Thursday, March 09, 2006


They lie, they lie again ... and then they lie some more

Perhaps you've met a compulsive liar. I certainly have. There are several features of the syndrome that stand out. First is the obviousness of the lying, once you catch on. In short order you can be an expert lie spotter. Second is the ineffective and even self-defeating nature of the lies, so that you end up shaking your head and thinking "That sonuvabitch will lie when the truth would serve him better."1 And third is the motive: the escapism—the utter anxiety-lowering reality-disconnect—that the lying serves.

But I had never extrapolated the notion of the compulsive liar to include entire government administrations—until now. From the petty to the grand, from the general to the particular, from the tragic to the farcical, from the avoidable to the inevitable they lie. The members of the Bush Administration (in which we must include top military leaders and the enabling, mostly Republican legislators) lie severally and jointly.

Lying is the primary job qualification. If you cannot or will not lie, you will find yourself very quickly in retirement, if not worse. And if you do lie, and lie with aplomb, your chance of advancement, rewards and awards is practically assured.

Now I could write a book consisting entirely of examples in support of this thesis, but fortunately you've been paying attention so I don't have to. You already know about General Shinseki and Paul O'Neill and Pat Tillman on the one hand and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet and General Myers on the other, to name but a few.2

Still, as with the individual compulsive liar, you can't help but be amazed by the ubiquity and brazenness of the lies of the Bush Administration.

You may remember my little post from the end of January "The Palestinian election outcome: We are shocked, shocked." In it I focused on the efforts of public television's NewsHour to play along with the notion that the Administration had no idea that Hamas was going to win the Palestinian election. As usual, the transparency of the Administration's lies was apparent to everyone but the media. I wrote,

Of the pundits the NewsHour managed to interview, they could find only one to tell the truth—Robert Malley, a staff member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

In these sorry times the member of the mainstream media that has perhaps acquitted itself the best is the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain (now up for sale and likely to be weakened in the process). Last Friday their reporter Jonathan Landay didn't fail

WASHINGTON - A State Department-commissioned poll taken days before January's Palestinian elections warned U.S. policymakers that the militant Islamic group Hamas was in a position to win.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after the election that they had no advance indication of a major Hamas triumph.

The poll found that Hamas had been gaining support in previous months and was running neck-and-neck with the secular Fatah party - 30 percent vs. 32 percent - among likely voters. It was distributed within the State Department on Jan. 19, six days before the elections.

The poll found that corruption in the Palestinian Authority was the leading issue among Palestinians, and that 52 percent believed that Hamas was more qualified to clean it up, compared with 35 percent who put their faith in Fatah, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' moderate faction.

"I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by its very strong showing," Rice said on Jan. 29 as she flew to London for talks on the election results with her counterparts from the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. "I think what was probably underestimated was the depth of resentment of the last, really, decade of corruption and the old guard."

Rice said that she had directed State Department officials to determine "why nobody saw it coming ... because it does say something about perhaps not having had a good enough pulse on the Palestinian population."

Of course, the Bush administration has even developed the "meta-lie," which is a lie about a lie—

On Friday, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "I don't think the poll and the secretary's remarks are in conflict. She didn't say we were surprised that they won.

"I think what took people by surprise was the margin of victory," Ereli said. "Nobody foresaw that huge a sweep."

A spokesman for the group that obtained this information—a group devoted to reducing government secrecy wherever possible—unfortunately tried to flog a horse that Condi Rice wasn't riding and ended by making it appear that she may have been duped by her own bureaucracy—

The poll was obtained by the Project on Government Secrecy, a program run by the Federation of American Scientists, a policy research group, which provided it to Knight Ridder.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy, said that while the poll didn't predict Hamas' big win, it clearly showed a trend toward victory for the Islamic militants.

"Either Secretary Rice was being disingenuous or else her department has a serious information-sharing problem, because INR could not have done a much better job of assessing the Palestinian election than they did," said Aftergood. "No one else did a better job than INR. So to profess surprise of the outcome is incomprehensible.

"This is secrecy squared," he continued. "It's one thing to keep secrets from the public. But when the bureaucracy is keeping secrets from itself, policy is compromised."

It is possible, even likely, that the State Department has an information-sharing problem. But you can be damned certain that Condoleezza Rice was being "disingenuous"—or less politely, that she was lying as usual.

Previous post
The Palestinian election outcome: We are shocked, shocked! (1/31/06)


1A friend once advised that you should always tell the truth so that people will believe you when you really need to lie. [back]

2Of course I could list George Bush. But he is so incompetent—even at lying—that they would fire him if they could. [back]

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