Monday, May 14, 2007

The destruction of truth as a political goal

"If we recognized the horror and gravity of an untruth, we should more justifiably punish it with fire than any other crime." - Michael Montaigne, "On Liars" [Blogger's Note - this is a poor translation ... when I get home and can check my copy of Montaigne's Essays I'll revise this with the better quote]

Make no mistake, Montaigne was not putting forth an argument that liars should be put to the flame. He was simply tryng to express the degree to which he found lying deplorable and dangerous to social cohesion. What Montaigne seems to have anticipated was a theme that was central to the work of political philosopher Hannah Arendt; that being that sytematic lying has the power to destroy a society. Arendt pointed out in her work that for the nascent totalitarian, the destruction of truth - a concept she called "nihilistic relativism" - was a political goal.

Which brings us to the subject of this post: Michael Ledeen (who is most likely a fascist and an advocate of the principle of "creative destruction".)

In the June/July 2005 issue of Free Inquiry an interview with Ledeen was featured. The following exchange was part of the article:

FI: Do pundits like you and those at the American Enterprise Institute have an influence with the administration?

Ledeen: Whatever influence we have results from what publicly say and write. If we have more influence than others – and I have no reason to think we do – it is because we are more convincing.
Oh, really. Let's see how much untruth is contained in that single sentence.

First, I'd note that Mr. Ledeen was at one point (and as far as I know still is or was) the only full time foreign policy analyst hired by Karl Rove. Which leads into the second point, AEI and Ledeen had a bit more than "influence" - they were flat out dictating policy course for action in Iraq, but not publicly, as Ledeen claimed. To illustrate this, I quote from Salon's review of The Assassins' Gate : America in Iraq by George Packer:

Perhaps the most morally shocking revelation in "The Assassins' Gate" is that the real reason the Bush administration did not plan for the aftermath of the war was that such planning might have prevented the war from taking place. One example of this was the administration's rejection of an offer of help from a coalition of heavyweight bipartisan policy groups. Leslie Gelb, president of the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations, had offered to assist the administration in its postwar planning: He proposed that his group and two other respected think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, prepare a study. "'This is just what we need," Rice said. 'We'll be too busy to do it ourselves.' But she didn't want the involvement of Heritage, which had been critical of the idea of an Iraq war. 'Do AEI instead.'"

Representatives of the think tanks duly met with National Security Council head Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley. "John Hamre of CSIS went in expecting to pitch the idea to Rice, but the meeting was odd from the start: Rice seemed attentive only to [AEI president Chris] DeMuth, and it was as if the White House was trying to sell something to the American Enterprise Institute rather than the other way around. When Gelb, on speakerphone from New York, began to describe his concept, DeMuth cut him off. 'Wait a minute. What's all this planning and thinking about postwar Iraq?' He turned to Rice. 'This is nation building, and you said you were against that. In the campaign you said it, the president has said it. Does he know you're doing this? Does Karl Rove know?' "

Without AEI, Rice couldn't sign on. Two weeks later, Hadley called Gelb to tell him what Gelb already knew: 'We're not going to go ahead with it.' Gelb later explained, 'They thought all those things would get in the way of going to war.'"

In effect, the far-right AEI was running the White House's Iraq policy -- and the AEI's war-at-all-costs imperatives drove the Pentagon, too. "'The senior leadership of the Pentagon was very worried about the realities of the postconflict phase being known,' a Defense official said, 'because if you are Feith or you are Wolfowitz, your primary concern is to achieve the war.'"

Those involved in this massive deception have not been punished in any way. The officials who lied to get their war will never pay any price for their deeds. But one could make a legitimate argument that their actions constitute one of the greatest betrayals of the nation in its history.
Ok. I think that pretty much establishes Ledeen is a liar. But we haven't yet even scratched the depth of Ledeen's attack on truth.

Another level: Ledeen's daughter, Simone Ledeen, was given a job with the CPA in Iraq in October 2003.

Another level: Ledeen has suspicious links to the forged Niger documents that became the basis of the President's infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address.

Now let's get to the part where one can understand what Montaigne must have been feeling when he wrote the bit about punishing lies with flame. In Bob Woodwards's State of Denial, Woodward casually tosses out the following passage without seeming to notice the serious implications*:

At another point Kay got a cable from the CIA that the vice president wanted him to send someone to Switzerland to meet with an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar.

“I recognize this one,” Kay said when he saw the cable. “This one I’m not going to do.”

