Bryan Caplan  

When the Facts Don't Change, I Change My Mind

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Perhaps Keynes' best quip: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

Fair question. But what do you think about people who change their minds when the facts haven't changed? Wait, don't answer... see this clip of a 1994 Cheney interview first.

OK, ready?


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COMMENTS (18 to date)
John Thacker writes:

A video that can of course be juxtaposed with Democrats (including those currently running for president) quite upset about the first Bush Administration not taking out Saddam, or arguing that Iraq and Iran are both imminent dangers.

In either case, however, a natural conclusion is that the person involved was not President in either case and was defending the Administration's position. How do you feel about lawyers who are willing to argue either side?


It is a bit ridiculous to suggest that the facts have not changed at all, with regards to almost any of these sorts of "gotcha" videos. Well, unless you believe that the only reason (in the Administration) for going into Iraq was rectifying the previous war, and that Cheney's actually in control of the Presidency. It seems to me that this video argues against both of those common tropes.

Bill Hobbs writes:

Actually, the facts HAD changed - they changed on 9/11, when it become obvious that we could no longer just sit here thinking we were protected by the oceans, and they changed because in the years since 1994 the sanctions containing Saddam had begun to break down, he was firing on our pilots, and his regime had signed a non-aggression agreement with al Qaeda and also operated a terrorist training camp at Salman Pak.

To say that the facts hadn't changed is to deny the obvious.

jk writes:

The concerns did not change, but it is specious to claim that facts did not change. Twelve years of avoidance and intransigence with UN inspectors? Payments to Palestinian terrorists?

SB writes:

The posters above point out that some facts have changed but this is immaterial to the point. It is implicit that the facts be relevant to the issue.

The issue is the feasibility of enacting regime change without making things worse. In 1994, Cheney claimed that it wasn't feasible, not because Saddam hadn't been intransigent enough, nor because he hadn't yet allowed terrorist training camps, nor for any other the other things mentioned. His claim was that it wasn't feasible due to the fact that the area is simply too volatile involving too many parties with conflicting interests. Those facts had not changed by 2003.

Lance writes:

While, I believe Cheney knew that the occupation of Iraq was going to be messier than what the American may have been led to believe ('will be greeted as liberators'), the underlying cause for going into Iraq had changed to an extent. Cheney's point of Saddam's life was just not worth the bloodshed it would percipitate is the main qualifier, as apparently now, the bloodshed necessary to sustain an independent Iraqi government is a price worth paying.

We also need to consider that Saddam's country was decimated after the Gulf War. 2/3's of its army was destroyed, its WMD program was on crutches, and Saddam had effectively been isolated and contained. One cannot ignore the fragile Persian state alliance that was formed to help support the U.S. effort in Iraq, it would've put the Saudi's in an awkward position to support the overthrow of Hussein's Sunni government.

shayne writes:

Facts are interesting things, but they are not truth. Any fact, taken far enough out of context becomes a lie. Want an example? If I were to describe a statesman who orchestrated a dramatically powerful emergence from the depression for his people that included features such as an efficient interstate highway system, architectural advances and a variety of other societal benefits, what would you think?. I'm describing Adolf Hitler and those are facts. But the additional facts that he did so with the intent of facilitating an aggressive war in Europe, as well as other crimes against humanity puts the facts in better context. Perhaps he shouldn't be described as a statesman.

As new facts are uncovered, pre-existing facts come into better context and hopefully minds will change.

Ray G writes:

Bill Hobbs said everything that I was about to say. Thank you Bill Hobbs.

kebko writes:

I can't believe how many people insist on rushing to the defense of the administration. To my mind, what is so damning about this footage is that the president was repeatedly asked what would happen if things didn't go well in Iraq, and routinely refused to even answer the question, regarding the thought as defeatist. The administration didn't just go to war with poor contingency planning, but they clearly had experience considering the downsides, and actively tamped down any communication about those possibilities in the runup to war. Much like the continued false connections between Iraq & 9/11, it's simply another brick in the wall where this administration heinously poisons public discourse on matters where they certainly should know better. And, for God's sake, to what ends?

spencer writes:

Bill Hobbes -- I think I am a very well informed individual. But this is the first time I have ever heard of a treaty between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Moreover, I was under the distinct impression that all the stories about training camps in Iraq had been completely discredited.

