January 21, 2010

The Truth Untold vs. the Told Untruth

"I had myself been prime minister in the first Gulf war and I knew when I said something I was utterly certain that it was correct, and I said less than I knew," he said.

"I assumed the same thing had happened and on that basis I supported reluctantly the second Iraq war."

— John Major, former British Prime Minister, quoted in the Guardian, Jan 2, 2010

Mr. Major suggests that you wouldn't have found all the facts from what he was willing to let on in public at the time of the first gulf war. Being politic, he reserved some facts from what he was saying. Mr. Blair, contrarily, publicly suggested what couldn't be found in the facts at all.

Mr. Major suggests that he had a lot of verified information, not all of which he divulged in public, when he spoke as Prime Minister during the Gulf War. This is a testable proposition. A skim through the archives would quickly establish how much of the information claimed as verified by Mr. Major was actually verifiable in the event, and alternately, how much of it remains on inspection unverifiable or provably false.

Inevitably some portion of what Mr. Major knew at the time was the product of the sort of fundamentally weightless chatter forever emerging from Britain's military and diplomatic bureaucracy by institutional imperative, the sort of constantly offered muttering of what's politic to report that bubbles up to any PM's ear in confluence with any utterly certain facts on offer.

He, Major, doled out a subset of this avowedly true information ("I said less than I knew") when it came time to remark on the subject of the Gulf War, and assumed that Tony Blair, when speaking during the runup to the later invasion of Iraq, was operating under the same constraint, saying less than he knew to be true, but conforming his remarks to some urevealed verifiable something or other, not publicly contradicting that withheld yet verifiable something, or affirming some something that could not be found anywhere at all among the said and unsaid facts of the matter.

Mr. Blair's public statements surfed along on a forceful wave of potentially false but for the moment unprovably false rhetoric, stealing along on the imaginary axis bound by the magnitude of the existential threat posed to, e.g., oh, let's say Cyprus, by an arsenal of inexistent, potent chemical and biological and intercontinental weapons of destruction said to belong to evil Sadaam Hussein by Mr. Blair.

Mr. Blair willingly suggested many many things during the runup to the invasion of Iraq based on facts not in evidence, which, had they been true facts, rather than false suppositions, might have been used plausibly enough to justify the increasing militancy of his rhetoric, but which, being only potentially verifiably true or false as he spoke of them (and in the event proven thoroughly false), did nothing to advance the argument that it was ever truly a good idea to invade Iraq, however much his words advanced the actual invasion itself, which of course was the admitted reason for his rhetoric in the first place.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Major's statements, however circumspect at the time, were all in for the Gulf War. Functionally, they served precisely the same end as Mr. Blair's; each committed Britain to enlist in a major Middle Eastern military action being shopped by the US, delivering Britain's congenitally far-flung military into action when time came to war in the gulf or invade Iraq with that same famous verve, professionalism and alacrity recognized as hallmarks of British military adventurism down the ages.

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