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September 20, 2006

It's Lies All The Way Down

Here's a famous anecdote, as told in Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."

This is also the Bush administration strategy: no matter how deeply you inquire, you find that each lie is balanced on top of yet another lie. It's lies all the way down.

For instance, here's John Bolton yesterday on CNN:

BLITZER: But you understand why some people are skeptical of the Bush administration's stance given the failures on the weapons of mass destruction intelligence leading up to the Iraq war?...

BOLTON: Well I think our intelligence could get much better, let's put it that way. But don't forget, intelligence was wrong about Saddam Hussein in 1990, '91 too when they didn't think they were close to developing a nuclear weapon, where the IAEA had no proof, but where after that war, we learned a lot about what Saddam Hussein was up to.

This particular tale has been repeated ad nauseum, by Dick Cheney and many others, for years. We had to believe in 2003 the CIA was underestimating things on Iraq! they said. Just look what happened before the Gulf War!

Okay. Let's go back and check what people were saying before the Gulf War about what the intelligence showed. Here's Dick Cheney, then Defense Secretary, on Face the Nation on November 25, 1990:

CHENEY: ...nobody can put a specific timetable on it. There are a lot of estimates. They range through--worst case assumption, a matter of a year or less to having some kind of a crude device, to one to five to ten years in terms of having a deliverable weapon. The experts are all over the lot. What we do know is, he's doing everything he can to acquire the capability.

SMITH: The worst case scenario, that year or less, could involve a time period in which American and other troops are deployed nearby.

Cheney: Well, this is so--again, I don't want to overemphasize what capability he would have during that period of time... but again, we're talking about a relatively brief period of time here. One way or another, within a few years, Saddam Hussein is likely to acquire nuclear weapons.

What did we learn after the Gulf War? We learned that what Cheney said was exactly right. If the sanctions imposed on Iraq in August, 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait had been lifted (a very big if), Iraq was probably 2-3 years away from enriching enough uranium to build a crude nuclear weapon. It was also possible, though not certain, that Iraq's crash program started after the Kuwait invasion could have secretly diverted enriched uranium from its legitimate IAEA-supervised energy program to build a weapon by the end of 1992. In any case it would then have taken several more years to create weapons that were "deliverable"—i.e., by missile. (A good summary of the situation can be found here.)

It is true the CIA and the rest of the world were surprised by some aspects of the Iraqi nuclear program—specifically one method Iraq was using to enrich uranium which was so difficult and technologically outdated no one had considered they'd try it. But that wouldn't have changed much about the speed with which they could have built a bomb.

And there's much more to this story. Under Bolton's lie about what was known in 1991 is another lie: we couldn't possibly have been in the dark about the Iraqi nuclear program. The U.S. knew it was quite serious because we knew (and concealed from the IAEA) that Saudi Arabia had given Iraq billions of dollars for their nuclear program. And I'm sure there are more lies under that. Lies all the way down.

Posted at September 20, 2006 11:16 PM | TrackBack

Turtles and tortoises are very different things.

Posted by: John at September 21, 2006 04:59 AM

On the issue of terminology, our friends at Wikipedia point out:

>>Turtle, tortoise, or terrapin?

In British English it is normal to describe these reptiles as turtles, terrapins, or tortoises depending on whether they live in the sea, in fresh water, or on land, respectively. Thus the green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, is considered a turtle [1]; the red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, a terrapin [2]; and the eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina, a tortoise [3].

In American English it is common to refer to all freshwater chelonians as turtles. Ocean-going species are sea turtles, and members of the family Testudinidae, such as the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), are considered tortoises. "Terrapin" is reserved for the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), a North American species whose name is derived from the Algonquian word for this animal, [4] though the average speaker would simply refer to it as a turtle.

There are no fully-terrestrial forms in Australia; therefore, speakers of Australian English tend to use turtle for marine species and tortoise for freshwater species. This confusing nomenclature is changing as recent publications have used turtle for both marine and freshwater species [5].

