Pre Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Andrea Harris:

I have a question on this WMD thing. So, apparently we are now concluding that Hussein did not, in fact, have a huge stash of nuclear weapons aimed at New York and Washington DC. That̢۪s a good thing, isn̢۪t it? It means that the thing the administration wanted to prevent was, in fact, prevented, and not only that, a dangerous troublemaker has been removed from power in a very unstable region.

Glenn Reynolds replies, “You’d think.”

Well, no.

I mean, yes, it’s a good thing that Saddam isn’t pointing nukes at us. And, indeed, it’s a good thing all around that he’s not in power. But, if at the time we launched the war, he didn’t actually possess nukes, then it’s rather hard to argue that by launching the war we thereby prevented a nuclear attack. Unless we’re talking about something out of the Department of Pre-Crime from Minority Report.

This is like the old joke:

A guy’s at the doctor’s office in the waiting room. Occasionally he takes a small bottle out of his pocket and pours a small amount of liquid into his hand, and flings it around the room as he yells something incomprehensible very loud. After several episodes of this people were starting to watch him in the doctor’s office, and the receptionist says to the guy, “Excuse me, sir, is everything all right?” The guy replies, “Sure, I’m just keeping the elephants away,” to which the receptionist replies, “But, there aren’t any elephants around here.” The guy looks up to her and says, “See, it works.”

There are a lot of good arguments to be made in favor of the war–and even of the logic of the WMD claims. But this isn’t one of them.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. That was my reaction. But what was I gonna do? Argue with Glenn Reynolds? 🙂

  2. Paul says:

    I think you mighta missed her point.

    I’m pretty sure her point was that invasion was warranted on the other grounds. (ie Saddam was a loser) I don’t think she was saying that our invasion removed a threat.

    I think her comment was that the media is acting like the lack of weapons was a horrible thing when it was in fact good news.

    The fact that we wanted to remove a threat and the threat was removed does not have to be causal and I don’t think that was her point.

    I’ll admit the way it was worded was awkward but the rest of the piece sorta makes it clear.


  3. Aakash says:

    I was just thinking about this issue earlier today! (a few hours ago, I think)

    This is very true – that type of logic that they try to use, to retrospectively justify this war, is flawed… Even a grade-schooler should be able to figure that out.

    The escapism that some war supporters have been trying to use, once it becomes clear that what was previously believed is not true, is appalling, and also quite annoying. It becomes frustrating to see these types of arguments being made.

    Thank God that there are principled and honest commentators in the Blogosphere – those who, while I they have a position with which I disagree, will at least make arguments that are logical and sound, and will take principled stands on certain issues and arguments, even if those stands don’t conform to a popular viewpoint among the others on their side of the matter.

    That is one thing that I greatly admire among certain bloggers – people like Mr. Joyner, and like Josh Claybourn and Andrew Olmsted.

    Thank you very much for this entry, and please keep up the great work.

  4. Paul says:

    Let’s review….

    The prowar folks MIGHT have been wrong on WMD. (don’t know yet now do we?)

    But we KNOW the appeasement crowd was wrong on:

    3000-5000 Body Bags
    The 2 million Refugees
    The “Quagmire”
    The “War plan failed.”
    America being attacked after start of war
    **Millions bombed in Baghdad**
    The Arab Street uprising
    Baghdad museum looted.
    The “we want to steal their oil.”
    Arab countries attacking
    The “we want to colonize them.”
    Halliburton nonsense
    The “Acting Unilaterally” lie
    The “stretched supply lines”
    The war lasting years.
    Street fight for Baghdad
    Not a war of liberation
    Republican Guard
    Viewed as oppressors not liberators
    Israel will attack

    and probably a few dozen other things I forget about.

    I’ll also remind you that even the anti-war folks said he had WMD. Only now do they try to rewrite history.

    Yeah, stand up and take your bow… You guys are sooooo much smarter.

  5. I see Glenn Reynolds has linked to my little post, thus alerting the Politically Concerned™ crowd. Well, thanks for commenting. But you know, smart guy, I wasn’t commenting to join the “in favor of this war” crowd because it’s a little late to vote yay or nay on a war that has already occurred. I was commenting to point out that there were other, as compelling, reasons to invade and depose Hussein, and not only that, at no time did the administration argue that we had to invade because Hussein was, for sure, going to drop the big one on us. You know, I heard the same speech everyone else did. You can even read it on the White House web site. What part of “we can’t wait until the threat is imminent” is so hard to understand? Yeah, Aaaaaakash, I feel your frustration. [/sarcasm]

    You know, maybe you need to venture inside the Beltway every now and then. I don’t think your lofty perspective is all that conducive to hearing or seeing well.

  6. Paul says:

    Andrea, James is alright, he just misunderstood ya.

    If you go back and read what you wrote, it might be kinda hard to blame him.



  7. James Joyner says:


    I supported and continue to support the war. As I say in the post, getting rid of Saddam was a good thing. The post said nothing about the “imminent threat” canard, which I’ve refuted on this site numerous times. I just don’t think it’s useful to argue that–given that Saddam apparently had no nukes and no ongoing nuclear program–that the war saved us from having those non-existent weapons aimed at NYC and DC.

    I’m having lunch in Arlington today, which will bring me quite close to–but not quite inside–the Beltway. I’m attending an event at Heritage next week, though, so perhaps I’ll get a does of Beltway reality then.

  8. John McCrarey says:

    Last I looked, Arlington was smack dab inside the beltway, James. Actually, Arlington is a county full of unincorporated communities (Ballston, Shirlington, Crystal City), so maybe some piece is outside the beltway, but all the good parts are well inside.

    Just so you know.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Well, there you go! My sense of local geography is a little off. I can get to Arlington without getting on the Beltway itself, so I think of it as outside. 🙂

  10. mary says:

    I didn’t support the war because of anything Bush said. I supported it because an anti-war activist argued that we should let the sanctions work because they worked so well in North Korea.

    All of the evidence available at the time, (evidence that was accepted by Clinton, Hans Blix, the UN, etc.) showed that Iraq had the potential to become the next sanctioned North Korea, and that the nation would be a danger for as long as Saddam was in power. Most would agree that a dangerous troublemaker has been removed from power in a very unstable region. You seem to agree with this too. So what’s the problem?

    Your joke implies that WMDs were as likely to exist in Saddam’s Iraq as elephants in a doctor’s office. That’s not a very useful simile. Is the idea of pre-emptive war comparable to the drug-induced precognition in Minority Report? If you believe this, then why did you support the war?

    If you’re going to complain about imprecision, it might help to make your complaints more precise.

  11. James Joyner says:


    I’ve written literally hundreds of posts on the topic since starting the blog–there’s a whole archive category on the Iraq Conflict. I don’t try to rehash the entire debate with each post.

    My quibble is with the specific argument Andrea makes that I quote above; I essentially agree with her overall point. And, it would seem, with you: After a few months of taking the “containment has worked so far” line, the North Korea situation finally made me buy off on “we’d better do it now before it’s too late.” But it’s rather clear that there were no Iraqi nuclear missiles to fear.