Sunday, February 03, 2013

Mali and the Memory Hole

There's a lot to like about The Economist, in particular the magazine's long-time, free-thinking stance on gay marriage equality and an end to drug prohibition.  But when it comes to western military interventions, they have a weird blind spot.  I've been reading the magazine for decades, and I can't remember them ever arguing against the use, or the escalation, of western military force.  Their latest war cheerleading is for western intervention in Mali, where "the real danger is that the world turns its back on another poor place threatened by jihadists."

The support for a western war in Mali isn't itself surprising; as noted above, for The Economist, the support is in fact entirely consistent.  What struck me was something else -- a kind of selective memory at work on the magazine's editorial board, a selective memory that's necessary for anyone who wants to continue to argue for more western involvement in foreign wars.  Here's how the magazine describes the causes of strife in Mali that now require a western military response.  I don't know how they managed it while keeping a straight face.

Since time immemorial, lawlessness and violence have had a toehold in and around the vast Sahara desert and the terrain that stretches eastward across to Somalia in the Horn of Africa.  But in the past few years the anarchy has worsened -- especially since the fall of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in late 2011, when arms flooded across the region’s porous borders.  Hostage-taking, cash from ransoms, smuggling, drug-trafficking and brigandage have bolstered an array of gang leaders.  Some of them, waving the banner of Islam, have seized on legitimate local grievances fuelled by poverty, discrimination and the mismanagement of corrupt governments.

Has The Economist forgotten that the west's attack on Libya was another war The Economist cheered for?  Apparently they have.  Because how else can you write an article calling for more military intervention while acknowledging the new intervention is necessitated by the results of the previous intervention, without acknowledging or explaining that you yourself supported the previous intervention that caused this new problem you now argue the west must intervene to solve?

Economist, meet George Orwell's Memory Hole.

But wait -- there's still more:

Islamist fighters from Libya and elsewhere brought violent jihadism to Mali in the wake of the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011… How the Mali campaign develops will be shaped by yet another international link forged by extremists.  After the fall of Qaddafi, an insane pack-rat when it came to lethal toys, many loyalists fled into the desert loaded with weaponry, including heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and, it is believed, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Again, no mention of The Economist's role in cheering for the previous war that's the magazine's claimed reason for the need for a new one.  And I was also struck by the reference to Qaddafi as "insane" for stockpiling arms.  If the UK, America, and Qaddafi were all to open up their arms cabinets, who would have the most "lethal toys?"  Given which two of these three stockpile lethal nuclear toys, singling out Qaddafi for squirreling away arms seems either demented or propagandistic or both.  And given that NATO deposed Qaddafi in an operation The Economist itself supported, and given that Qaddafi was murdered in the course of that operation, it's hard to argue that there was no rational basis for his attachment to armaments.  In fact, I'd argue that what's insane -- or dishonest -- would be to argue otherwise.

Part of the reason war is so dangerous is because its prospect excites otherwise intelligent people to such a degree that they lose their ability to reason.  When people drink, they know they're impaired.  A pity more people don't recognize a similar phenomenon at work when they're advocating for war.

It all puts me in mind of an Economist ad I saw recently, in which the magazine proudly quotes Oracle founder Larry Ellison as saying, "I used to think, now I just read The Economist."

Perhaps, then, it would be appropriate to include this tagline under the magazine's masthead:  "The Economist.  The Substitute For Thought."


Oblivious to oblivion said...

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted that information gleaned from waterboarded detainees was used to track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and kill him.

Like Penatta said - " order to put the puzzle of intelligence together that led us to Bin Laden, there were a lot of pieces out there that were a part of that puzzle. Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time, interrogation tactics that were used."

