Following our ignorance into war |

Following our ignorance into war

Polls can be good at gauging public opinion, but one of the more fascinating uses is when they are used to determine how connected people are to reality, kind of like a mass version of the Tonight Show’s “Jaywalking” skit.

That’s why I found it stunning that a recent CNN poll showed that 43 percent of Americans think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Wow. Not that many people believe O.J. Simpson is innocent and still looking for the “real killer.”

How could 43 percent of Americans believe something that has been debunked by the 9/11 Commission and every other investigation? Even President George W. Bush confirmed again recently that Saddam had nothing to do with Sept. 11, and he’s a man who wishes that wasn’t so more than anyone else on the planet.

What is revealing about that 43 percent is that it’s very close to the 45 percent who still believe that the war in Iraq and the war on terror are one and the same. It’s also about the same percentage of Americans who still support our efforts in Iraq and who think we should “stay the course.”

Is it too much of a stretch to think we are talking about the same group of people here? Could it be that support for the war in Iraq is based on a false assumption?

I can’t blame people too much for thinking this way. This is how the war in Iraq was sold to us from the beginning, by tying Saddam to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The Bush administration and the media continually made this somewhat dubious connection over and over.

And why is it so hard to believe that a couple of Arab bad guys were in cahoots? It’s not. It makes sense.

But it’s not true. It just looked that way.

We all use stereotyping to get through our day, some of us more than others. To some extent, we all paint groups of people with the same brush. Republicans think this way, liberals think that way. Young people drive recklessly, and old people drive too slow.

But stereotyping can get out of hand, even when based on fact. Most of the recent terrorist attacks against the U.S. and our allies have been committed by people of Middle Eastern descent. That doesn’t mean every young Arab man who gets on a plane is going to blow it up. But you might want to check his bags a little more carefully.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that our war in Iraq is based on our ignorance of that region. This ignorance is akin to a foreigner showing up at an Oakland Raiders football game wearing a Denver Broncos jacket and wondering why all the locals are booing a fellow football fan. We know why, because this is our land. But then we parachute into another part of the world and we wonder why seemingly logical assumptions lead to disastrous consequences. The locals don’t just boo. They throw bombs.

Now our military is stuck in the middle of a civil war between two factions that had nothing to do with 9/11, while the perpetrators of that atrocity and their allies are still free to plan more attacks.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Five years after the attacks of 9/11, we still do not know our enemy, and it’s not clear if we even know ourselves. As a result, we have created more enemies than when we started, with ignorance being our most difficult foe.

We trust our government to know what they are doing, but they sometimes succumb to the same failings as the rest of us. It’s the responsibility of all Americans to educate themselves on who the enemy is, and to help guide our elected officials to make wise choices.

Otherwise we will all look to the rest of the world like the contestants on Jaywalk All Stars who can’t point out their own country on a map.

Kirk Caraway is editor of, and also writes a blog on national issues at

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