In 2009 and 2010, President Obama famously (or was it “infamously”) said that under his new healthcare plan, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Obviously, it wasn’t true. It is pretty clear that President Obama either knew or should have known this statement wasn’t true when he said it, which is pretty much the definition of lying. The President, however, wouldn’t admit it. Here, for example, is one of his attempts to explain what he really meant when he said it.
Which brings up the question of President Obama’s pledge that there would be “no boots on the ground” in Iraq. Now that we have troops undertaking combat missions in Iraq – and people dying, what about this pledge? Was it a lie, too, like “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”? I don’t think so, though I am not sure if it helps all that much.
I think President Obama really didn’t want to send combat troops back to Iraq and he was not planning on doing it. What happened, however, was that the situation in Iraq kept getting worse and worse. Eventually, he had to send combat troops.
“‘You know, when I said, “No boots on the ground,” I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert.’”
This is, of course, balderdash. When the American people heard the President say there would be “no boots on the ground,” they thought he meant there would be no boots on the ground. But things changed, which meant he couldn’t keep his pledge. So why can’t he admit it?
Actually, it looks like it may be happening again with the nuclear agreement with Iran. When the Administration was negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the side benefits of the agreement was going to be that it would help nudge Iran to a more moderate path. All the money and the additional trade would show Iran the benefits of getting out from under sanctions, which would increase support for moderates, like President Hassan Rouhani.
For example, last March, in a message to the Iranian people at the Persian New Year, the President said that a nuclear agreement could
“‘lead to a better path, the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people. More trade and ties with the world. More foreign investment and jobs, including for young Iranians. More cultural exchanges and chances for Iranian students to travel abroad. More partnerships in areas like science and technology and innovation.’”
In May, President Obama told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that, while he couldn’t predict Iran’s internal politics,
“‘it is possible that if we can successfully address the nuclear question and Iran begins to receive relief from some nuclear sanctions, it could lead to more investments in the Iranian economy and more opportunity for the Iranian people, which could strengthen the hands of more moderate leaders in Iran.’”
What is happening in Iran, however, is the opposite of what the President hoped for. Since the agreement was signed, security forces under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have arrested even more people in the arts, media and business sectors. Iran has launched two ballistic missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions (a UN panel even called Iran out on one of the launches). And Iran has fired rockets within 1500 feet of U.S. ships.
How is the Administration responding? As you would expect, by denying we ever hoped the nuclear agreement would moderate Iran’s actions. According to Rob O’Malley, President Obama’s top Mideast advisor:
“‘The guiding assumption was that Iran would not moderate its behavior. The president considered [it] absolutely critical to get this nuclear deal because we had no assessment that in the foreseeable future, Iran would change its approach.’”
Except that is not what the President was saying before the agreement was signed. Maybe it is true there was no official “assessment” that Iran would moderate its behavior, but that is clearly what the President was hoping for and what he talked about.
What difference does it make, you might ask. Do all these verbal gymnastics really make a difference? Yes, I think they do.
First, the Administration is not being honest with the American people. If “no boots on the ground” just means “no battalions,” how do we know what our policy really is, or will be, in Iraq – or anywhere else? If we hear our leaders talk about how a nuclear agreement “could strengthen … the more moderate leaders in Iran” and then they tell us they had “no assessment” that Iran would change its approach as a result of an agreement, what are we supposed to believe?
Second, if the American people can’t figure out what our policies are is, because the Administration says one thing and later does another, all the time saying the original statements covers both sets of action, how can other nations figure out our policies, either? If they can’t, how can they support us – and why would they want to? Why would they be willing to work with us if they don’t know what our policies mean? Why would anybody trust us or rely on us?
Most importantly, though, this kind of public gobbledygook and these refusals to admit obvious changes in policy indicate a sloppiness and incoherence in the development of the policies. Are our policies based on what is in our best interests or what can somehow be shoehorned into public statements we’ve already made? Or are we doing things by halves, reacting to what others do by whatever change we are being forced to make? Most concerning, though, is what seems to be the lack of clear, honest, and careful thinking in developing our policies. If “no boots on the ground” really just means not conducting a land invasion, what confidence do we have that the thinking behind the policies is any better than the explanations of them? Or that they will accomplish what they are trying to do?