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Jon Stewart's Cognitive Dissonance.

With freedom on the march in the Middle East, some of even the most ardent Iraq war skeptics are rethinking their opposition.

The New York Times, for example, editorialized this week:

"It's not even spring yet, but a long-frozen political order seems to be cracking all over the Middle East. Cautious hopes for something new and better are stirring along the Tigris and the Nile, the elegant boulevards of Beirut, and the impoverished towns of the Gaza Strip....

...this has so far been a year of heartening surprises - each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance."

Indeed, Michael Barone explains that "Minds Are Changing" about the President's foreign policy at "breakneck speed" since the Iraqi elections.

Could one of those changing minds belong to Jon Stewart, the sometimes-funny host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show?


James Taranto's Best of the Web Today at OpinionJournal.com (via PoliPundit.com) examines Jon Stewart's cognitive dissonance between his anti-Bush beliefs and recent events in the Middle East:

"Stewart: Do you think they're the guys to--do they understand what they've unleashed? Because at a certain point, I almost feel like, if they had just come out at the very beginning and said, 'Here's my plan: I'm going to invade Iraq. We'll get rid of a bad guy because that will drain the swamp'--if they hadn't done the whole 'nuclear cloud,' you know, if they hadn't scared the pants off of everybody, and just said straight up, honestly, what was going on, I think I'd almost--I'd have no cognitive dissonance, no mixed feelings.

Soderberg: The truth always helps in these things, I have to say. But I think that there is also going on in the Middle East peace process--they may well have a chance to do a historic deal with the Palestinians and the Israelis. These guys could really pull off a whole--

Stewart: This could be unbelievable!

Soderberg:---series of Nobel Peace Prizes here, which--it may well work. I think that, um, it's--

Stewart: [buries head in hands] Oh my God! [audience laughter] He's got, you know, here's--

Soderberg: It's scary for Democrats, I have to say.

Stewart: He's gonna be a great--pretty soon, Republicans are gonna be like, 'Reagan was nothing compared to this guy.' Like, my kid's gonna go to a high school named after him, I just know it."

Taranto then notes:

"Interesting... is Stewart's acknowledgment of his own 'cognitive dissonance' and 'mixed feelings' over the Iraq liberation. It's a version of an argument we've been hearing a lot lately: As our Brendan Miniter puts it, 'The president's critics never seem to tire of claiming that the war in Iraq began over weapons of mass destruction and only later morphed into a war of liberation.'

Miniter correctly notes that 'this criticism isn't entirely right,' but for the sake of argument let's assume it is. What does it mean? President Bush has altered his arguments to conform to reality, while his critics remain fixated on obsolete disputes. This would seem utterly to refute the liberal media stereotype. Bush, it turns out, is a supple-minded empiricist, while his opponents are rigid ideologues."

But WILLisms.com is not willing to let this argument stand. While not finding stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was embarrassing for U.S. (and British, and French, and German, and Russian, etc.) intelligence, a few facts are incontrovertible:

1. Iraq possessed WMDs at one point, including a nuclear plant that was destroyed by the Israelis in 1981.
2. Iraq used its WMDs on the Kurds and against Iran.
3. Saddam Hussein sought WMDs as policy.
4. Iraq never properly accounted for its WMDs.

Thus, using WMDs as justification for military force was completely reasonable.

However, the President's rhetoric about freedom in Iraq was not retrofitted after WMD were not found. It was not merely post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). Draining the swamp of tyranny in the Middle East and paving the way for liberty to take hold, contrary to what Jon Stewart remembers about late 2002 and early 2003, were crucial, if not central, parts of the President's case for war in Iraq.

First, from September 12, 2002, the White House listed WMDs as its second reason in its case the Saddam Hussein was a threat to the international community, and WMDs were but one among many reasons:

"Table of Contents

* Saddam Hussein's Defiance of United Nations Resolutions
* Saddam Hussein's Development of Weapons of Mass Destruction
* Saddam Hussein's Repression of the Iraqi People
* Saddam Hussein's Support for International Terrorism
* Saddam Hussein's Refusal to Account for Gulf War Prisoners
* Saddam Hussein's Refusal to Return Stolen Property
* Saddam Hussein's Efforts to Circumvent Economic Sanctions"

It was a comprehensive case against Saddam Hussein, certainly not at all limited to weapons of mass destruction. The President's case also linked peace in the "Middle East" (e.g. Israel/Palestine) with freedom in Iraq.

More damning of the post hoc ergo propter hoc case is President Bush's address to the UN, also in September 2002:

"In the Middle East, there can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides. America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Like all other people, Palestinians deserve a government that serves their interests and listens to their voices....

