Elephant Repellant and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
Robert Manis, The Manis Report, October 11, 2002
You may remember the old joke about the guy selling elephant repellant. He asks if the customer would like to buy some. The customer responds, “But there aren’t any elephants for thousands of miles...” The salesman replies, “See how well it works?”
You may also recall the phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Believing fearful things can cause them to happen. The example always cited is when people believe that a bank will fail, they rush to withdraw all their money. That, of course, causes the bank to actually fail.
What do these two things have in common? Well, they are part of the reason why the Bush administration is determined to push the war on Iraq come Hell or High Water and nothing can dissuade them.
Nobody knows whether Saddam Hussein has chemical or biological weapons. In the months before we withdrew them (no, they weren’t kicked out as the Administration often claims), UN weapons inspectors seized large amounts of bio/chem-type materials, more in 1998 than in the seven years preceding it. No one knows if we got all of them, or at least enough to forestall any future attacks. No one knows whether Saddam was able to obtain any in the four years since, but most observers believe that to be fairly unlikely, given the strengthened sanctions imposed at that time.
What will happen if we attack Iraq? Well, it depends. If Saddam doesn’t have any bio/chem weapons, he of course won’t be able to use them. Then we can use the Elephant Repellant tactic to proclaim, “See how well our war worked? We prevented Saddam from attacking us.”
Of course, if Saddam DOES have bio/chem weapons, he will use them if he is attacked, just as the CIA has testified to Congress this week It will be nothing less than a textbook case of the self-fulfilling prophecy. But that doesn’t faze the Bush Administration. Then they can say, “See, we told you he would use them!” Heads we win, Tails, we win.
If you think they would NEVER say such a thing, recall that this is the same reasoning that the Administration has used to justify its tax cuts. First proposed to reduce the surplus, when Bush entered office he announced cuts were necessary to prevent a recession. If the recession had never materialized, he would have said, “See how well it works.” But now that the recession is here, Bush’s advisors say, “See, we were right, let’s have MORE tax cuts.”