Everybody lies sometime or other. Sometimes it’s necessary–it may save a life–and sometimes it’s humane–to ease the anxiety of a sick or wounded person, for example. Machiavelli noted that, in romance, lying is not only part of the game, but even admirable. And lying is part of politics and statecraft, to the point where “what else could he/she say?” is understood by all adults. But it should still be avoided. I remember when a senior figure in Washington (I think it was Moynihan but I can’t swear to it) remarked that “there are two kinds of liars, those who lie because it’s necessary and those who lie because it’s in their nature to lie…”
There’s a third category, the worst of all: those who lie to advance a personal ambition or, in government, a personal or corporate agenda. You wouldn’t believe how often high officials lie to their superiors because they fear the policy consequences of the truth. That includes very high ranking officials, as Bob Woodward demonstrated in his recent book; he has at least three examples of high officials deliberately withholding evidence of Iranian complicity in attacks against Americans in Iraq. Why? Because the evidence documented acts of war by Iran against the United States, and they “knew” the president would react strongly, which they didn’t want.
Scott Johnson recently wrote about one such case in the Weekly Standard. It’s the story of a very big lie, the lie according to which Yasser Arafat was not involved in the ghastly murders of two American diplomats and a Belgian colleague in Sudan in the early seventies. It was a blatant lie, and it’s been repeated by American spokesmen for more than thirty years. Indeed, it was repeated very recently to Scott Johnson by a State Department official–whom he names in the Weekly Standard article–with great conviction and more than a tinge of contempt at Scott’s nerve for continuing to ask about it.
Unlucky! State Department historians published the proof that we had known, right from the beginning, that Arafat had personally authorized the murders. Everyone from Kissinger to the present has either been lied to or has wittingly repeated the old lie.
Why? For two reasons. First, because CIA had made a deal with the PLO, or rather CIA had appeased the PLO. CIA agreed to provide the Palestinian terrorists with intelligence, in exchange for a PLO promise not to kill American diplomats. Second, because Kissinger and the other master strategists of the Nixon Administration wanted to advance a “peace process,” and they had to have PLO compliance for that to have any hope of success, and the American public would never support it if they knew Arafat had ordered the assassination of our diplomats.
Bob Baer, a longtime CIA case officer in the Middle East, had a similar experience. He had lost close friends in the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut in the early eighties, and every time he tried to find out who had killed them, he ran into a stone wall. He was constantly told that we just did not know. But he persisted, just as Scott Johnson did, and he too arrived at the truth: the bombing of the Embassy had been an act of war by the Iranian regime, using Palestinian terrorists to carry out the actual suicide mission. He too found that “we” had known about it all along, but the truth had been suppressed for two decades.
Why? Because those who controlled the information didn’t want the top policy maker–Ronald Reagan–to know it, since they “knew” he would not let it pass, and they didn’t want trouble with Iran.
I, too, had a similar experience. I helped organize meetings in Rome in December, 2001, with Pentagon Iran experts and knowledgeable Iranians. They provided information about Iranian killers in Afghanistan, whose mission was to kill American soldiers. The information was accurate, and the would-be killers did not accomplish their mission (I hope they were killed, but I am not privy to that information). Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, with the agreement of Director of Central Intelligence Tenet, demanded that all such contacts be terminated. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gave orders that no Pentagon employee speak to “Iranians” (which prompted one Iranian-American official to ask if conversations with parents were included in the order).
Why? Because they did not want trouble with Iran, and they “knew” that if President Bush had that information, he would not let it pass.
We have now had further examples of this sort of lie. We now know that top American officials have known all along that Iran has been waging war on us in Iraq, but this information has been suppressed.
Why? Because they, too did not want trouble with Iran. Military leaders did not want a two-front war (even though it should have been obvious, even before the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, that we were engaged in a regional war, whatever our wishes were), and the spooks and diplomats convinced themselves that we could cut a deal with the mullahs.
Lots of lying, as you see, but the biggest lie of all is the lie the liars told themselves: the monstrous lie that we can arrive at peace with our enemies without first defeating them.
I am told that we have discovered truly explosive information about the Iranian role in Iraq in the recent raids in Baghdad and Irbil, the raids that led to the arrest of high officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. I believe we are all entitled to that information. To be sure, some of it may be “actionable intelligence,” which must be kept secret–even from the New York Times–until we have acted on it. But the American people are entitled to know the big picture, which is the one some of us have been painting for many years: Iran is waging war on us, killing our soldiers, slaughtering Iraqis, enabling Hizbollah in Lebanon, empowering Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their war against Israel.
The American people cannot properly judge our performance in this war unless they know its true dimensions. The president must provide us with that basic truth.