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq....

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time."

So clearly, the President framed potential conflict in Iraq as a way to stir up a stagnant pit of hatred, introducing freedom to the region as policy. And today, we're seeing the results of the Bush doctrine.

In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush further advanced the central concept of freedom:

"And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom.

.... Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."

Then, there was what Bush said on February 9, 2003:

"And there's no doubt in my mind, when the United States acts abroad and home, we do so based upon values -- particularly the value that we hold dear to our hearts, and that is, everybody ought to be free."

On February 20, 2003, President Bush said,

"The Iraqi people today are not allowed to speak out for freedom, but they have a right to live in freedom. We don't believe freedom and liberty are America's gift to the world; we believe they are the Almighty's gift to mankind. (Applause.) And for the oppressed people of Iraq, people whose lives we care about, the day of freedom is drawing near.

A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East. Instead of threatening its neighbors and harboring terrorists, Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity, in a region that needs both. If we liberate the Iraqi people, they can rest assure that we will help them build a country that is disarmed and peaceful, and united, and free. (Applause.)

The disarmament of Iraq will also demonstrate that free nations have the will and resolve to defend the peace. By defeating this threat, we will show other dictators that the path of aggression will lead to their own ruin. By defeating the threat of Iraq we will show the world -- we will show that the world is able and prepared to meet future dangers wherever they arise."

Then, on February 26, 2003, the President commented:

"The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America's interests in security, and America's belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq. (Applause.)

The first to benefit from a free Iraq would be the Iraqi people, themselves. Today they live in scarcity and fear, under a dictator who has brought them nothing but war, and misery, and torture. Their lives and their freedom matter little to Saddam Hussein -- but Iraqi lives and freedom matter greatly to us. (Applause.)

Bringing stability and unity to a free Iraq will not be easy. Yet that is no excuse to leave the Iraqi regime's torture chambers and poison labs in operation. Any future the Iraqi people choose for themselves will be better than the nightmare world that Saddam Hussein has chosen for them. (Applause.)

.... The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected. (Applause.)

.... There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. (Applause.) The nation of Iraq -- with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people -- is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. (Applause.)

The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the "freedom gap" so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. (Applause.)

It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world -- or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim -- is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror. (Applause.)

Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state. (Applause.) The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated. (Applause.)

....Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development, and political reform, and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity."

Of course, there was also the "ultimatum speech" President Bush delivered on March 17, 2003:

"Unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation.

The United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in that region. Our goal will not be achieved overnight, but it can come over time. The power and appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace."

When the President addressed the nation on March 19, 2003 to declare military operations had begun, he asserted:

"We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail."

Less than a month after the war started, the President noted:

"We'll help the Iraqi people to establish a just and representative government, which respects human rights and adheres to the rule of law. These tasks will take effort, and these tasks will take time. But I have faith in the Iraqi people, and I believe that a free Iraq can be an example of reform and progress to all the Middle East."

Thus, the President made bringing freedom to the region (and explained the transformative power of freedom) central to his case, BEFORE THE WAR ever started, as well as during its beginning stages. The mission was even named "Iraqi Freedom," for crying out loud, not "Operation Petro-Grab" or even "Operation Iraqi WMD" [credit for that idea goes here]. And the above quotations are not the entire extent of it. President Bush and members of his adminstration talked extensively about the need to shake up and introduce freedom to a privotal part of the Middle East.

But persistent critics of the President, like Jon Stewart, cling to the false notion that Bush made up this whole "freedom" thing when other reasons didn't work out. He surely couldn't have been right all along.

Well, the President was right all along, and freedom is on the march in the Middle East today because of it.

Would all of the above evidence be enough to change Mr. Stewart's mind about how the war was "sold" to America and the world? Would it be enough to convince him (and other like him) that the war really was about freedom all along, and cause him to drop his petty cynicism about "Mess-O-Potamia"? Not likely. But we can hope.

Right Wing News lists some rather prescient quotes from supporters of the war, who predicted that a liberated Iraq would lead to the spread of freedom the the greater Middle East.

Posted by Will Franklin · 2 March 2005 03:25 PM


That's a mighty list of quotations, and a great deal of persuasive language, but it does not address the lynchpin of the "under false pretenses" argument, one that Stewart has touched on several times, i.e. the polling data that suggests (well, "states," but since it's a poll, we'll say "suggests") that the bulk of those Americans who supported military invasion of Iraq were (and in some cases, still are) under the impression that not only was Iraq a credible danger to the United States and Europe, but a NUCLEAR danger, and that Hussein was somehow responsible for the Al Quaeda attacks in New York and DC, and that the Ba'athists were closely linked to the Al Quaeda terrorist organization. None of those beliefs are true. Most of them were never even potentially credible (i.e. via poor CIA analyses). Which leaves us with the question that drives the righteous rage of the liberals: were we led to war by one liar, or pushed to war by many fools? That is to say, if the President did not deceive the public, how did the public (at least that section whose support allowed the invasion to proceed) develop those misconceptions? Is the data that fuels that argument just a disinformation tactic by the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy?

