Seldom I think has

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Seldom, I think, has a country undergone such a subtle, textured, distinction-granting debate about lying and truth-telling.

“I don’t believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq’s nuclear programs — and then deceived the American public as well.”

That’s the final paragraph of Nick Kristof’s devastating column on just when the White House knew the Niger/Iraq uranium purchase story was bogus.

In Saturday’s Times, Bill Keller says: “What the Bush administration did was gild the lily — disseminating information that ranged from selective to preposterous.”

That is a description that is perhaps most artfully described as generous.

Washington’s newfound appreciation of the ‘subtleties’ of truth-telling and lies is, well … what shall we call it?, a revealing contrast to the common-sense definitions bandied about through 1998. But Kristof at least is on to something. There was an element of self-deception. A strong one.

If you simply insist on believing white is black, even when you can see it’s white, then when you tell people it’s black then, well, maybe you’re sort of not really lying, right?

Certainly, in some cases, the truth was more muddy. Folks in the administration put the most ominous interpretation on fragmentary information that was admittedly ambiguous.

Here’s another clip from Kristof …

Still, Mr. Tenet and the intelligence agencies were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq. Ambiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.

“It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a `mobile bioweapons lab’ and every tanker truck would be `filled with weaponized anthrax,’ ” a former military intelligence officer said. “None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense and the secretary of state.”

So I’m not simply being critical of this ‘subtlety.’ Mass psychology and individual psychology are more apt tools than lie detector tests for much of this. Maybe we’re not talking about lying but only saying things you have no reason to believe are true, which I guess is not really a lie, right?

Or saying things you have good reasons to believe are false but don’t know for a fact to be false?

I’m not in the camp of people who think the administration’s falsehoods and distortions about WMD change that fact of the deadly significance of WMD, or the significance of Iraq’s long history of non-compliance. But there is still, at the end of the day, an odd unwillingness to state the simple fact that in many cases the White House lied to the American public, repeatedly and unashamedly, to pave the way for war. Sure, sure, they thought they were doing it for a good cause. But if they’d lie about this, well you know the rest …

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