2009 August 23 Sunday
Self Delusion By War Supporters Over Saddam And 9/11

Contrary to assertions by leftists that George W. Bush created the illusion that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 supporters of Bush's invasion of Iraq who decided Saddam was linked to the 9/11 attack did so of their own volition in order to avoid reaching the conclusion that the war was a huge mistake.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry, sociologists from four major research institutions focus on one of the most curious aspects of the 2004 presidential election: the strength and resilience of the belief among many Americans that Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Although this belief influenced the 2004 election, they claim it did not result from pro-Bush propaganda, but from an urgent need by many Americans to seek justification for a war already in progress.

The findings may illuminate reasons why some people form false beliefs about the pros and cons of health-care reform or regarding President Obama's citizenship, for example.

The study, "There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification" calls such unsubstantiated beliefs "a serious challenge to democratic theory and practice" and considers how and why it was maintained by so many voters for so long in the absence of supporting evidence.

No need for propaganda. Just get people convinced to support something and once they've crossed an intellectual Rubicon they'll actively develop explanations that support their decision. This doesn't just apply to Republicans who continued to support the Iraq war. One can see this mechanism at work in many things. People on the Left continue to support increased spending as a way to improve educational outcomes because they are invested in the idea that education has to be the solution. If it isn' then they have to reexamine assumptions that they do not want to look at.

Motivated reasoning. Avoid it.

Co-author Steven Hoffman, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo, says, "Our data shows substantial support for a cognitive theory known as 'motivated reasoning,' which suggests that rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.

"In fact," he says, "for the most part people completely ignore contrary information.

"The study demonstrates voters' ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information," he explains.

Got any beliefs you are too attached to?

While numerous scholars have blamed a campaign of false information and innuendo from the Bush administration, this study argues that the primary cause of misperception in the 9/11-Saddam Hussein case was not the presence or absence of accurate data but a respondent's desire to believe in particular kinds of information.

"The argument here is that people get deeply attached to their beliefs," Hoffman says.

"We form emotional attachments that get wrapped up in our personal identity and sense of morality, irrespective of the facts of the matter. The problem is that this notion of 'motivated reasoning' has only been supported with experimental results in artificial settings. We decided it was time to see if it held up when you talk to actual voters in their homes, workplaces, restaurants, offices and other deliberative settings."

Hey, we couldn't have engaged in a pointless war, lost thousands of American lives, left tens of thousands more Americans physically and mentally damaged for life, and threw away trillions of dollars for nothing, could we?

This reminds me of Bryan Caplan's book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Yet another reason why we get bad government.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 August 23 05:24 PM  Human Nature

Black Death said at August 24, 2009 5:54 AM:

"supporters of Bush's invasion of Iraq who decided Saddam was linked to the 9/11 attack did so of their own volition in order to avoid reaching the conclusion that the war was a huge mistake."

I'm old enough to remember the Viet Nam war, and I can well recall that the same sort of self-delusion was operating there. The deeper the US sank into that quagmire, the more the supporters of the misguided adventure clung to the myths that purported to justify it.

BTW, notice how the "anti-war movement" seems to turn itself on and off, depending on who's in the White House? When Clinton led the country into useless follies in the Balkans and Somalia, hardly a peep. But when Bush II creates his own little special wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-war crowd beats itself into a frenzy. But now those wars are the property of Saint Barack. Indeed, there were record casualties for coalition forces in Afghanistan in July - more than in any single month than when Bush II was in office. But, with a Democratic president, this sort of thing just isn't important anymore.

jj said at August 24, 2009 7:01 PM:

Randall. How critical do you think the Israeli lobby was in the decision to invade Iraq?

Randall Parker said at August 24, 2009 7:08 PM:


I think the Israel lobby was necessary but not sufficient. Basically, Bush wanted the war for reasons of his own. The 9/11 attack enabled the neocon war camp to orchestrate a lot of support that basically allowed Bush to do what he wanted to do.

Take away the Israel lobby and my guess is the odds of war would have dropped below 50:50. But take away Bush and put his father in office and the odds would have gone to 0. Ditto for most of the other recent Presidents.

Rory Bellows said at August 26, 2009 10:08 PM:

SEquence is important here: How many believed that Saddam had a 9/11 connection before the Iraq War? A lot, by my recollection.

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