Ghorbinafar had been the Iranian middleman in the Reagan administration’s disastrous secret arms-for-hostage deals in the Iran-contra scandal. Though he had been a CIA source in the 1970s, the agency had terminated him in 1983 and the next year issued a formal “burn notice” warning that Ghorbinafar was a talented

This time, Kay read, Ghorbinafar claimed to have to have an Iranian source who knew all about Iraqi nuclear weapons, but who wanted $2 million in advance, and who would not talk directly to the U.S., only through Ghorbanifar.

Kay discovered that the latest Ghorbanifar stunt involved Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former NSC colleague of Oliver North who had been involved with Ghorbanifar in the Iran-contra days.

Kay sent a cable to the CIA saying, “Unless you give me direct instructions to talk to him, I will not have any member of the ISG talk to this guy. The guy is a known fabricator-peddler, and it will ruin someone. If the DCI wants to send me direct instructions to do it, I will of course do. But it’s got to be direct.”

The idea was dropped. Cheney was acting as a kind of super-investigator, trying to ferret out the elusive WMD, Kay concluded.
Typical of this administration, the idea was dropped the moment that someone (in this case Cheney) would have to take responsibility for a covert action meant to be secret. I find Kay's conclusion to be lacking. I think a more likely answer was that Cheney was looking to make up some bullshit evidence that Iraq had WMDs and didn't much care if it was actually true or not. But a more sinister implication arises when one considers a point that was raised in George Tenet's new book.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, an article in the New York Times by Scott Shane picks out the following revelation from Tenet's book

In January 2002, George J. Tenet, the man who oversaw all American spy agencies, was asked by a visiting Italian intelligence official what he knew about United States officials making contact with exiled Iranian opposition figures.

"I shot a look at other members of my staff in the meeting," Mr. Tenet writes in his newly published memoir. "It was clear that none of us knew what he was talking about. The Italian quickly changed the subject."

The embarrassed Mr. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, had stumbled upon a quixotic effort by a few Pentagon officials working closely with a conservative Middle East specialist, Michael A. Ledeen, to meet with Iranian dissidents living abroad. It was neither the first nor the last time he would be surprised by intelligence efforts inside the Bush administration but outside official channels. . . .

Meanwhile, Mr. Tenet had learned about the contacts with Iranian exiles, organized by Mr. Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and involving two Defense Department officials. They seemed to be in touch with, among others, Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian exile who had been a middleman in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s and who the C.I.A. believed was completely unreliable.

"What we were hearing sounded like an off-the-books covert-action program trying to destabilize the Iranian government," Mr. Tenet writes, calling such a program "Son of Iran-contra."
We do not know the extent of this covert activity or what its true purpose was. But we do know that Michael Ledeen is not above helping to facilitate illegal wars and that he has been advocate of war with Iran for a long time now. We also know that V.P. Cheney during the Iran-contra scandal was an ardent supporter of the Reagan administration believing that it was actually Congress that was in the wrong. Of course, this merits serious investigation by journalists and Congress ... whether either will do so remains to be seen.

But I think it safe to say that this pretty much establishes Ledeen as a ruthless liar. But yet again, we can go another level into Ledeen's truth destruction. As this post at Unclaimed Territory documents, Ledeen had the audacity to claim that he did not advocate for an invasion of Iraq. The truly Orwellian nature of that lie makes one ponder the possiblity, like Winston upon realizing that O'Brien might really believe 2+2=5, that Ledeen is capable of that "lunatic dislocation of mind" necessary to believe such things. The fact that at the time he was floating the idea that we should extend the "war on terror" to France as our next target doesn't help Ledeen's case.

So we've now established that Ledeen both personally and as a member of AEI was intimately and clandestinely involved with ochestrating the war in Iraq, as well as possibly working covertly to achieve a war with Iran (a long standing dream of Ledeen.) It goes without saying that Ledeen's answer to Free Inquiry that any influence he or AEI might have stems from what what they have publically said and written was an absolute untruth.

But to top this all off, let's take a look at this post from Ledeen's blog entitled "The Lies They Tell and Why" in which Ledeen begins:

Everybody lies sometime or other. Sometimes it’s necessary—it may save a life—and sometimes it’s humane—to ease the anxiety of a sick or wounded person, for example. Machiavelli noted that, in romance, lying is not only part of the game, but even admirable. And lying is part of politics and statecraft, to the point where “what else could he/she say?” is understood by all adults. But it should still be avoided. I remember when a senior figure in Washington (I think it was Moynihan but I can’t swear to it) remarked that “there are two kinds of liars, those who lie because it’s necessary and those who lie because it’s in their nature to lie…”

There’s a third category, the worst of all: those who lie to advance a personal ambition or, in government, a personal or corporate agenda.

