Conspiracy

In Defense of Conspiracy Theories

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Skipping through Andrew Sullivan's blog archives (Remember when he would wait until midnight or 1 a.m. and then just post a bunch of stuff?) and I spot this:

THE IRAQI POSSIBILITY: Check out this 1995/1996 Public Interest essay on the first World Trade Center bombing. Some of it sends chills down your spine with its prescience. But its most important suggestion is that Iraq might have been behind the bombing. Ditto today. Saddam is not only capable but willing—especially against a nemesis like the son of the first George Bush. More evidence that Colin Powell's tragic abandonment of the war against Saddam might well be one of the biggest blunders in recent history. If this coordinated massacre needed real state-sponsored support, which nation would you pick as the prime suspect?

Yeah, sure, you can take that graf and make fun of Sullivan's wide-eyed warmongering. But Sullivan's theories from the fog of that first week after 9/11 still sound good to around 40 percent of Americans. And a similarly-sized chunk of Americans think there was some kind of government cover-up around the terrorist attacks. Lev Grossman was probably on to something when he identified 9/11 "truth" theories as coping mechanisms, but we would have been better off if two things happened in 2001: if we captured bin Laden or if the White House clarified exactly who wasn't responsible for the attacks. Not "we don't know the extent of Saddam Hussein's involved." Something like "Saddam Hussein was not involved."

You can blame a lot of the "trutherism" on the shift from attacking al Qaeda to Tom Friedman-ish "bubble bursting" in Iraq.

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  1. Lev Grossman was probably on to something when he identified 9/11 “truth” theories as coping mechanisms……

    Hey Lev STFU…..I can cope with the notion that 20 dimwits representing 13th century cultural notions got lucky and embarassed the US! I have a more difficult time….coping……with the thought that the U.S. government may have pulled their version of the Reichstag fire!

    Tool!

  2. It wasn’t exactly crazy to believe that Saddam might have had some connection to one or both WTC attacks given his truly impressive track record as a terror enabler and the fact that he was still technically at war with us during that period.

    While I don’t think Saddam and Bin Laden were meeting in their skull-shaped Axis-of-Evil satellite with Kim Jong Il to plot the destruction of America (though wouldn’t that make a great “Team America” sequel?), there can be no doubt that he would have struck at us if he could. Whether an invasion was the wisest course of action is a matter for debate — that Saddam was an enemy of the United States is not.

  3. You can blame a lot of the “trutherism” on the shift from attacking al Qaeda to Tom Friedman-ish “bubble bursting” in Iraq.

    Well I guess you can, but it’ll make you look kind of silly.

  4. Well I guess you can, but it’ll make you look kind of silly.

    It is interesting to wonder why the 9/11 truth movement has been so much more prominent than, say, an Oklahoma City truth movement. Take any event, and there’s a certain portion of the populace who’ll adhere to some crazy explanation (“Bush blew up the levees”, “Hilary murdered Vince Foster”). But why have the 9/11 truthers gained, relatively, a lot more traction, if not mainstream approval, than other conspiracy theories? I don’t see why the “official” 9/11 explanation is any less plausible or satisfying than the “official” OKC explanation.

  5. But Sullivan’s theories from the fog of that first week after 9/11 still sound good to around 40 percent of Americans. And a similarly-sized chunk of Americans think there was some kind of government cover-up around the terrorist attacks.

    As always, these results depend on how pollsters frame the question and how people react. For example, I’d answer “yes” to a question that asked, “Do you think there was some kind of government cover-up around the September 11 attacks?”

    Even leaving out the word “terrorist,” the key phrase is still “some kind of cover-up.” That’s awfully broad. At least one thing covered-up (no matter how minor)? I’d bet my life on it.

  6. Given that Saddam was also at a state of war with bin Laden, and had never been implicated in any terrorism further afield than his back yard, and worked to actively suppress Islamist politics in his own country, and was singled out by bin Laden as an example of the corrupt, westernizing governments he wished to overthrow, it was remarkable to claim that he had involvement with al Qaeda’s attack on the United States.

    The notion only seems remotely plausible if you first posit that the world operates like a Superfriends cartoon, with Saddam and bin Laden sitting on either side of Black Manta in the Legion of Doom’s conference room.

    It is reasonable to think that Saddam would have liked to hit us, just as it is reasonable to think that we would like to hit him. But to think that he would provide warmaking capacity to al Qaeda in order to hit us is an outlandish as thinking that we would provide warmaking capacity to bin Laden to hit Hussein.