Posted by: Gabriel Fry at April 13, 2005 12:55 PM

I couldn't help but notice that all the Whitehouse.gov news releases dealing with Iraq up to the start of the war have the banner "Iraq: Denial and Deception." You would almost think WMDs were the issue the Whitehouse thought most important.

Posted by: whats4lunch at April 27, 2005 07:50 PM

Great documentation of the 5 or 6 different humanitarian reasons why we invaded Iraq, man - all of which I'd support if a Democrat had proposed them.

But we didn't find any WMD's! So Bush lied! Don't ya get it?

Whatsforlunch, denial and deception was the MO of Saddam's regime. Have you been following the Oil for Food Scandal, its illicit oil trades, and his use of nerve agents in Iran and the northern Kurdish areas? It has been all over the news.

Posted by: Steve at April 29, 2005 08:19 PM

As a Dem I have to say that I quickly saw the war in terms of Iraq - Saddam > Irag + Saddam, which I viewed as for the better.
Maybe it's because I don't own a TV.
What I'm basically filtering from the large amounts of noise over the past few years is that WMDs were used to justify the war to an ignorant American public, and the lefties are incensed that this public did not raise a larger stink.
What I'm getting at is people are angry at President Bush because ONE of the reasons for going to war that had been emphasized did not show the promised results.
Does that defeat the purpose of the war?
No WMDs, it wasn't worth it?
I don't think so.

Posted by: Kevin at May 15, 2005 08:45 PM

Since I have written about this before, and since I've seen this viewpoint expressed a few times (by people who wouldn't be expressing it if WMD had been found), I'm not going to get into it more now. However, as I've pointed out before - even staunch supporters of the Iraq war have pointed out that WMDs were the fundamental and pivotal rationale given by the Bush administration for the war. In the past, I have cited chapter and verse from President Bush, Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice, with their statements that the Iraq war would not be necessary if Iraq were to disarm - to rid itself of its banned weapons.

Whenever a major government intervention takes place, it is natural for its proponents (esp. the head of state) to cite all potential benefits of the action. But there is a big difference between a positive result of an action, and the pivotal rationale for it. For the war to remove the taliban in Afghanistan, the issues of freedom, democracy, and liberation have also been touted by our government leaders. But they were not pivotal rationales for that war.

As I said, I have previously linked to statements from Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice, from 2002 and 2003, which made clear that the Iraq war was not inevitable, and that it could be averted if Iraq were to comply with U.S. and U.N. demands that it disarm. And I've also linked to several major pro-war bloggers and national commentators who have acknowledged this. But right now, dinner is getting cold... and the information is easily accessible, if you look.

Posted by: Aakash at May 19, 2005 09:56 PM

WILLisms.com deals in facts. Ilike that you don't make things up to suit your own political beliefs! It is too bad the MSM and Libs. feel the need to distort the real facts!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 29, 2005 07:48 PM

Well done, sir. Well done.

I wrote a long comment then realized you said it all. This is my first visit and you are forevever blogrolled.

Posted by: hofzinser at May 30, 2005 08:49 AM

Yecch, I hate that "WMD" stuff - an acronym the press and the parties use as a substitute for critical thought. If one means sulfur mustard, one should say so. If one means nukes, one should say so, even if "nuclear" is difficult to pronounce. The nuke question was important in the Iraq case because it implied a bit of hurry-up. It's no use puttering around for another dozen years or so before taking any action, because a guy like Saddam H., with his fascination for exotic weaponry (remember the Super Gun?), will have nukes eventually - all it takes is time and money. He has the money, so who's dumb enough to give him the time?

Anywhoo, I see blogroll material, but I can't send any traffic because I only have about two readers, and I can't spare them.

Posted by: big dirigible at June 2, 2005 05:55 PM

I have more humor in one of my sweat glands than I have ever seen on this blog.

Posted by: jon_stewart at June 8, 2005 06:45 AM

jon stewart,...You are not funny! Those laugh tracks only make you think you are funny. Don't sweat it though, at least you are getting paid for what you do!...And that is pretty funny! HA!...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at June 19, 2005 04:08 PM