Lo! What is this? Is Ledeen talking about himself?! Nope. That would be the truth, and Ledeen's political goals require that he destroy truth. So what he does in the rest of the post is argue that Iran has been at war with the United States since we invaded Iraq and that high level U.S. officials have been hiding this information for personal reasons. The post is pure propaganda for war with Iran, but it's important to consider how Ledeen goes about smashing the truth in order to promote his dream war.

You wouldn’t believe how often high officials lie to their superiors because they fear the policy consequences of the truth. That includes very high ranking officials, as Bob Woodward demonstrated in his recent book; he has at least three examples of high officials deliberately withholding evidence of Iranian complicity in attacks against Americans in Iraq. Why? Because the evidence documented acts of war by Iran against the United States, and they “knew” the president would react strongly, which they didn’t want.
What Ledeen does here is reference Woodward's book without giving specific examples. What's more, he has twisted and manipulated a somewhat truth into a falsehood. But like the good propagandist, he has done so in such a way that it takes quite a bit of effort to explain what is wrong with the above. For one, you'd have to have read the book. Too bad for Ledeen that I have.

The instances he was referring to were not withheld from the president. Instead, what actually happened was that although intelligence knew that Iran had been aiding insurgents by providing them with training and IED technology, the administration had tied its own hands with its tough rhetoric about regimes that aid terrorism because if it went public with the information they would be expected to get tough on Iran, yet if they did so Iran would be in position to make things for the US army significantly more difficult in Iraq.

Ledeen conviently leaves that out because all Ledeen cares about is going to war with Iran. The fact that increased pressure on Iran might lead to more dead US soldiers in Iraq is not a concern to Ledeen ... they are pawns to him.

Another point that I seem to recall from the book is that at one point it was discussed that Iran's role in Iraq was negative, but not overall that significant. My memory on this is vague however (and I could be wrong), so I would have to re-read the book to make sure I'm remembering correctly. That's part of the brilliance of Ledeen's bullshit ... it takes far more effort to present the truth than it does lies.

The rest of the post is full of more propaganda that I am not going to waste my time trying to unravel. The point Ledeen comes to is that "high officials" have deliberately prevented information that prove Iran is at war with the United States and that we can not win in Iraq until we go to war with Iran from the public and president because they "did not want trouble with Iran." After tossing off some more propaganda about Iran being at war with the US in Iraq, Ledeen closes with

The American people cannot properly judge our performance in this war unless they know its true dimensions. The president must provide us with that basic truth.

Faster, Please.

Spoken like a true madman. By "basic truth" does Ledeen mean mentioning that he was conducting covert activities behind the back of the CIA Director to destabilize the Iran regime? Nope. By "basic truth" Ledeen means for the president to present the public with more propaganda that Ledeen has been behind the scenes working on.

Ledeen also would conveniently leave out the fact that while Iran has been giving aid to insurgents in Iraq, there have been rumors (probably true) that the US has been aiding dissident groups to attack the Iran regime. And certainly Ledeen would like to leave the assertions of Scott Ritter that we have already began a war with Iran ourselves (Ritter cites the US backing of another dissident group as well as violations of Iranian air space.)

Of course none of that matters to Ledeen. Reality doesn't matter to Ledeen, either. As the reality is that the quagmire we're stuck in Iraq is bad enough, but extending the war to Iran would be insane. Iran could create havoc with our economy by pulling some strings and making the price of oil skyrocket, not to mention that we lack the military capacity to wage wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran at the same time. Not to mention that war with Iran would exponentially increase the risk of terrorist blowback in the United States.

But Ledeen - this madman - is the "Freedom Scholar" at AEI and is still a voice of influence with this administration. Ledeen's goals are the administration's goals, and this is why, like Ledeen, the administration must constantly seek to destroy truth, because if the American public was presented with the truth they would not be able achieve their political goals. Ledeen is just a microcosm of how this administration and, indeed, the entire conservative movement operates.

This is another post that didn't quite come out the way I wanted it to. I'm still having trouble focusing my attention on one subject and can only use the internet (where I do a lot of my research) in limited time chunks. Consider this as a sort of an open draft that I'm written to help get my thoughts down so that I can revise and incorporate them into future posts.


*One would think that coming upon the revelation that Cheney was trying to arrange a meeting through Ledeen of a known fabricator from the Iran-contra scandal with David Kay might have set off some alarm bells in Woodward's head and possibly led he or the Washington Post to begin investigating, rather than to mention it in passing in the book without delving into the issue's significance.

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