Friday, May 05, 2006

Happy talk corrodes democracy

Oddly, I'm experiencing my first sympathy for Rumsfeld since retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern challenged his denial that he had "lied" about WMD.

MCGOVERN: Well, you know, she talked about lies. And I get very upset when Donald Rumsfeld shakes his head and says, "Lies, gosh, lies. I hate it when somebody says that our president would tell lies."

Of course, she hadn't said the president; she said Rumsfeld. But he said that lies are fundamentally destructive of the trust, without which government cannot work.

And that's true. And I found myself really agreeing with that.

ZAHN: Essentially, what he told you is: I never said exactly where the weapons of mass destruction were. I was referring to, we had a pretty darn good idea where the sites were. ... Do you buy what he said today?

MCGOVERN: His words [in 2003] were: "We know where -- where the WMD are. They're near Tikrit and Baghdad, and north, south, east, and west of there." That's a direct quote.

But this quote dates from after we invaded Iraq. The war was sold and Rumsfeld was just telling his customers that their purchase was in the mail and on its way. I suspect McGovern chose this quote because it's the sloppiest Rumsfeld ever got, so perhaps he never spoke in quite such definitive terms in making the case for war. I think this exchange is equally revealing:

MCGOVERN: It's not a matter of axes to grind. It's a matter of telling the truth.

And we pledged, in my day at the CIA, to tell it without fear or favor, to tell it like it is. And, when I see that corrupted, that is the real tragedy of this whole business.

In a way McGovern is lying too: It's not a matter of telling the literal truth. It's about varnishing the truth. Like the salesman, Rumsfeld was speaking hopefully and with the knowledge that we know he's a salesman. His hoped-for circumstance was partly a self-interested hope that his ass was covered, but it was in our interest too. It would have been nice if there really had been WMD. Alas, this is what leadership is about. Offering hope. People vote for hope, like people pay for fast shipping, and this is corrupting. "Lie" doesn't quite capture it.

1 comment:

helmut said...

Sympathy for the devil? For shame.

I hear you, though. But it's difficult ground when looking for "proof" of lies, etc. They were extremely careful with their language. I don't think it was hopeful, as you suggest, that things would turn out alright. It looked to me at the time like an outright lie, but a lie that was carefully manufactured so that the lying accusation couldn't hold up in court. There were a few slips. But they mostly had no problem letting the entire planet think precisely what they wanted everyone to think. And they had no problems whatsoever with the trashing of any and all critics.