An Odd Tactic

Ken AshfordIraqLeave a Comment

I’m confused by Powerline’s Jonah Goldberg.  In his first editorial for the LA Times, he writes in favor of "a lie for a just cause".  He doesn’t think that Bush mislead the public, but he says that IF Bush did, it’s okay because the cause was just.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.  Certainly, there are lies that are okay if the cause is just.  They’re called "white lies".  When your grandmother takes the trouble to cook you dinner, and you eat it, and she asks you how it tastes, you say it tastes great even if it doesn’t.

But that works for grandmothers, and girlfriends who ask if this dress makes their butt look to big.  You don’t base a war — nay, an entire foreign policy — on a "white lie".

It seems to me that in situations like that, the reverse is true.  If the cause (or causa belli)  is just, then you really have no reason to lie.

Jonah cites a historical precedent:

Just three days before Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 4, 1941, the Chicago Tribune and Washington Star-Ledger broke the story that FDR had already drafted a plan for war with Germany, a plan that entailed a 10-million-man army invading Germany by the middle of 1943. Democrats and Republicans alike saw this as further proof that FDR had been lying all along. Some suggest that a U.S.-flagged schooner sent into Japanese waters that same day was intended to provoke a fight. Roosevelt got Pearl Harbor instead, which was a surprise but nonetheless "rescued" the president, in Hofstadter’s words, from the "dilemma" of needing to start a war the American people opposed.

Assuming those historical facts as true, I don’t see where FDR’s "lie" is.  Drawing up plans is not a "lie" — it is preparedness. 

Provoking a fight by sending a U.S. ship into Japanese waters?  That’s entrapment at worst, but heck — if the Japanese took the bait and attacked the schooner, they are culpable. 

In any event, neither of those example rise to the level of what Bush, according to his critics, has done — which is to deceive the American people.

And how far is one willing to go with the "just cause" exception to lying?  Suppose a President was fighting a "just war" overseas.  And domestically, he suddenly became embroiled in a sex scandal — one that threated his standing as a leader and, by consequence, his ability to lead as commander-in-chief?  Would that President, I wonder, be justified in lying?  Jonah?  Jonah?

But even if accept Jonah’s argument, it can only succeed that the cause is worth the "lie".  And most Americans now poll that — regardless of whether we were lied to or not — Iraq was not worth it.

Still, it’s an odd tactic, and wreaks of desparation.  Perhaps one day, we’ll actually start hearing that from the White House.  "Look, it doesn’t matter if we lied; our cause is just".  Now THAT State of the Union I would actually want to hear.