Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Burden of Proof

Stephen Sestanovich has an op-ed in this morning’s Times, wherein he argues that “Bush was right” to put the “burden of proof” on Saddam Hussein. To make his argument work, however, he relies on a weak analogy and ignores inconvenient details. (Could there be a pattern here?)

He starts by bringing up an incident that occurred during the Clinton administration, when rumors of Yeltsin’s death preceded a planned visit to Moscow. The argument is that this is an example of when it is appropriate to “shift the burden of proof to the other guy.” In that case, it was, for one simple reason: Yeltsin could easily disprove the rumors simply by showing up alive.

To apply this thinking to Iraq, you would have to imagine that there was some equally unequivocal stroke by which Saddam Hussein could have proven the absence of WMD -- essentially a negative proposition. There wasn’t.

Further, you have to ignore the fact that processes were underway that might have brought real clarity to the matter (it’s telling that he makes no mention of David Kay, or of the inspections that were taking place and were ultimately cancelled during the run-up to the war), and ignore that fact that the Administration treated every failure to find evidence as evidence of dissembling – even as inspections were repeatedly failing to find weapons where we thought they were.

Finally, by arguing about burden of proof, Mr. Sestanovich is merely distracting us from the more critical question, which is what is the standard of proof required to lead a nation to war.

I could go on, but you see the point: like the Administration itself, he blithely ignores evidence that doesn’t fit his argument, and likes to keep us focused on anything but the real issue.


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