Antiwar liberals last week got to savor the four most satisfying words in the English language: "I told you so."
This was after a declassified National Intelligence Estimate asserted that the war in Iraq was creating more terrorists than it was eliminating. For millions of people who opposed President Bush's mission in Iraq from the start, this was proof positive that they had been right all along. Yes, they told themselves, we saw this disaster coming.
Only . . . that isn't quite true.
One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.
This is not to say that no one predicted the war in Iraq would go badly, or that the insurgency would last so long. Many did. But where people might once have called such scenarios possible, or even likely, many will now be certain that they had known for sure that this was the only possible outcome.
"Liberals' assertion that they 'knew all along' that the war in Iraq would go badly are guilty of the hindsight bias," agreed Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who has studied the hindsight bias and how to overcome it. "This is not to say that they didn't always think that the war was a bad idea."
He added: "It is to say that after it was apparent that the war was going badly, they assert that they would have assigned a higher probability to that outcome than they really would have assigned beforehand."
Now, you can believe what you want about hindsight bias, I actually believe it exists although not in the manner that these passages suggest. This seems to suggest that the only people who were right about the Iraq War were in fact, wrong. that is not what has happened in this country. The "liberals" who were right about the outcome of the War are still right today.
While I myself was not writing online prior to the Iraq War, enough of the readers here actually know me and can vouch for the fact that I predicted most of this with the exception that Iraq has not yet partitioned, and the fact that the Hakims and Sadrs haven't had a final showdown for the oil in the South, but hey, the administration likes to tell us that the war is still young, or started in 1982 depending on which idea helps them dispel the bad news of the day.
It is that now, moderates and some conservatives have adopted this view and they are the ones who were initially wrong about the War and have now moved toward the reality of the War and thus adopted these views through hindsight bias. That is why the war is widely unpopular now.
There is one other thing in this article I find interesting. From the Post:
In yet another experiment, Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University and a pioneer in the field of hindsight bias, found that Americans who made estimates about their danger after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recalled having made much lower estimates of risk a year later, after their fears failed to materialize.
Fischhoff testified about psychological factors in judgment at a meeting of the House intelligence committee last week.
While hindsight bias in the context of the Iraq war was real, the psychologist cautioned in an interview against misuse of the idea -- the argument by many supporters of the Bush administration that it was impossible to know ahead of time how the war would turn out.
"It's wrong for people who should be held accountable to hide behind hindsight bias and say this was totally unpredictable," Fischhoff said.
I'm not really sure why this guy would be testifying before the House Intelligence Committee about hindsight bias and accountability. These people don't hold anybody accountable for anything.