A lack of integrity

Steven Walt leveled this very accusation against Richard Perle, the neoconservative policy wonk whose fingerprints dot the ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation. Walt makes this case because Perle has recently taken to disavowing the role he and the other neoconservative intellectuals in the Bush administration played in the making of the Iraq effort. Walt's summary judgment: "Richard Perle is lying."

But Walt is just warming up!

What is disturbing about this case is is [sic] not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won't be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider — as is the case with Perle — what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later? [emphasis added]

Not much harm, it seems, in Walt's estimation:

Let's face it: there is little or no accountability in Washington, where being wrong means never having to say you're sorry; indeed, you don't even have to admit responsibility for past mistakes, no matter how serious. It's just the American taxpayer who ends up footing the bill, along with the soldiers who fought and died for these blunders.

As Frank Rich and others have figured out, we are in trouble today because we have allowed a culture of corruption and dishonesty to permeate our institutions and pollute our public discourse. Until that changes — until our public institutions contain a lot more truth-tellers like Gene Kranz and fewer liars like Richard Perle — we are not going to know where we stand, where we are headed, or whom to trust.

Truth in politics is both an accomplishment and something inherently fragile, as Hannah Arendt might put it. Such truths refer to worldly facts that are both contingent and rarely obvious. Lying threatens these hard won truths merely by offering itself as an alternative account of the world that might be true and could become known as true by a significant number of individuals. Thus the claim that truth in politics is an achievement! And it is for these reasons that honest citizens of the country and the world cannot let individuals like Richard Perle alter the historical record so that it reflects their political needs. A cleaning of Washington's stables is needed now, not housing of a herd of well-fed jackasses.

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