The word chelonian, an umbrella term covering turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, is increasingly popular among scientists, conservationists, hobbyists and veterinarians working with these animals. It is based on the Greek word χελώνα ( /çeˈlona/, chelone ), meaning tortoise, and is used, for example, by the Chelonian Research Foundation.

Posted by: mistah charley at September 21, 2006 08:31 AM

this is why i read ATR, i always learn something!

Posted by: almostinfamous at September 21, 2006 11:08 AM

I realize there is only one core truth about the Bushies:

1.they think they're smarter than everybody else, and

2.we deserve to be lied to because we're a bunch of weak pansies,

2b.which makes lying to us all right, not that they care whether or not it's right, because

2c.caring about stuff like that is something that only weak pansies would do.

Yes, I said one core truth. Not two, and certainly not three or four. (The way they count their core truth(s) is also classified. Excess curiosity about the counting of the one core truth is probably treasonous.)

Also, John Bolton's mustache will frighten all our enemies into submission.

Ok, two core truths.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at September 21, 2006 04:31 PM

Yes, I believe that they do think they are smarter than everyone else. You can see the disdain dripping from their chins when they speak in public. Rummy has his oh my goodness, Cheney has his snarl down pat, Bush has a smirk permanently stamped on his face, Powell has his poker face, hard ass demeanor and Tony Snow -- no comment.

I also believe that they have told so many lies that they cannot keep track of them any longer and worse still have come to believe their own malarkey so that they don't feel the need to keep track of their lies because if they said it then it must be so. But what stands out to me is the utter contempt and disdain they hold for the public. Bush has said that the definition of a strong leader is one who does not bow to public opinion; a strong leader is one who ignores public opinion because the strong leader knows best.

Looking back at the Bush presidency and the resulting reality we now abide in we can see that Bush and his supporters are a living monument to the human capacity for self delusion.

Posted by: rob payne at September 21, 2006 08:19 PM

Excellent post. Wolfowitz & Rice are among those fond of the lie about how "surprised" the US was when it "learned" the "truth" about Iraq's nuclear program after the first Gulf War.

Al Gore in a campaign speech at The Center for National Policy on September 29, 1992 explained how the G. H. W. Bush administration held detailed knowledge of and participated in supplying Iraq's nuclear program.

GORE: "In April 1989, a nuclear proliferation expert from the Department of Energy reported intelligence indicators that Iraq had a crash program underway to build an atomic bomb. In June, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Iraq was running a major European network to procure military goods that were not supposed to be sold. In August, the FBI raided the Atlanta Branch of the Italian Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) and seized evidence of over $4 billion in illegal loans to Iraq, as well as use of about $2 billion of those funds to buy nuclear and other military technologies. And on September 22nd, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly wrote a memo acknowledging that money coming to Iraq through the Atlanta branch of the BNL did `appear to have been used' to finance acquisition of sensitive military technology. Also in September, the USDA reported kickbacks and possible diversions of US-supplied agricultural funds for military purposes.

"Most significant of all, in the same month, the CIA reported to Secretary of State James Baker and other top Bush administration officials that Iraq was clandestinely procuring nuclear weapons technology through a global network of front companies.

"Now, in the midst of this flood of highly alarming information, on October 2, 1989, President Bush signed a document known as NSD-26, which established policy toward Iraq under his Administration. This document is the benchmark for judging George Bush's record for the direction of American policy toward Iraq in the period that would ultimately lead to war. We have only a partial idea of what is in that document, since the version that was finally released to Congress has been heavily censored. But the core statement of purpose and the fundamental assumptions behind it are clear. And so is the incredibly poor judgment of George Bush.

"NSD-26 mandated the pursuit of improved economic and political ties with Iraq on the assumption that Iraqi behavior could be modified by means of new favors to be granted".

Posted by: eric at September 21, 2006 10:01 PM

My favorite Napoleon quote: "History is a series of agreed upon lies."

That not everyone is agreeing with the lies means that we haven't agreed yet.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at September 22, 2006 09:02 AM

hey, that's my favourite anti-science line!

Posted by: almostinfamous at September 23, 2006 09:44 AM