Sunday, July 01, 2007

Analysis -- positive or negative?

By Carol Gee

Picking up on what Michael said in his recent post about what Americans think about the war in Iraq:

It is vital that we understand what we read in the news. That does not mean merely understanding what the words themselves mean. We must understand what is behind the author's thinking regarding the actual facts of the story, in order to judge the truthfulness of the article. This is important because a story will be more or less TRUE depending on the biases that color the author's "take" on it. Therefore it is helpful to ask, what is the writer's cognitive view (way of thinking) about the objective facts? Is it pessimistic or optimistic? The author will, consciously or unconsciously, give us clues in the words:

First, look at the characteristics of pessimistic language describing a "bad thing."

  • 1- The bad thing is big.
  • 2 - The bad thing is permanent.
  • 3 - The bad thing may have been our responsibility.

Look at the characteristics of pessimistic language describing the "good thing."

  • 4 - The good thing is little.
  • 5 - The good thing is temporary.
  • 6 - The good thing is not something for which we can take credit.

Second, look at the characteristics of optimistic language describing a "bad thing."

  • 7 - The bad thing is little.
  • 8 - The bad thing is temporary.
  • 9 - The bad thing is not our fault.

And look at the characteristics of optimistic language describing a "good thing."

  • 10 - The good thing is big.
  • 11 - The good thing is permanent.
  • 12 - The good thing is something for which we can take credit.

The key is how distorted is the view. The following article can give us a little lesson in cognitive analysis of possible author bias towards over-optimism or too much pessimism in the face of the objective facts. I will italicize the words and use one of the above numerical keys to define what I believe to be the cognitive view of either the author or one of his subjects.

Author's view, "It is out of our hands." The article is from today's My Way News. It is titled - "Analysis: Only Iraqis Can Win the War." It was written by Robert Burns for the AP (7/1/07). I quote:

Notes Bush's optimistic stance -- In a speech Thursday, Bush struck a notably optimistic tone about his strategy (12) and gave no indication he was ready to give up or change approach(11).

Author's rational pessimism... How much worse might things get if U.S. troops left (3) and the sectarian killing escalated (1)?

Overly optimistic view of Bush's favorite adviser... According to Frederick Kagan, an American Enterprise Institute analyst who recently visited Baghdad and is a leading supporter of the current strategy, the truly decisive phase of the current campaign will begin in late July or early August (8). He predicts that phase will bring much lower levels of violence by year's end (7).

Rational pessimism, given the facts... Just this past week a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, broke ranks with Bush. Lugar said he had reached the conclusion that sticking with the current strategy will not serve U.S. security interests (4, 5). He also said it is almost impossible to establish a stable government in Baghdad in a reasonable time (2, 3).

Rational pessimism about the facts on the ground... One more worry is the wear and tear on the Army and Marine Corps. The services were straining to keep up a staggering pace of troop rotations (1) even before Bush decided to send thousands more (3) into and around Baghdad and before the Pentagon decided that rotations would be extended from 12 months -- already viewed by many as too long (2) -- to 15 months.

Potential rational realism or author's wishful thinking?... That is why, if Bush concludes in the months ahead that his strategy for securing Baghdad is not working fast enough (5), he may feel compelled to find a different approach, perhaps reducing the U.S. combat role (4) without abandoning Iraq. He has hinted at such a transition possibly coming next year.

Rational pessimism, limiting expectations, again -- That could explain why Bush and other administration officials recently have cited South Korea as a possible model (2) for the long-term U.S. military role in Iraq. The idea would be to work out an agreement with the Iraqi government to keep at least a tripwire U.S. force there to train with Iraqi troops and to act as a deterrent (4).

Realistic assessment of history -- The point is that instead of completely abandoning Iraq, as the U.S. did in Vietnam in the 1970s (3),

Author's possibly rosy optimism... The U.S. would maintain a presence large enough to protect its broader interests in the Persian Gulf region (10).

My analysis of this author's objectivity is that it is pretty good overall. At the beginning of his piece he talks realistically about several current "bad things." He also includes information that reinforces the currently overly rosy optimism of the administration and those upon whom they have recently relied for advice (namely, Frederick Kagan). He reports on the growing rational pessimism of one of the president's key supporters, Senator Lugar. He discusses the realistic and very pessimistic view of the situation for the military. And finally the author gives hints that the administration may be looking for ways to take a more rational stance with lowered expectations for the eventual outcomes of the war in Iraq.

The author must be a real optimist by nature, however, because he concludes with the idea that the U.S. can and will permanently have its way in the region, "protecting its broader interests in the broader Gulf Region." In my pessimistic opinion that is absolutely not a foregone conclusion at this point.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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