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 The Science of Expertology 

April 12, 2007 
expertsAll the experts agree: Global warming is really happening, and man is to blame. Only more powerful government (and less personal freedom) can save us. Slam dunk.

Today's column is "The Science of Expertology" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.expertsObserve that no crisis ever warrants less government and more freedom. So why don’t I believe in global warming?

expertsBecause I get just a wee bit suspicious when all the experts agree that we should lose our heads about something and surrender our liberties to the mammoth state. We need one more science: expertology.

expertsI got my first lesson in this badly needed discipline when I discovered that all the experts had been wrong about who “William Shakespeare” was; as it happens, I’m writing this on April 12, the birthday of the real author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

expertsSo it is in politics. Our rulers’ authority over us depends heavily on the expertise available to them, most of it kept secret from the rest of us. The very fact that we aren’t allowed to know what it is has actually been used as an argument for trusting them — even when our own common sense says otherwise! “The president knows more than we do.”

expertsHow many times did we hear that, and say it to each other, at the beginning of the Iraq war? This allowed our rulers to pull cognitive rank on us and assure us, again and again, that there was “no doubt” that Saddam Hussein payrolled terrorists and had weapons of mass destruction — probably nuclear — so that preemptive war was urgent. After all, that’s what their experts were telling them: “Slam dunk, Mr. President.”

expertsNeoconservative pundits, Mecca-nukers, and courtier journalists such as George Will followed the experts and cried for war. In retrospect, the hysteria is already amazing. It may have reached its highest pitch in a 2004 book titled, with metaphysical absurdity, An End to Evil. The authors, both neocons, were Richard Perle, a certified expert, and David Frum, a journalist and Bush speechwriter who gave us the phrase axis of evil.

[Breaker quote for The Science of Expertology: The lesson of Iraq]expertsThe book enjoyed rave reviews in the conservative press, notably from Newt Gingrich, now pawing at a presidential run, in National Review: “a very solid introduction to serious thinking about the War on Terror and the scale of the threat to the United States.... Every serious citizen should read it and ponder its arguments.” (And by the way: “Biological weapons are the greatest threat we face.”)

expertsAnd what did this masterly volume say? Perle and Frum warned that nothing less than “our survival as a nation” was at stake. Saddam was getting nukes, plotting with al-Qaeda, et cetera. In the apocalyptic war with Evil, the two proclaimed, our alternatives were simple: “victory or holocaust.” Well, by now the holocaust must be at hand!

expertsA skeptical liberal reviewer commented that Perle and Frum sounded “like Bush on crack.” Others suggested that they had eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner; but Patrick Buchanan, while agreeing that the neocons had “lost their grip on reality,” shrewdly noted the detailed congruence between the agenda of Perle and Frum and that of Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party, which Perle had a few years earlier favored with his expert advice. Now the book favored an American invasion of Syria and action to foster regime change in Iran.

expertsOver the last half century, certified experts, with all the can-do self-assurance of the Maytag repairman changing a gasket in your washing machine, have enticed us into wars in Vietnam, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, and the Muslim world, and they are still very much in business, hoping to finish up in Iran. Soon.

expertsMeanwhile, bills forbidding Bush to attack Iran without congressional approval have been stifled in both houses of Congress, not by Republicans but by Democrats — Charles Schumer in the Senate and Rahm Emmanuel in the House, both severe critics of the Iraq war. For some reason the news media haven’t been covering this paradoxical little story.

expertsThe neocons now snort that Bush has bollixed up the war. Not much given to contrition, the only thing they regret is having trusted Bush. They want to make it clear that this mess isn’t at all what they had in mind. And if he makes an even worse mess in Iran, why, that won’t be their fault either. Not that they seem very worried about it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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