  7. Anon.: Because the 9/11 attacks are/were so much more prominent I guess? Interesting question though.

  8. “It wasn’t exactly crazy to believe that Saddam might have had some connection to one or both WTC attacks given his truly impressive track record as a terror enabler and the fact that he was still technically at war with us during that period.”

    True, but it wasn’t exactly crazy to believe that Colombian narco-terrorists had some connection to the attacks given the US military clampdown in Colombia in the months preceding the attack. The difference is that the White House had intelligence ruling both out. They knew the culprit, and it wasn’t Saddam.

    Bush probably thinks he “sees the forest” on the issue of mid east terror. However, as is true with all military adventures, the aftermath of 9/11 required us to chop down a tree, not try and clear the whole forest.

  9. Because the 9/11 attacks are/were so much more prominent I guess?

    Long-term effect on the world at large, yeah, but OKC was as big as news stories get at the time (as I recall, though I was fairly young then). And the 9/11 truth movement doesn’t seem to be exogenous — I don’t think sustained international interest in the story is the distinguishing factor.

  10. because okc was just a federal building in the middle of nowhere.

    the wtc was something else entirely. a big ole symbol that people got to watch fall down on tv.

    that’s a lot of the diff right there.

  11. great post, joe!

    cheers,
    VM

  12. “…but we would have been better off if two things happened in 2001: if we captured bin Laden or if the White House clarified exactly who wasn’t responsible for the attacks.”

    We would have been better off if by March of 2003, somebody could have told us exactly where that anthrax came from, who mailed it, etc., etc.

  13. But why have the 9/11 truthers gained, relatively, a lot more traction, if not mainstream approval, than other conspiracy theories? I don’t see why the “official” 9/11 explanation is any less plausible or satisfying than the “official” OKC explanation.

    Socialism.

    The U.S. has the most well funded, centrally planned Federal defense program in all the world. It has the best technology. It has more money than the GDP of most countries. It is completly undeniable that the U.S. takes national defense VERY seriously, with broadbased support by both parties.

    If a handful of religious zealots with boxcutters can defeat the greatest national defense aparatus in the history of the planet… It was the single greatest reminder in living memory that the government isn’t omnipotent and all-powerful!

    If, with the backing of both parties, and all the resources in the world available to it, a government agency can so horribly fail, then that means a national health care program could also fail. That means that a national education program could fail as well. It means that federal food inspection can fail. It means that we can no longer trust that a job will get done properly because we hand it over to the government.

    Since socialism is primarily about messianic statism (i.e. turn health care over to the government – health care crisis solved… turn education over to the government, education problems solved… turn transportation over to the government, transportation solved… with no real explaination or reasoning on how the state is going to solve all these problems), a failure of statism undermines socialist ideology.

    Since the core philosophy of so many people is that the government can solve all problems, and that problems exist because the government doesn’t have the authority or resources to solve those problems… those people must either abandon their core philosophy (not gonna happen), or think of some reasoning why 9/11 wasn’t a government failure.

    How can a perfect god create an imperfect world? Well, what if there was another god, and EVIL god, working against the good god. Satan is a nessicary figure to explain the failures of god, and in this case god is the government.

    If 9/11 was PLANNED by the government, that means the government didn’t really fail to solve our problems!!! The all-powerful government, led by a Satan figure, in fact used their infailable power to plan the attack! 9/11, Katrina, and any other problem the government fails to solve is obviously not a failure of government, but a situation created by design by Dubya/Satan!

  14. The Four Principles of Conspiracism:

    Nothing happens by accident
    Nothing is as it seems
    Everything is connecte
    If you question this you are part of the conspiracy

  15. It is reasonable to think that Saddam would have liked to hit us, just as it is reasonable to think that we would like to hit him. But to think that he would provide warmaking capacity to al Qaeda in order to hit us is an outlandish as thinking that we would provide warmaking capacity to bin Laden to hit Hussein.

    The U.S. worked with Iran to support the Mujahideen against the Soviets, despite the fact that the U.S. was simultaniously helping Saddam to attack Iran. It is quite common for enemies to work together temporarily to attack an even greater enemy, even while they continue to fight on other fronts.

    It is not outlandish at all to believe that Saddam could have been providing some support to Al Qaeda… Especially considering that “Al Qaeda” doesn’t really exist, it is just a catch-all term that is used to describe any number of decentralized and unrelated islamic terrorist networks.

  16. You heard it here first, folks: socialists think that the security and military forces of western governments are invincible.

    Literally, you heard it here first. This idea is utterly absent from any statement of socialism and its beliefs that has ever been put forward.

  17. Given that Saddam was also at a state of war with bin Laden, and had never been implicated in any terrorism further afield than his back yard, and worked to actively suppress Islamist politics in his own country, and was singled out by bin Laden as an example of the corrupt, westernizing governments he wished to overthrow,

    Remind me again why Osama decided to fly planes into Manhattan instead of Bagdad?

