Liars vs. Liars
In thinking about the possible war with Iraq, one must not lose sight of the fact that it is not ordinary men and women who begin wars, but a very limited class of men and women: politicians.
Unfortunately for the human race, and more specifically, for those unfortunate men, women and children living in Iraq, politicians are not known to have an affinity for truth-telling, and are very fond of calling one another "liars."
The White House web site has a helpful link to the provocatively titled document: "Iraq: Apparatus of Lies."
American national security adviser Condoleeza Rice has authored a piece provocatively titled: "Why We Know Iraq is Lying."
In this piece, Dr. Rice writes that:
Iraq's declaration even resorted to unabashed plagiarism, with lengthy passages of United Nations reports copied word-for-word (or edited to remove any criticism of Iraq) and presented as original text.
Clearly, any regime which participates in such "unabashed plagiarism," by copying texts word-for-word, and presenting it as "original text," is populated by liars.
And yet Colin Powell's United Nations speech was based upon 12-year-old information which the British government plagiarized from a private research paper.
As CNN reports, Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge, told a British television station that ten of the 19 pages were taken from an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a researcher in California. As Rangwala told CNN,
The information he was using is 12 years old and he acknowledges this in his article. The British government, when it transplants that information into its own dossier, does not make that acknowledgement. So it is presented as current information about Iraq, when really the information it is using is 12 years old.
The British government's response: "We have learnt an important lesson."
One would have thought that British government officials had learned about plagiarism, as well as outright acts of deception, a long time ago.
Not to be flustered, the spokesman for the British Prime Minister sought to save the case for war by adding a bit of propaganda: "this issue does not take away to any degree from the accuracy of the information in the report nor does it negate to any extent the core argument put forward that Iraq is involved in deliberate acts of deception."
Preposterous. First, if the information reported by Colin Powell is 12 years old, it is not accurate. Second, notice that the spokesman claims the act of deception "does not negate the core argument" for war. This is a very different thing from claiming that the document affirmatively supports the American position.
And yet that is precisely the claim which Colin Powell made to the United Nations. As CNN also reports, it is the plagiarized and outdated British document which was "highlighted by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the U.N. as a ‘fine paper...which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.'"
Please never mind that the document is based on information from the time of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi politicians are liars, shall we follow lying British and American politicians to war with such liars?
Remember, Condoleeza Rice herself condemns as "unabashed plagiarism" the lifting of text word-for-word and presenting it as "original text." This is precisely what the British government has acknowledged doing. And this is precisely the basis of Powell's speech to the U.N.
In this regard, consider the Bush administration's stance of war at all costs in relation to the cheerleading, sycophantic, lap dog American media (sorry to be repetitive; there is a point to be made). As Nobel prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek notes in The Road to Serfdom (see Chapter 11 — "The End of Truth"),
If the feeling of oppression in totalitarian countries is in general much less acute than most people in liberal countries imagine, this is because the totalitarian governments succeed to a high degree in making people think as they want them to. (p. 168)
George Bush and Jonah Goldberg repeatedly tell us that "Americans are free people," do they not? Nothing to worry about here!
The deception practiced by politicians comes with a terrible price, Hayek argues:
The moral consequences of totalitarian propaganda which we must now consider are, however, of an even more profound kind. They are destructive of all morals because they undermine one of the foundations of all morals: the sense of and the respect for truth. (p. 170; emphasis added)
As Hayek continues, totalitarians must propagandize not only about values (e.g., placing the government above individuals), but about facts as well. The government's "values" must be connected to genuine values held by the people, and the people must be spoon-fed government's view of the "facts" so that the government's desired conclusion appears inevitable. (See page 170)
So politicians tell myths (or, to use Plato's term, "noble lies") to con the people into supporting certain acts.
In the process, however, Hayek observes,
The whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them. (p. 174)
The word "truth" itself ceases to have its old meaning. It describes no longer something to be found, with the individual conscience as the sole arbiter of whether in any particular instance the evidence (or the standing of those proclaiming it) warrants a belief; it becomes something to be laid down by authority, something which has to be believed in the interest of the unity of the organized effort and which may have to be altered as the exigencies of this organized effort require it. (p. 178—79)
Hayek, writing in 1944, provides a helpful analysis of where the West stands today. Hayek warned of the dangers of propaganda in The Road to Serfdom.
His warnings about "totalitarian propaganda" apply very nicely to the propaganda currently served up for gullible consumption by the American and British governments.
Lying American and British politicians proclaim that Iraqi politicians are liars, and that such lying justifies war.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
February 10, 2003
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2003 David Dieteman