I challenge you to document either one of these claims.

You are entitled to your opinion, but not your facts.

Ray G writes:

Spencer,
Here ya go:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/378fmxyz.asp?pg=1

Chuck writes:

Wow, a link to a 4 year old article in a magazine published by neo-cons referring to a memo released by Doug Feith, also a neo-con. Colin Powel's chief of staff said of Feith, "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man."

Here's an article from less than a year later, from an actual news source rather than a propaganda organ, stating the absence of an operational relationship...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7336-2004Jul22.html

Here's a good quote from a 2007 article of a report by the Pentagons Inspector General: "The Feith office alternative intelligence assessments concluded that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating and had a "mature, symbiotic" relationship, a view that was not supported by the available intelligence, and was contrary to the consensus view of the Intelligence Community."

Here's the article... http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0406/p99s01-duts.html

All that baloney aside, I think the point is that the mess we are in now, they knew was coming, and even if they felt that we had to go in, they took us in without a plan to deal with the problems they knew were coming.

They forced the issue to go with fewer troops, the refused the draft enough people to do the job, as things fell apart they pretended that it wasn't happening, etc, and in fact took actions which exacerbated the problem. Ugh.

spencer writes:

Thanks Chuck.

Bill, maybe you need to read the Blog on biases.

gabe harris writes:

wow...a lot of neo-cons read this blog. Caplan how did you get so popular with these idiots? I know you'll stay strong to your austrian roots though. You neo-cons realize that Caplan is against big government right? Your probably not going to like most of his ideas...go back to worshipping FDR you collectivist warmongerers.

gabe harris writes:

Cheney didn't change his opinion. He knew this was a quagmire and he wanted to increase governemtn spending dramatically. DO you read the CFR articles and archives?...they had been dreaming about a pearl harbor event for the previous ten years and they openly expressed their beliefes that they wanted some excuse(any excuse) to ramp up the defense budget.

Ray G writes:

Chuck,
You didn't address the facts. Why is it when clowns can't win ad rem they go ad hominem. Attacking the writer and the publication doesn't change the facts.

As for the completely objective washington Post that you referred me to, the first two paragraphs of the article you wanted me to read should rell you what you need to know:

First paragraph: "One week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no "compelling case" existed for Iraq's involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government were weak."

Ok chuck; you win. But, no one ever said that Iraq was involved in 9/11. It doen't change the fact that Iraq and AQ shared many of the same objectives and were cooperating. That alone was worth the invasion.

seond: "Not only did Osama bin Laden resent the Iraqi government's secularism, Kurtz's classified memo stated, but there was no confirmed information about collaboration between them on weapons of mass destruction."

A smart guy like you should know that absenceof evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

Chuck writes:

My 'attack' on Feith was not ad hominem, he was arguably acting in bad faith, and he was your source. It was a relevant attack on his credibility, if perhaps a little over the top.

Furthermore, the contention that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating is not true. From my previous post: "The Feith office alternative intelligence assessments concluded that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating and had a "mature, symbiotic" relationship, a view that was not supported by the available intelligence, and was contrary to the consensus view of the Intelligence Community."

Here's the article... http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0406/p99s01-duts.html

Ray G writes:

Chuck,
If anyone pins their hopes on this (see link) intelligence community, they are in trouble. The CIA was gutted years ago by Church et al and has become bloated with bureaucrats who are mostly interested in covering their asses and preserving their jobs (or failing that, lucrative book deals exposing the administration and perhaps getting a plum post in the next Clinton administration).

Pinning your argument on the fact that the "intelligence community" disagreed with Feith is tantamount to asking OJ to find the real killer; it's tantamount to asking Valerie Plame what she will do now that Tim Russert blew her cover. In other words, your argument is nonsense.

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZDY0YWJmM2ZhMWYxMDdmZDhmNTU5NDhiMmE2MWQxZTU=

Chuck writes:

Right, we can't trust the intelligence community based on.... another National Review article - oh, I get it, you're just playing me!

So your position is that we can't believe the CIA or news papers, just Dear Leader and the National Review?

Here's a link from this specific blog, I specifically suggest checking out item (c), which is about confirmation bias as manifested in holding contradictory evidence to higher standards than you hold confirming evidence.

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/08/tyler_on_trusti.html

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