Iraq and ideological blindness

The long-awaited Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has finally been released, and the findings are damning:

The former civil servant said that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein posed “no imminent threat” when the U.S-led invasion was launched in March 2003, and that while military action against him “might have been necessary at some point,” the “strategy of containment” could have continued for some time.
Chilcot said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was warned of the risks of regional instability and the rise of terrorism before the invasion of Iraq, but pressed on regardless.
The UK failed to appreciate the complexity of governing Iraq, and did not devote enough forces to the task of securing the country in the wake of the invasion, he added.
“The people of Iraq have suffered greatly,” he said.
[…]
Britain’s Parliament approved the war — ostensibly to remove Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) — shortly before the invasion, although United Nations approval was not gained and millions marched in the streets in protest.
Hussein was removed and later executed. But the WMD threat was found to have been overblown and the promise to turn a dictatorship into a democracy was never delivered on.
Instead, the country descended into years of vicious sectarian conflict, with large areas seized by the terror group ISIS.
More than 250,000 people have died violent deaths since the 2003 invasion, according to the Iraq Body Count project, while millions of Iraqis have been made homeless in the conflict with ISIS.
(In a bizarre coincidence, the report was released shortly after you-know-who made a speech praising how Saddam Hussein dealt with “terrorists” in his country.   That’s 2016 for you, folks.)
Tony Blair and George W. Bush made their minds up early that deposing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, and they turned a blind eye to any evidence suggesting otherwise.
The thing is, I did pretty much the same thing.  Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I supported the war, and in the lead-up to it, I was not willing to give a fair hearing to those who opposed it.  Like many bloggers, commentators and policymakers, I was living in a pro-invasion bubble.
As John Ziegler notes at Mediaite, the internet and an increasingly fractured media environment have made it easier for people to tune out opposing views:

In the cable era, television audiences fragmented into a 500-channel (or more) universe. The advent of the Internet further splintered the dissemination of information into thousands of outlets. Today, the very same media which used to unify us (at least with regard to communal experiences and a commonality of basic information), is now the force which most actively divides our country. As someone who lives in the Los Angeles market, where about half the radio and television stations do not even broadcast in English, I can personally attest to how dramatic this change has been.

Today, “Broadcasting” (other than the Super Bowl) no longer exists. It has been replaced by “Narrowcasting,” in which outlets are cynically designed to appeal to nothing but a tiny sliver of demographic for the purposes of maximizing advertising efficiency. This is destructive enough in the fantasy world of entertainment (no current TV show could even remotely claim to be well-known to a majority of Americans), but this has been absolutely catastrophic in the realm of news.

Almost all of our news outlets now can be easily identified as having a particular, and often very narrow, political bent and they act like nothing more than TV sit-coms desperately searching for a sellable demographic which will keep them afloat (see Breitbart.com & Donald Trump). This means that most “news” organizations are only interested in stories and truths that their audience will want to hear. Quite simply, nothing could be more antithetical to both the pursuit of truth (which is quite often very UN-popular) as well as the maintenance of a country which has enough “knowledge” in common so as to be able to function as remotely unified society.

[…]

Most of those who get their news only from Fox News, Matt Drudge,Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity & Breitbart.com think that Donald Trump is a savior who is certain to win and that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ. Almost everyone who only consumes the New York Times,Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, NPR & the Huffington Post are sure the opposite is true. President Obama’s approval rating is split about 50/50, but, isolated in our own information bubble, almost everyone is positive their view of him is 100% correct. Regardless of your politics, this phenomenon is a cancer on our country.

When you’re blind to anything that doesn’t fit your narrative, chances are you’re heading for trouble.  British opinion- and policy-makers who backed the “remain” side (as did I) during the recent referendum on EU membership made little effort to hide the contempt in which they held the proles who might disagree with them, and the result was a narrow majority voting to leave.   Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Erdely pressed on with her story about a brutal alleged rape at the University of Virgina even as flaws and inconsistencies became apparent, and the story collapsed only after it was published.

Iraq is in a class of its own, though.  While it’s too late for me to take back my support for the invasion, it’s not too late for me to read and listen to more people whose views differ from my own, and to keep in mind that no matter how strongly I feel about something, I could very well be horribly wrong.

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