Sometime in the
1990s I began to understand the Clinton way of lying, and why it was so
successful. To you and me, the Clinton lies were statements demonstrably at
variance with the truth, and therefore wrong and shameful. But to the initiated
they were an invitation to an intoxicating secret knowledge.
What was this
knowledge? That the lying was for the greater good, usually to fend off some
form of Republican malevolence. What was so intoxicating? That the initiated
were smart enough to see through it all. Why be scandalized when they could be
amused? Why moralize when they could collude?
It always works. We
are hardly a month past Hillary
Clinton’s Server-gate press conference, in which she served up
whoppers faster than a Burger King burger flipper—lies large and small, venial
and potentially criminal, and all of them quickly found out. Emails to Bill, who
never emails? The convenience of one device, despite having more than one
matter. Now Mrs. Clinton is running for president, and only a simpleton would
fail to appreciate that the higher mendacity is a recommendation for the highest
office. In the right hands, the thinking goes, lying can be a positive good—as
political moisturizer and diplomatic lubricant.
What the Clintons
pioneered—the brazen lie, coyly delivered and knowingly accepted—has become
something more than the M.O. of one power couple. It has become the liberal way
column’s favorite subject: the Iran deal. An honest president might sell the
current deal roughly as follows.
Americans, the deal we have negotiated will not, I am afraid, prevent Iran from
getting a bomb, should its leaders decide to build one. And eventually they
will. Fatwa or no fatwa, everything we know about their nuclear program tells us
it is geared toward building a bomb. And frankly, if you lived in a neighborhood
like theirs—70 million Shiites surrounded by hundreds of millions of
Sunnis—you’d want a bomb, too.
“Yes, we could,
in theory, stop Iran from getting the bomb. Sanctions won’t do it. Extreme
privation didn’t stop Maoist China or Bhutto’s Pakistan or Kim’s North
Korea from building a bomb. It won’t stop Iran, either.
would set Iran back by a few years. But even in a best-case scenario, the
Iranians would be back at it before long, and they’d keep trying until they
got a bomb or we got regime change.
Americans, how many of you want to raise your hands for more Mideast regime
“So here’s the
deal with my deal: It never was about cutting off Iran’s pathways to a bomb.
Let’s just say that was an aspiration. It’s about managing, and maybe
slowing, the process by which they get one.
“I know that’s
not what you thought I’ve been saying these past few years—all that stuff
about all options being on the table and me not bluffing and no deal being
better than a bad deal. I said this for political expedience, or as a way of
palliating restive Saudis and Israelis. You feed the dogs their bone.
“But if you’d
been listening attentively, you would have heard the qualifier ‘on my watch’
added to my promises that Iran would not get the bomb. And what happens after I
leave office? Hopefully, the Supreme Leader will be replaced by a new leader cut
from better cloth. Hopefully, too, this marathon diplomacy will open new
patterns of U.S.-Iranian cooperation. But if neither thing happens we’d be no
worse off than we are today.
getting a deal, any deal, is more important than the deal’s particulars when
it comes to sanctions relief, inspections protocols and so on. The details only
matter insofar as they make the political medicine go down. What counts is that
we’re sitting at the table together, speaking.”
A speech along
these lines would have the virtues of intellectual integrity and political
honesty. It would improve the quality, and perhaps the tenor, of our
foreign-policy discussions. The argument might well lose—the U.S. tool kit of
coercion is not so bare, the benefit of diplomacy isn’t so great, the threat
of a nuclear Iran isn’t so manageable and Americans aren’t that eager to
roll over for the ayatollah. But at least we would have a worthwhile debate.
Question for Mrs.
Clinton: Does she think the U.S. should gently midwife Iran’s nuclear birth or
violently abort it? If she wants to be president, our former top diplomat could
honor us with a detailed answer.
In the meantime,
let’s simply note what the liberal way of lying has achieved. We are on the
cusp of reaching the most consequential foreign-policy decision of our
generation. We have a deal whose basic terms neither side can agree on. We have
a president whose goals aren’t what he said they were, and whose motives he
has kept veiled from the public.
Maybe the ayatollah
will give him his deal, and those with the secret knowledge will cheer. As for
the rest of us: Haven’t we learned that we’re too stupid to know what’s
for our own good?