Thursday, 21 March 2013


I didn't really planned on writing a post on the subject.

The main reason was that no-one likes a smart-ass and, while it can be self-gratifying to say "I told you so", it never makes you any friends.

Two things changed my mind. The first was this chart which shows that 40% of Americans still think invading was the right decision. The second was this Bloomberg article from Ezra Klein. Several people have congratulated Ezra for it or at least acknowledge that this must have been a difficult column to write.

And it probably was and it is indeed remarkable, in this day and age, to see anyone willing to step up and admit they were wrong (for something else than sleeping with someone they're not married to. Somehow, it's still okay to apologise for that).

On the other hand, what worries me is that Klein is still getting it wrong. The way he recollect things is inaccurate and thus one of the lessons he vows to learn or to have learned is off base.

Ezra Klein insists that part of the problem was that “[e]verybody knew” that [Saddam] Hussein had WMDs". Now, he says that we should be wary of what "everybody knows". It is certainly wise but the truth is and was that there was plenty of skeptics when it came to Saddam Hussein's vaunted WMDs arsenal.

Ezra Klein acknowledges only one such skeptic: "The lack of WMDs, Pollack continued, was a “complete surprise.” The intelligence community - with the exception of United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter - was simply wrong."

Quite asides from the fact that, if someone should know, it should be the weapon inspectors, there were countless famous and not-so-famous people (including yours truly) who doubted that Saddam Hussein had any WMD arsenal worth worrying about. In France, even the political puppet show, Les Guignols de l'info, was saying so out loud in their inimitable style. I can also remember the absolute reluctance of many intelligence agencies to see their caveated-to-death, ass-covering, career-protecting assessments converted into uncontroversial proofs of Saddam's possession of WMDs.

The Colin Powell speech to the UN was widely criticised at the time. So was Blair's ludicrous "45 minutes" claim. The claims about the intercepted tubes and Nigerian yellow-cake uranium were similarly debunked pretty much in real time. Only people who wanted to be convinced could have been convinced or, more accurately, delude themselves based on such flimsy or outright fraudulent 'proofs'.

So - Sorry, Ezra but no. Not 'everyone knew'. There were just a large number of people who had either career-related or ideological reasons to try and use anything to justify their already-decided conclusion that invading Iraq was a good idea. A large section of the public was willing to go along or to self-delude but that's not the same thing as 'everybody knew'.

And so rather than learning to beware of what "everybody knows", I think the more appropriate lesson is to distrust people with a special interest in selling you their conclusions. Just like you don't rely on a salesman to tell you the truth on his wares, you shouldn't rely on people with a vested interest in getting you to a certain, pre-ordained, conclusion for the objective truth.