I tend not to hold the somewhat conspiratorial view that followers of Leo Strauss, the guru of the neocon intelligentsia, actively believe in deceiving the American people in the pursuit of statecraft. Strauss argued that many critical texts in Western civilization were written with an esoteric teaching for the intelligent few, while presenting a less radical and palatable public doctrine for the masses. Hence the Straussian penchant for a noble lie – one that is good for the people to believe but which the elite knows is bullshit. Perhaps the classic example of this is the Straussian support for public religion, while the bulk of them are atheists. For them, religious faith is entirely instrumental – a way to lie your way to social order and cohesion.
In the case of the Iraq war, several untruths were told. Among them: there is no sectarianism in Iraq; it will cost next to nothing; it will be over in months; there are WMDs everywhere; Saddam and al Qaeda are joined at the hip. It’s hard to tell which of these untruths were sincerely believed by men like Wolfowitz and Kristol, longtime Straussians both, and which were a function of them not knowing anything about the country that was to be their text-book case of “creating reality”. But when a disgraced architect of that war goes on television to argue that the public needs to be told now that ISIS is al Qaeda, even though he knows that they are separate organizations with separate ambitions, I tend to withdraw whatever benefit of the doubt I give these men with the blood of hundreds of thousands on their hands.
Here’s the money quote from Wolfowitz:
We should say al Qaeda. ISIS sounds like some obscure thing; it’s even more obscure when you say Shia and Sunni … It means nothing to Americans whereas al Qaeda means everything to Americans … My point is that these are the same people, they are affiliated with the same people, who attacked the United States on 9/11 and still have an intention of attacking the United States and attacking Europe …
This is a rare moment in which a Straussian actually comes out and says: yes, we’re deliberately lying by conflating all sorts of different things in the Middle East – the Sunni-Shia divide; the hostility between ISIS and al Qaeda – in order to concoct a simple and terrifying message to the American people that will enable us to get into another war in order to advance our goals in the Middle East.
Yes, we know this is a lie – just as our insinuation that Saddam and al Qaeda were in cahoots before 2003 was also a lie. But it’s a noble one, and that’s all that counts. That Wolfowitz was revealed as grotesquely incompetent in getting his war to achieve anything for the United States or Iraq but catastrophe is not something this smug propagandist has to worry about. We should not go into recriminations about the past, see. All of that is wiped from the ledger, and anything that went awry was always someone else’s responsibility.
It’s not just that these people refuse to be held accountable for their incompetence, war crimes and catastrophic foreign policy. It is that they are still prepared to go on television and brazenly lie to the American people and to use fear to whip up another war in the Middle East. They are trying to do this again. It’s not just that they are shameless; they are actively dangerous in their ability to manipulate and lie this country into another disastrous war.