  18. no skyscrapers?
    couldn’t cash in his frequent flyer miles?
    no fly zone?
    he should have turned left at Albuquerque?

    any of those right?

  19. Adversaries help each other against common enemies, it is true.

    But not by providing those adversaries with tools and weapons that are just as likely to be used against themselves. It is outlandish to think that the Iraqi government would provide a terrorist group with military or terror capacities, as they would just as likely be used against the Saddam regime.

    And that’s why they didn’t. As we now know. For certain.

  20. Abdul,

    Bin Laden’s reasons for deciding to concentrate on “the distant enemy” rather than “the nearby enemy” are well-documented. The 9/11 Report has a good overview of the subject.

  21. You heard it here first, folks: socialists think that the security and military forces of western governments are invincible.

    No, they don’t. Socialist are quite willing to believe that the militaries of a good strong socialist country like the Soviet Union could defeat the United States.

    However, they were completly oblivious to that fact that the most well funded government institution in the world could so miserably fail to less people that it takes to play a good game of baseball.

  22. It is outlandish to think that the Iraqi government would provide a terrorist group with military or terror capacities

    Do cash payments to Palestianian suicide bombers’ families count as a “terror capacity”? Because Saddam provided those. Does safe harbor to convicted terrorists count? Because Saddam gave it to Abu Abbas.

    How outlandish!

  23. But not by providing those adversaries with tools and weapons that are just as likely to be used against themselves.

    Yeah, Saddam sure wouldn’t want those boxcutters to fall into the wrong hands. 🙂

  24. You heard it here first, folks: socialists think that the security and military forces of western governments are invincible.

    That’s not what he was saying. Mr. Rhino instead made the claim that socialists view government as a deity-like entity to be worshipped. To them, government is a god substitute.

  25. joe:
    Saddam was also at a state of war with bin Laden
    I don’t disagree with your other points in the 3:07 post, but do you have a source for this one?

    Abdul:
    Remind me again why Osama decided to fly planes into Manhattan instead of Bagdad?
    He hated the US more. Because of its freedom. ;^)

  26. If a handful of religious zealots with boxcutters can defeat the greatest national defense aparatus in the history of the planet… It was the single greatest reminder in living memory that the government isn’t omnipotent and all-powerful!

    I’m not really buying this, I don’t think the truthers are exclusively socialists, but for the sake of argument…

    19 cavedwellers hit two WTC and the Pentagon. One or two nuts hit a huge federal building in OKC. Why did OKC not trigger your alleged socialist cognitive dissonance that must be explained away? While 9/11 was a significantly larger attack than OKC, why would the line that divides “attacks that socialists don’t need to explain away” and “attacks that would undermine socialists’ faith in government if not in fact a government conspiracy” fall between OKC and 9/11. In this sense, it seems like either would be sufficient.

  27. “But not by providing those adversaries with tools and weapons that are just as likely to be used against themselves. It is outlandish to think that the Iraqi government would provide a terrorist group with military or terror capacities, as they would just as likely be used against the Saddam regime.”

    Didn’t we provide Bin Laden & Co. with some tools and weapons to fight the Soviets with? Haven’t they since turned against us? Or is your point that Saddam was to smart to make the same mistake?

  28. Back to Andrew Sullivan.
    He is gay and has AIDS. I read his blogs from the beginning. His writings show he is slowly, but surely, going insane.
    By November, 2008 he will be completely gone mentally. My guess.

  29. Mr. Rhino instead made the claim that socialists view government as a deity-like entity to be worshipped.

    Unlike, say, nationalists.

    Terry, STFU!

  30. Gahan,

    Saddam was too smart to make the same mistake.

    Are we smart enough to learn from ours?

  31. 19 cavedwellers hit two WTC and the Pentagon. One or two nuts hit a huge federal building in OKC. Why did OKC not trigger your alleged socialist cognitive dissonance that must be explained away? While 9/11 was a significantly larger attack than OKC, why would the line that divides “attacks that socialists don’t need to explain away” and “attacks that would undermine socialists’ faith in government if not in fact a government conspiracy” fall between OKC and 9/11. In this sense, it seems like either would be sufficient.

    The 9/11 attacks happened in front of hundreds of millions of people on live TV, and millions more first hand witnesses… and then was played over and over and over for billions of people.

    Where as OKC bombing didn’t happen on live TV, wasn’t witnessed by millions, and no footage of the explosions were ever broadcast.

    You should notice, that the Katrina hurricane produced nearly as many conspiracy theories as 9/11.

