Let’s start with Arthur Herman, a wise and eloquent writer who wrote an important piece for Commentary a while back. Herman’s overall argument was that our attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq could not have been avoided, and in the course of explicating all the reasons, he raised the issue of deception. Were we deceived by our own lousy intelligence? His answer was no, we were deceived by Saddam himself:
by far the most important deceiver was Saddam himself. For more than a decade, he had consistently acted like a guilty man, evading inspections and moving trucks from palace to palace in the dead of night. Even his own army officers, Feith writes, believed he was hiding biological and chemical weapons. And as became clear from his post-capture interrogations, this was precisely the impression he intended to convey, assuming that it would be enough in itself to deter not only an American invasion but an insurrection by Iraqi Kurds or Shiites, or even—his most consistent worry—an attack by Iran.
It never seems to have occurred to Saddam that an American President would take him seriously enough to decide that his supposed WMD stockpiles and programs had to be destroyed by any means necessary.
Actually, I think that the interrogations show that Saddam was also deceived, but that is beside the point here. He rightly stresses that the Americans bought in to the deception, and as a result Saddam was destroyed. Deception is a multi-edged sword.
Somebody might point that out to the mullahs in Tehran. Of late, they have trotted out deception after deception:
By far the most hilarious–bringing back memories of al Qaeda’s claim early in the war to have captured an American soldier, only to have the “hostage” turn out to be a G.I. Joe toy–was the recent photo of a “new warplane,” which on examination was another plastic toy.
This was of a piece with the Photoshopped “evidence” of “new Iranian missiles,” which was doubly deceptive: it was an old missile, not (as claimed) a new one, and there was only one of “them,” not (as claimed) four launched simultaneously.
They have many other deceptions, and this sort of trickery is so common–and our actual knowledge so poor–that it’s sometimes very difficult to sort out the gold from the dross. A few days ago, the Iranians informed Mr. al Baradei that they would no longer permit his UN inspectors to look at their nuclear program. And then Ahmadi-Nezhad tells the world that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges humming away to enrich uranium. Is it true, or just another plastic toy? We don’t know.
And so we are facing a situation vis-a-vis Iran that is remarkably similar to the one we had to contend with re: Iraq. A hostile dictatorship, actively attacking American soldiers, sponsoring terrorism, and crushing its own people. Oddly enough, Iran’s greatest risk is convincing us they are on the verge of an atomic bomb. And they’re trying.
Of course, we’re not their only audience, a lot of their deception is aimed at their own people. They are trying to convince Iranians that there is no hope for them from the West, because the Islamic Republic is just too potent. But that, too, runs the risk of backfiring.
And that’s why they’re killing anyone who steps out of line. Thirty in one day today.
How will this play out? I don’t know. This administration certainly doesn’t want to attack Iran. But we may be deceived into doing it.