That being said, you of all people should know that solid Intel is produced from numerous sources, to create the puzzle pieces that, in turn, create the picture. I am not a proponent of torture, but I have a few very good friends who worked as interrogators at GITMO and even at "little" GITMO in Illinois (BOP). Enhanced interrogations work, they are valuable tools. Are they stand alone sources? Of course not - just as you would not give much credence to a walk-in at the consulate, or one days worth of imagery, or a burst of SIGINT - but putting them all together can create a picture, collaborated information that means something. But then - we've had this discussion before, haven't we?

Oblivious to oblivion said...

whoops - - meant to put that comment under the "David Ignatius, Civics Expert" post

sorry about that....

Barry Eisler said...

For whatever reason, you're cherry picking from Panetta, who also said torture wasn't needed.

In fact, citing Panetta without more is itself cherrypicking. Other officals, such as John McCain, have claimed torture was useless.

Indeed, all the available evidence indicates torture was much worse than useless.

It seems a classified Senate Intelligence Committee report also concludes the torture program was ineffective and a terrible mistake.

I'm not sure of what relevance is your assertion that you have very good friends who are interrogators. I have a good friend who is a NASA rocket scientist. Sadly our friendship has done little to help me understand jet propulsion. I also have a friend who's a top heart surgeon. In spite of our friendship, I remain inexpert on cardiology.

Every expert interrogator I'm acquainted with has denounced torture.,8599,1893679,00.html

There are many, many others. Maybe you're just friends with the wrong people? Or, for whatever reason, willing to listen only to certain people?

At least as interesting as your eagerness to find a way to hang your beliefs on Panetta's vague claim is your reflexive attempt to discuss only whether torture "works" and your failure to acknowledge that it's illegal.

In my years of blogging, the two key hallmarks of an authoritarian mindset I've noticed are these: (i) extreme credulousness about government claims; and (ii) an insistence on discussing whether torture "works" or "can work" coupled with a refusal to consider what it means that in America -- theoretically a nation of laws, where as Thomas Paine put it "The law is king" -- torture is illegal.

I'm not sure if authoritarians say the things they do because they're un-self-aware, or if they just can't help it. Possibly it's both.

RaisedbyWolves said...

I'm sorry if I'm butting in, and I actually used to be rocket scientist, but that STILL doesn't make me much of an expert in aerospace, just little parts of it (thanks for the laugh).

Anyway, this is a thumbnail sketch of Authoritarians that might come in handy. This is based on Altemeyer's (U of Manitoba) findings. These are characteristics that he has found are typical, and he has about three decades of research and data behind it:

1. Poor logic and reasoning skills
2. Poor integration of ideas and beliefs (beliefs come from different sources but don't fit together)
3. Double standards (heavy use of rationalization to justify conflicting opinions)
4. Hypocritical (want standards for themselves and their beliefs that are different from "others")
5. Poor self-awareness (tendency to overestimate own abilities and strengths)
6. Ethnocentric (the belief of "in" groups and "out" groups based on their personal belief system)
7. Dogmatic - unjustified certainty, opinions not able to be backed up with facts but they don't care

Altemeyer has done work on authoritarian followers as well, typically Tea Partiers, but you can find them in blue as well:

1. Authoritarian Submission
2. Fear
3. Self-righteousness
4. Hostility
5. Lack of Critical Thinking
6. "Our Biggest Problem Is..." (hyperbole)
7. Compartmentalized Thinking
8. Double-Standards
9. Empowerment in Groups
10. Dogmatism
11. Ethnocentrism
12. Prejudice

saumacus said...

This memory loss is not, sadly, limited to The Economist. How many times have you heard, among other justifications for the U.S. and allied forces' presence in Afghanistan, the improvement of life of women there? And only once have I heard mentioned on C-SPAN (not the most watched channel, unfortunately) that there was time when Afghani women went to schools and colleges, worked as doctors and teachers . . . Would you guess when was that?

Michael Luckenbill said...

I think you are going to start seeing a trend here in the west where it's actually cool to not think any more. I mean who want's to spend time thinking when you can just google search an answer and use that as justification for your own thought.