  32. Unlike, say, nationalists.

    Socialism and Nationalism are not mutually exclusive. At their ugliest they combine to form National Socialism.

  33. de stijl wrote,
    “Terry, STFU!”
    Make me!
    Great comeback dip.
    I just stated a fact. The mental competence is a factor in any author’s writing.
    Do you understand that dip?

    BTW: I am in Hollywood, Ca. Where are you?

  34. The 9/11 attacks happened in front of hundreds of millions of people on live TV, and millions more first hand witnesses… and then was played over and over and over for billions of people. Where as OKC bombing didn’t happen on live TV, wasn’t witnessed by millions, and no footage of the explosions were ever broadcast.

    I still don’t get why that cuts in favor of conspiracies about 9/11. OKC had just about as big a visceral impact on the country at the time. It wouldn’t today, but only because we just saw ~18x more people killed. I guess the live footage is evidence conspiracy theorists can misinterpret, but it’s also evidence that can be used to debunk the conspiracies. Seems like a lack of evidence, uncertainty, would be an advantage for conspiracy theorists.

    You should notice, that the Katrina hurricane produced nearly as many conspiracy theories as 9/11.

    Yeah, there are Katrina theories, but they’re nowhere near as popular. Their support is mostly limited to some in the black community.

    My tentative guess is two factors: the rise of the Internet/blogosphere and dissatisfaction with the government’s actions post-9/11, specifically Iraq and the failure to capture Bin Laden.

    Internet was around for OKC but it was much less a factor in the average person’s daily life. “Web 2.0” concepts like Youtube, personal blogs, Digg, etc., were far less widespread. Decentralized, un-gatekeepered (not that those are bad things), echo-chamber media is far more accessible today.

    Nobody had much beef with the follow-up to OKC. There was that Clinton remark about “hating your government” that pissed off many, and there were some who thought there should have been a larger crackdown on the “militia” types, but both sentiments died out pretty quickly. In short, nobody had a reason to go looking for a conspiracy theory there.

    The 9/11 fallout has been far more unpopular. Few objected to the premise of Afghanistan, but most thought OBL’s head would be on a stake long ago. And as far as Iraq, fill in the blanks yourself. So, some wonder, why didn’t they get it right? Cause they never wanted to. “It” wasn’t what you thought it was. “It” was a manufactured pretext.

    My guess anyways.

  35. I just stated a fact.

    Unsupported allegations about mental illness because a person holds political opinions with which you disagree, not to mention the homophobic subtext, don’t constitute facts.

  36. “But Sullivan’s theories from the fog of that first week after 9/11 still sound good to around 40 percent of Americans. And a similarly-sized chunk of Americans think there was some kind of government cover-up around the terrorist attacks.”

    So wait, does that mean only 20% know it was bin Laden and friends? Or that some chunk of the populace thinks it was a conspiracy between Bush AND Saddam? Seriously, wtf?

  37. “Unsupported allegations about mental illness because a person holds political opinions with which you disagree, not to mention the homophobic subtext, don’t constitute facts.”

    Fact: Andrew admits he is gay.
    Fact: Andrew admits he has AIDS.

    Fact: I have read his blog since like 1998 or 1999. To one who has read him, one would have noticed a downward trend in logic, reasoning, and historical facts in his postings and an upward trend, in emotion, innuendo, and ad honeimums(?).
    The guy is losing it. You don’t need to be a doctor to notice.

  38. “You can blame a lot of the “trutherism” on the shift from attacking al Qaeda to Tom Friedman-ish “bubble bursting” in Iraq.”

    So all of the lunatics who beleive the CIA was behind 9-11 would never beleive such if only George Bush had told them otherwise. Is Dave Weigel doing some kind of ironic comedy here or is he just the dumbest man ever to be hired by a major magazine?

    Yes for the record, Sullivan has gone completely insane.

  39. Are the anti-idiotarians still pushing the secret Iraqi connection to Timothy McVeigh?

  40. Fact: Andrew admits he is gay.
    1) Even if we assume the merits of your complaint, Sullivan’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with this.

    Fact: Andrew admits he has AIDS.
    2) Best I can tell, Sullivan has not at present stated he has AIDS. He has stated that he is HIV-positive. A piece he wrote, dated about two years ago: “It’s been almost 12 years since I became infected with HIV, and I haven’t died yet. I haven’t even had the decency to get sick.”
    From his bio, which isn’t dated but other references indicate it has been updated at least as recently as this February: “Sullivan tested positive for HIV in 1993, and remains in good health.”
    A few Googlings didn’t immediately lead me to anything that contradicts this, but I’ll revise that if you have evidence otherwise.

