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November 14, 2010, Sunday

False foundations

The Wall Street Journal Europe ran a half-page plug for George Bush’s memoir last week, promising excerpts in a sister publication, the Times of London. Rupert Murdoch owns both newspapers -- indeed, the Journal and the Times are the premier titles in the print division of his News Corporation media empire.

Readers lured to the other paper would also be treated to an exclusive: the editor of the Times reminiscing about an interview he conducted with Bush. Stop the presses for that one. The ad in the journal also featured a picture of Bush looking noble and thoughtful, which qualifies as trick photography.

On Nov. 4 I went to hear former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix speak at İstanbul Bilgi University. The 82-year-old Swedish diplomat comes across as a kindly uncle, mixing his wisdom with humility, such as when he said that like the ancients, he admires those who search for the truth but is suspicious of those who have found it.

He sums up his stance in a few words: for nuclear power, against nuclear weapons. But I left with another impression, that of a man wholly devoted to the rule of law, and especially to the UN Charter.

Blix has said that he regards the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as illegal because it lacked sanction by the UN Security Council. However, in İstanbul he was careful to say that he never claimed that Bush and Tony Blair, the British prime minister, acted in bad faith. In his opinion they did not lie so much as display a lack of critical thinking; they should have realized that their evidence against Saddam Hussein was not firm evidence.

For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency received the document purporting to prove that Iraq was seeking to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger, and in one day determined that it was a forgery.

“They were 100 percent convinced that Iraq had WMD, but zero-percent knowledge on where these WMD were,” said Blix. “I think they deserve the criticism to which they have been exposed.”

Blix also said he had watched Blair on the BBC recently -- another memoir book tour -- and that the former prime minister again ignored the UN Charter when he said that Iran’s nuclear program should be stopped by military means if necessary. The UN Security Council would never authorize a pre-emptive attack, he said, for the charter expressly forbids the threat of force or the use of force by one state against another.

“Where does it stop if you can attack anyone for any reason?” he said. “If we pursue the unilateral route, we risk undoing all the progress we’ve made under the UN Charter.”

Speaking of critical thinking, or the lack thereof, I read an article by Robert Dallek in the November issue of Foreign Policy magazine, “The Tyranny of Metaphor.” The writer aimed to show the disparity between military power and political influence. One paragraph read: “The failure in Vietnam produced a new metaphor: Fighting a Third World country on hostile terrain was to be avoided at all costs.”

This nonsense cut the value of the whole article. The man incorrectly uses a straight, logical sentence as an example of metaphor, which it is not. I was prepared to forgive a momentary lapse, but then the same short paragraph went on: “When George H.W. Bush convinced Congress and the country to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, it was an uphill struggle to persuade Americans that he was not involving them in another Vietnam. Yet he succeeded by invoking that appeasement metaphor yet again: ‘If history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression or it will destroy our freedoms,’ Bush explained in making his case for the war.”

Here is another non-metaphor being defined as a metaphor. Comparing two different things, that is metaphor, such as when Homer compares warriors rushing to battle like a swarm of angry bees. Robert Dallek is supposed to be an eminent historian, but if he bases his argument on a false foundation, why should I listen to anything he has to say?

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