The Three Secrets

Rabbi Steinsaltz once remarked that  “there are two kinds of secrets in the world, make-believe secrets and real secrets.”

A make-believe secret is one that depends on its concealment . . . when it is revealed, the mystery vanishes and the secret loses its fascination. Such is the secret of the . . . stage magician. When the . . . trick becomes apparent . . . the magic disappears.

Such is not the case with the real secret. A real secret can be open and apparent to everyone . . . Nevertheless, the more it is looked at and examined, the more of a secret it becomes . . . The story in the first part of the Book of Genesis is very well known . . . and still it remains a secret.


It’s obvious that the Rabbi is unfamiliar with American politics. If he were, then Steinsaltz would have added a third category. The Fake Secret. These are secrets which everyone pretends are confidential, but which are broadcast on the front pages of newspapers. For example:

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

And this secret program which President Obama authorized in the most secure manner has, naturally enough, a “secret command center”. Its own Batcave. And to prove it, Reuters tell its readers where it is.

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.

This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

Fans of the Rabbi might argue that the Fake Secret is nothing but a variant of his Make-Believe Secret. But of the really deadly sorts of political secrets there is no question: they are precisely of the second kind that Rabbi Steinsaltz described: the encoded pattern within the well known facts whose meaning we struggle to understand.  The more complex and profound a thing is, the greater the amount of information that it contains.


Steinsaltz noted that the more we delved into them, the more puzzled we became. “As greater illumination is turned on it, new facets of inscrutability become apparent … Every deepening of inquiry merely shows how these short, plain sentences lead to another intersection from which innumerable paths branch out, paths which a person can continue to [tread] all the days of his life.”

The Syrian civil war is exactly that kind of mystery. Behind the simple narrative of Assad versus the Rebels there is a world of complexity.

ALEPPO, Syria and BEIRUT, Lebanon — As evidence mounts that foreign Islamists are fighting alongside Syria’s increasingly radicalized rebels, Christians in Aleppo and elsewhere are taking up arms, often supplied by the regime.

“We saw what happened to the Christians in Iraq,” Abu George, a Christian resident of Aleppo’s Aziza district told GlobalPost. “What is going on in Aleppo is not a popular revolution for democracy and freedom. The fighters of the so-called Free Syrian Army are radical Sunnis who want to establish an Islamic state.”

While the 30-year-old shopkeeper said he had not received any direct threats from Syria’s Sunni Muslim rebels, he fears a repeat of Iraq’s sectarian bloodletting.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the UN Human Rights Council estimates around half of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled the country, driven out by nearly a decade of church bombings, kidnappings and sectarian murder.


An honest policy establishment would share with the public the agonizing dilemmas involved. But either they are too lazy to be aware of these themselves, or they prefer to treat the public like children.  It is probably the latter. In that way everything is reduced to a slogan, from the problem of coercive interrogation to the question of whether unilateral disarmament is possible. “What’ll we tell ’em about Syria, boss?” Well say it’s like the Minutemen versus the Redcoats.  Or Robin Hood versus the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Or maybe the Rebel Alliance versus the Galactic Empire.

The truth is too difficult to explain. A lie is always simpler.

So perhaps the real reason that newspapers foist the Fake Secret on the public is so that it will look no further and ignore the actual secrets. We are given the soundbite in place of history, the comic-book story in place of the actual situation report, a slick visual in place of the tangled story. All we need to know about the world we can learn from Time and Newsweek while waiting in the dentist’s office. This and more, from the people who pretend to be our betters. By the way, that’s the subject of another secret, one which I will not reveal, or at least, at another time.

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