Belmont Club

The Official Truth

The Associated Press reports a White House apology for burning Korans in Afghanistan.  The books in question were apparently “removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages” taken to a garbage pile and burned.  “Press secretary Jay Carney says it’s a ‘deeply unfortunate incident’ and doesn’t reflect the respect the U.S. military has for the religious practices of the Afghan people.”

Readers will recall that a year into the President’s term, CNN reported Bibles had also been burned — intentionally and as part of policy. “Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.”

The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said.

Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright said.

“The decision was made that it was a ‘force protection’ measure to throw them away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims,” Wright told CNN on Tuesday.

Troops at posts in war zones are required to burn their trash, Wright said.

And that’s where the Bibles belonged. In the trash, by policy. Recently Newt Gingrich raised the question of whether these types of decisions are really religious questions or one of intellectual honesty. The former speaker of the house argued before an audience that the real problem in Washington was the dismaying tendency to make policy on the basis of fantasy. First you lied, then the lie became official, and finally the lie was funded by billions as if it were the truth.

Of course the problem goes beyond Obama. Even though the President’s administration may be the most egregious exponent of logical inversion, Republicans can be pretty good at lying too.  One could argue about the matter of degree, but the principle remains. Official truth is not the same as real truth.

For example, in many prisons throughout the United States, an inmate about to be executed is forbidden from smoking a cigarette or drinking alcohol with his Last Meal on the grounds that Death Rows should be “smoke free zones”.  It probably makes no health difference to the condemned man, but appearances must be preserved.

Maybe Newt should have added in his remarks, that things are now at the point where appearances must be invented. Nothing even has to look like it makes sense.  Take for example the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama rejected. In the words of Jay Carney, the Republicans “forced” Obama to reject the pipeline.

“In terms of Keystone, as you all know, the history here is pretty clear. And the fact is because Republicans decided to play political with Keystone, their action essentially forced the administration to deny the permit process because they insisted on a time frame in which it was impossible to completely approve the pipeline,” Carney said when asked about the pipeline by ABC News’ Jake Tapper.

Later in the briefing, Carney says it is the Republicans’ fault.

Jake Tapper: “How can you say that you have an all the above on approach if the President turned down the Keystone pipeline? And you blame the Republicans for making it political.”

Carney: “But the President didn’t turn down the Keystone pipeline. There was a process in place, with long precedent, run out of the State Department because of the issue of the pipeline crossing an international boundary, that required an amount of time for proper for review after an alternate route was deemed necessary through Nebraska at the request of the Republican Governor of Nebraska and other stakeholders in Nebraska and the region that needed to play out, to be done appropriately. You can’t review and approve a pipeline, the route for which doesn’t even exist.

“The Republicans were the ones who unfortunately decided because they were looking for scalps, I guess, or wins in a situation where they somehow found themselves on the wrong side of cutting taxes for 160 million Americans last December. They decided to play politics with this decision and attack the payroll tax cut extension. Even though it was made clear by the State Department that doing so would make it impossible for them to conduct the review responsibly, they did it anyway knowing what the result would be.”

From there it is but a small step to burning Bibles because they are provocative and preserving Korans scrawled with extremist messages in order to show respect for all religions. Once the process of making up the lie, stamping it official and funding the resulting falsehood is in place, why, anything is possible.

Thus, Newt’s rant, properly understood, isn’t that Washington lies. It has been doing that for ages. The difference is that things have progressed to the point where it is lying to itself about lying to itself. It’s in a moral white-out. No landmarks are left in that city of monuments. This is probably a good place to insert a Band of Brothers reference about things we do for in a moment and remember forever.

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment.
chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

Which means in French that things you do in a moment of infatuation tend to have consequences that hang around a whole lot longer than we would have thought. (For the rest of this tune, we have to rely on the Seekers.)

In the Band of Brothers scene, the men are in a church, toting up their losses, measuring themselves against the reality of the German Army and time. It’s a reminder of what purpose truth serves, in the end it gives us is a connection to reality and to each other. The lie by contrast, severs the bond between men and the world. Whatever we imagine we possess when we lie, we don’t. After enough lying what remains in the end is only the lie. And even that isn’t there.

The real poverty of Washington begins in its mind. It can impoverish even the Presidency. For what speaks when President Obama delivers his soaring speeches? The President? Or is he just a performer lip-syncing the lie? Who is the man who leaves enters the door of the Oval Office each day? Does he even know? Or has that last little kernel of the truth been mislaid?


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