    The guy is losing it. You don’t need to be a doctor to notice.
    Again, advocating political positions you disagree with does not constitute a mental illness. If you just meant this colloquially, that’d be fine. We all casually use expressions like “losing it” or “Sullivan is a nut” to indicate we find someone’s positions deeply flawed for reasons we believe are obvious (like John’s reference a few posts above — he doesn’t appear to be literally claiming Sullivan suffers from a real, diagnosable mental illness). But you didn’t mean it in that sense. If so, you wouldn’t have (dubiously) referenced his AIDS or have continued to defend your statement in a serious manner. And your repeated reference to Sullivan’s sexual orientation leads me to believe that you’re a homophobe with a less-than-sophisticated understanding of HIV and AIDS, using these facts to personally attack someone with whom you disagree. Prove me wrong.

  41. You can blame a lot of the “trutherism” on the shift from attacking al Qaeda to Tom Friedman-ish “bubble bursting” in Iraq.

    Nooooo Fucking way Weigel…you mean it wasn’t just the bush admin pushing for war!!?!?!

    Even free trade democrats?!?! (Naftacrats)

    Bull shit.

    I refuse to believe it. All your coverage of Iraq has told me otherwise and this is simply to insane to comprehend.

  42. I don’t think it’s that crazy to think that the CIA was at least peripherally involved in 9/11. It’s obvious that, at the very least, they looked the other way and let it happen. Al Qaida was created by the CIA, so why is it insane to blame the CIA?

  43. You know what would be the most comforting thing, the “easiest” way to [i]cope[/i] with 911? – It’d be to believe that we somehow know exactly what happened that day and to label anyone who points out serious, very real flaws in the official story some kind of derilect who’se looking for an easy way to “cope”.

    I mean, come on!- [i][b]COPE?[/b][/i]
    We aren’t talking about PTSD here. Do you honeslty believe that 911 was such a severe psychological blow to roughly 1/3rd of Americans that they’d seek out a ( according to the author) completely indefensible position in order to “cope”?

    Thanks Dr. Phil, Thanks Krauthammer..

  44. Do you [honestly] believe that 911 was such a severe psychological blow to roughly 1/3rd of Americans that they’d seek out a (according to the author) completely indefensible position in order to “cope”?

    Such explanations of “trutherism” don’t necessarily rest on a severe emotional breakdown on the part of the conspiracy theorists. I think what most are talking about is more like cognitive dissonance.

    But perhaps they should be more precisely stated if this is the case.

  45. FWIW, When the planes hit and the internet went out, and we had to evacuate nearby buildings, my first thoughts were it was probably saddam.

    neither here nor there

  46. That 33% of people believing that the government either planned or let 9-11 happened is scary.

    Capitalism is such a great system to allow us to enjoy such a high standard of living while the average person is so fucking stupid.

  47. hier (PDF!!!!!) is a Gary Becker and Yona Rubinstein’s prelim work on “Fear and the Response to Terrorism: An Economic Analysis”.

    html version.

  48. Abdul,

    Do cash payments to Palestianian suicide bombers’ families count as a “terror capacity”? Because Saddam provided those. Does safe harbor to convicted terrorists count? Because Saddam gave it to Abu Abbas.

    Does the fact that the Palestinians were pro-Saddam, while al Qaeda was violently anti-Saddam, come into your thinking at all, or are you still convinced the world operates like Superfriends?

    Shelby,

    I don’t have a link, but the 9/11 Commission Report describes Bin Laden’s efforts to organize a resistance to Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait.

  49. Gahan,

    Didn’t we provide Bin Laden & Co. with some tools and weapons to fight the Soviets with?

    No, we provided factions of the mujahaddeen that later became the Northern Alliance with tools and weapons to fight the Soviets. As far as what were then called the Afghan Arabs, no, we didn’t.

  50. Socialists don’t have faith in government in the abstract; they have faith in socialist government. They are quite full of criticisms of the incompetance and weakness of bourgeois governments. Anyone with even a passing familitarity with socialist thought – such as Marx’s writing, for instance – realizes this.

  51. Maybe some of the geniuses on this thread weaving elaborate psychological theories could instead put that brainpower to work explaining how a quarter-mile-high skyscraper disinegrates in 10 seconds?

    Just a thought.

  52. Same way a 50 foot high pyramid of oranges disintegrates in 5 seconds when you take one off the bottom. It’s called structural instability. If there’s nothing holding you up, you fall 1/4 mile in ten seconds.

  53. – But the steel supports did not buckle uniformly, of course. There had to be resistance there. Falling at the speed of gravity indicated that all structural resistance was lost. How?

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