Sunday, November 14, 2004

Those Ignorant Republicans (Part 2)

I continue examining the claim from the left that they represent the reality based society while the rest of America is not reality based. Their major support for this claim comes from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) survey decrying "The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters". In this series I'm examining some of the results of this survey and offering my opinions as to which answers best reflect reality. In part 1 I looked at a question that centered on Bush supporters' belief that Iraq possessed WMDs immediately prior to the Iraq war. I would say that what we do know about Iraq's WMDs is summed up in the following: 1) they possessed them in 1991. 2) There is no good evidence that they were destroyed since then. 3) We don't know where they are now. Given the uncertainty over the fate of these WMDs it is only natural that people would have a broad range of opinions regarding them and those opinions would generally be guided by their political and ideological leanings.

Rather than looking at peoples' beliefs in something that cannot be proven one way or the other better way to decide "reality based" would be to look at each side's knowledge of facts. The PIPA report does have a question that qualifies:

Q38. As you may know, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons
inspector selected by the Bush administration to
investigate whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,
has just presented his final report to Congress. Is it
your impression he concluded that, just before the war, Iraq…

Had actual weapons of mass destruction 12%
Bush supporters 19
Kerry supporters 7
Had no weapons of mass destruction but
had a major program for developing them 27
Bush supporters 38
Kerry supporters 16
Had some limited activities that could be
used to help develop weapons of mass
destruction, but not an active program 39
Bush supporters 31
Kerry supporters 50
Did not have any activities related to weapons
of mass destruction 12
Bush supporters 4
Kerry supporters 20
(No answer) 9
So what does the Duelfer report actually say? I did not read the entire report, but this summary is quite useful. Some key findings: 1) Sadaam Hussein remained committed to retaining the capability to produce WMDs so that Iraq could quickly reconstitute WMD production programs as soon as sanctions were lifted. 2) He personally communicated this desire with his closest lieutenants but avoided putting it into writing. 3) Sadaam pursued a program to acquire dual use equipment which could be used to reconstitute Iraq's WMD production capability. 4) At the start of the war, Iraq had the capability to produce large quantities (tons) of sulfur mustard within 3-6 months and significant quantities of nerve agent within 2 years.

Now there is a lot in the Duelfer report that is still up to interpretation, however I think we can safely conclude that the report says two things unequivocally. 1) Iraq did not have WMDs immediately prior to the war. 2) Iraq retained the capability to produce WMDs rapidly if sanctions were lifted.

That is to say, the 1st and last statements in question Q38 are equally wrong. Interestingly the survey results mirror each other as well. About the same number of Bush supporters chose the first statement as Kerry supporters chose the last statement. Rather than demonstrating that Bush supporters are wrong, it shows that equal amounts of Bush and Kerry supporters were wrong. Again they tended to be wrong towards the side that most supported their ideological and political views.

How about those in the middle? Well, it depends on how you would characterize a program that is capable of producing tons of chemical weapons in 3-6 months. Is that a "major program" or "limited activities"? I think it is entirely possible that reasonable people could disagree on this point and not at all surprising that their interpretation would hinge on which political candidate they support.


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