It has always been true that foreign policy debates tend to proceed on
a weak evidentiary base, with clever quips or stirring oratory regularly
trumping sound analysis. According to Thucydides, for example, the
Athenian assembly that endorsed the Sicilian expedition during the second
Peloponnesian War had only the haziest conception of the adversaries'
capabilities. Contemporary politics is distinctive not in the sloganeering
quality of political discourse, but in the divergence between the quality
of information available to society as a whole and the quality of
information used in making decisions. For example, it was clear to any
open-minded observer by the time of the Congressional vote in 2002 that
implications of collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda lacked
any basis in reliable evidence. By the time the Bush Administration
initiated war in 2003, claims about Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and
biological weapons capabilities were also partially debunked and
increasingly dubious. Still, the war went forward, and many Americans
continued to believe the Bush Administration's false claims even
after the Administration itself had abandoned them.Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Associate Professor of
International Relations in the School of International Service at the
American University in Washington, DC (ptjack@ american.edu). Stuart J.
Kaufman is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at
the University of Delaware (email@example.com). For helpful comments and
feedback on this article, we would like to thank Monica Duffy Toft, Neta
Crawford, Daniel Nexon, and three anonymous reviewers.