Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bush And The Counter Factual...

Counter To Reality

What goes on inside Bush's head? Do we really know what this man, arguably the most powerful man in the world, is really thinking? He's the butt of ten million jokes about being ignorant, or just plain dumb, but clearly you don't get to the White House if you're as thick as a bucket of wet cement.

Or do you?

Here's another article, one of a rising number of recent, that dips into the Bush psychology, and takes a closer look at Bush's use of counter-factual arguments, the primary one being : "The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power."

Well, yes, probably.

But how do we really know that is the truth? We don't. It's speculation. Nothing more.

But such counter-factual backbone the Bush presidency and his constant resistance to changing his plans, or world view, particularly when it comes to the War On Iraq :
In the face of mounting public and political opposition to the war in Iraq, recent reports from the White House suggest that President Bush remains serenely confident.

Bush's confidants report that the president believes he will be vindicated by history. He keeps Churchill and Lincoln close at hand. No matter how tough the situation in Iraq, Bush remains confident about his decision to go to war because he believes that things would have been much worse otherwise.

"Obviously, it was a difficult decision for me to make -- to send our brave troops, along with coalition troops, into Iraq," Bush said at a recent press briefing about the Iraq situation, where he faced a barrage of questions about flagging support for the war. "I firmly believe the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power."

Bush's argument is based on something known as a counterfactual. In his mind, the president has run an alternate view of history -- one that imagines Saddam Hussein still in power -- and has come to the conclusion that deposing the Iraqi leader was better.

...what is dangerous about counterfactuals is that while they may seem reasonable, they easily become a way for us to confirm what we already feel. Bush might not conclude that the war was the right decision because he has reached for a downward counterfactual; he might have reached for a downward counterfactual because he feels the war in Iraq is right.

Philip Tetlock, a professor of organizational behavior and political science at the University of California, has found that the careless use of counterfactuals is one reason politicians and experts are often wrong in their predictions.

"History does not give us control groups," he said. With counterfactuals, "the control groups are all being run in the imaginations of the analysts."

Tetlock's large study found that politicians and pundits were rarely better than non-experts in predicting the course of historical events. But he found that experts who were more cautious about using counterfactuals -- who explicitly reminded themselves that they were coming up with scenarios that could not be verified -- were more accurate on average than those who used counterfactuals blithely.

Until recently, the Bush administration's Iraq plans have been mostly the work of hedgehogs. The pragmatic recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, however, are quite clearly the work of foxes.

Bush's heroes, Lincoln and Churchill, offer a study in contrasts. Lincoln leaned toward fox, Churchill toward hedgehog. Lincoln was open to dissent, even within his own Cabinet, and was alert to nuance. Churchill allowed few doubts. Each man was perfectly designed for his historical moment.

Churchill's single-mindedness helped Britain overcome the existential threat of Nazi Germany during the darkest days of the Battle of Britain. But his stubbornness also blinded him to his mistakes. If Churchill was far ahead of the curve in recognizing the menace of Hitler, he was far behind the curve in recognizing that Britain's colonial empire was headed for history's dustbin.

Bush repeatedly states that he will let history judge him for what he does today, and believes that his legacy will not be known until long after he is dead.

But how many people will have to die in Iraq, and soon all across the Middle East as a wider regional war breaks out, to prove Bush's counter-factual claims were little more than his alternative reality forced onto the world?

Bush may well be proven right in his claims that the people of the Middle East, like people all across the world, "long to be free", but that doesn't mean that launching an unprovoked and incredibly misplanned war was the only way to bring democracy to the people of Iraq.