth and therefore our range of choices in the future?

The argument can be used to prove whatever conclusion you want, depending on what you posit as the worst case.  For example, try using the argument on the following worst case: we implement restrictive carbon-emission legislation and that causes even worse climate change.  Or this: destroy the world’s economy fighting a problem that doesn’t exist (AGW), and then a very real — and much bigger — crisis emerges (and, as Mr. Craven points out, science cannot prove whether this will or will not happen), but we have no more wealth left to address it. Craven’s contention proves that we should do nothing now so that we can address the real worst case that has not yet shown its face.

This brings us to another gross deficiency in Craven’s argument: the choice among the many concrete options that we have depends on our understanding the cause and effect of each choice. To “do something” is for us to create some causes that we believe have certain effects. We cannot evaluate the effect of any cause without relying on the science of the issue. The science applied to any concrete proposal is essentially the same controversial science that Craven claims we don’t need in order to reach a conclusion about what to do.

As the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) explains in their excellent commentary on the precautionary principle,

[t]he precautionary principle is, however, a very useful one for consumer activists precisely because it prevents scientific debate. The burden of evidence and proof is taken away from those who make unjustified and often whimsical claims and placed on the scientific community which, because it proceeds logically and rationally, is often powerless to respond. This is what makes the principle so dangerous. It generates a quasi-religious bigotry which history should have has [sic] taught us to fear. Its inherent irrationality renders it unsustainable.

The deficiency is illustrated this way. If the goal is to avoid the worst possible outcome, then “do something” is not enough. We must do something effective. Some of the actions we might take would not be very costly but would also (probably) not meet Mr. Craven’s criteria for effectiveness.

Suppose that we all wore Whip Global Warming Now buttons? Would that help us avoid the worst case? Some might say so, but the strongest objection to that plan would be that there is no scientific basis for the belief that wearing buttons has any impact on global climate change.

Suppose that I agreed with Craven’s conclusion and suggested as the solution that we lengthen our commutes to work so we can drive more, and that we increase the use of coal-fired power plants. Oh, but that won’t work, he might say, because it would increase carbon emissions. But this is only a constructive response if carbon emissions are really the cause of AGW. Without any science linking cause and effect, how do we know that reducing (not increasing) carbon emissions will help?

Though Craven doesn’t present a concrete proposal, clearly he has something in mind — probably Cap and Tax or a similar scheme — because he is able to fill in the lower left quadrant of his grid with various economic costs — depression, lost jobs, lower wages, and the like. Similar legislative proposals would incur the absolutely stupefying cost of reducing carbon emissions to preindustrial levels.

So far I have been focusing on the columns. But there are also a lot more rows than Craven shows. His two rows representing AGW true/false correspond to the cases that either nothing much happens or it’s the end of civilization. But there are a lot of points in between — something happens but it is benign, something bad happens but it is manageable, something really bad happens but it is not the end of human life altogether, etc.

Craven claims that the risk of inaction outweighs the risk of action. But as I have shown, an analysis entirely in terms of the abstract categories he uses does not reach any meaningful conclusion. Relative costs can only be understood in terms of the concrete choices and their actual or estimated costs. While it is true that it might be worth taking action to avoid a very small risk with a very high cost, rationality requires an estimation of the risk and the cost.

Think about how you face the risk of extinction in your own life. Your life could end suddenly for many reasons — a car accident, an airplane crash, a predator-drone strike (just kidding), or even a 16-ton weight falling on your head. What is a rational approach to managing these risks? Some of them are, for most of us, too remote to think about, while others justify modest costs to reduce them. You could avoid all risk of car accidents by staying at home all the time, but for most people that cost is too high.

Mr. Craven compares the problem to that of buying a lottery ticket, but a rational approach to even lottery-ticket purchases requires a calculation in terms of the cost of each ticket against the probability of winning and the expected winnings.

The point of Craven’s argument is to reach a conclusion that we should support carbon-trading permits or some other incredible central-planning scheme that would fundamentally alter human society and economics without having to win on the science.

AGW promoters have good reason for steering people away from the science. Once you start to tug on that ball of yarn, the entire politically motivated fraud starts to unravel.

Robert Blumen is an independent enterprise software consultant based in San Francisco. Send him mail. See Robert Blumen’s article archives.

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