With Bush, Ideology Replaces Facts
Posted by Mary
In today's WaPo, Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus lay out the way the Bush administration distorted the evidence regarding the nuclear threat posed by Saddam. The article is quite explicit in saying that the case the Bush administration presented for making the nuclear case was much more extreme than justified by any evidence and as the months went by, the case became shakier. The administration's response was to rely heavily on the information from those who backed their belief and to undermine those who presented information that contradicted their opinions. In particular, Gellman and Pincus examine the aluminum tubes controversy where the assessment of the evidence by the real experts (the nuclear scientists in the DOE) was ignored and the opinion of Joe (engineer turned CIA analyst, no last name) was taken as proof that the tubes were proof of Saddam's trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program.
The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied:
- Bush and others often alleged that President Hussein held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, but did not disclose that the known work of the scientists was largely benign. Iraq's three top gas centrifuge experts, for example, ran a copper factory, an operation to extract graphite from oil and a mechanical engineering design center at Rashidiya.
- The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of October 2002 cited new construction at facilities once associated with Iraq's nuclear program, but analysts had no reliable information at the time about what was happening under the roofs. By February, a month before the war, U.S. government specialists on the ground in Iraq had seen for themselves that there were no forbidden activities at the sites.
- Gas centrifuge experts consulted by the U.S. government said repeatedly for more than a year that the aluminum tubes were not suitable or intended for uranium enrichment. By December 2002, the experts said new evidence had further undermined the government's assertion. The Bush administration portrayed the scientists as a minority and emphasized that the experts did not describe the centrifuge theory as impossible.
- In the weeks and months following Joe's Vienna briefing, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others continued to describe the use of such tubes for rockets as an implausible hypothesis, even after U.S. analysts collected and photographed in Iraq a virtually identical tube marked with the logo of the Medusa's Italian manufacturer and the words, in English, "81mm rocket."
- The escalation of nuclear rhetoric a year ago, including the introduction of the term "mushroom cloud" into the debate, coincided with the formation of a White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a task force assigned to "educate the public" about the threat from Hussein, as a participant put it.
Two senior policymakers, who supported the war, said in unauthorized interviews that the administration greatly overstated Iraq's near-term nuclear potential.
The administration's reliance on ideology rather than actual data was also the topic of a report released by Henry Waxman (D-CA) this week. Investigating the Bush Administration's Promotion of Ideology Over Science documents the Manipulation of Scientific Committees, the Distortion of Scientific Evidence and the Interference of Scientific Research.
According to Science, advisory committees are “the primary mechanism for government agencies to harness the wisdom and expertise of the scientific community in shaping the national agenda for both research and regulation.” The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires that federal committees be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented” and provide advice that “will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest.” Yet instead of seeking quality advice from expert appointments, the Bush Administration has:
- appointed people with scant scientific credentials but strong industry ties;
- appointed nonexperts with right-wing ideological agendas;
- stacked advisory committees with numerous pro-industry or ideological appointees;
- opposed the appointment or reappointment of qualified experts, including some of the most respected scientists in their fields, on the basis of political litmus tests.
Bush's proclivity of ignoring facts and his reliance on his gut to make decisions is something that Molly Ivins reported before Bush ran for president:
In "Shrub," we recount a long discussion Bush had with a reporter about the death penalty, the day that Karla Faye Tucker was executed. And they really had a serious talk about it. And at the very end of it, Bush said, "I know there is no evidence that shows that the death penalty is a deterrent. But I just feel in my gut that it must be true." Okay, now this is a guy who thinks that that is as good as, or more important, than evidence, than fact.
That he has filled his administration with others that are also so inclined is a serious concern for our country and the world. Ignoring facts do not make them go away. And for many of the challenges our world faces, the facts are showing that we are in for some serious reckoning.