Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan

Some lies make you indignant. Some lies make you angry. Others make you incredulous. All lies in these categories make you lose respect for the person who tells them.

Today’s official falsehood comes from the mouth of our secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Here is what she said today about the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, nuclear scientist, in Tehran:

“I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”

I heard these words on the radio this evening. Secretary Clinton pronounced them in a measured tone, enunciating every word, as if she gave testimony under oath in court. She didn’t just toss them off. I couldn’t believe our secretary of state, speaking for our country, could say such a thing. I suppose once you start down the path of propaganda, no statement becomes too outlandish to utter. Ask Goebbels.

I’ll confess to some residual respect for Hillary Clinton. She seems to care about her country. She underwent a lot when Kenneth Starr and company went after her husband, but that didn’t keep her out of politics or public service. She’s loyal, tough, intelligent, hard working.

But she’s not discriminating. Once you lose your reputation for honesty, it’s hard to say if you can ever get it back. With this statement about Iran, Clinton joins Condi Rice and the other clowns in the Bush administration, who seemed willing to say anything, the more ridiculous the better. Those people were so dishonest, you couldn’t even begin to explain it. Now Secretary Clinton seems to emulate them, though her pronouncements and denials have not yet run together into one long, misleading script. She’s also less bland than Rice.

“I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”

If we didn’t do it, why don’t we denounce the people who did? When terrorist acts occur anywhere else in the world, we routinely condemn the people who commit them as cowards, the worst scum of the earth. Not a word in this case. What will we say when retaliation reaches inside our homeland? Will we send a bouquet to the victim’s family? Will we accept a blood feud as our new way of interacting with the world?

Beyond that, don’t Clinton’s words appear to be standard language for any super-bureaucrat, a senior official like the secretary of state? Don’t we hear categorical denials like that from public officials so often that we don’t even care whether or not they’re true? This one is different, though. She said it, with emphasis, the same day as the assassination in Tehran. She said it not on her own behalf or for the State Department, but on behalf of the entire country. She said it at a time when political assassination seems to be the West’s tool of choice against its enemies. She denied complicity in what any impartial observer would say was a terrorist bombing. She said we would never commit the kinds of acts that we accuse our enemies of committing against us.

The assassination of Roshan is not the first violent act intended to slow Iran’s progress toward enrichment of nuclear fuel. All told, several assassinations and bombings of nuclear facilities have occurred since 2010. When we ask who carries out these acts, the evidence points toward Israel’s secret service, the Mossad. Israel is the only country that possesses both the motive and the means to plan and execute execrable attacks like Roshan’s murder. It is the only country that is both willing and able.

When people ask Israeli officials if Israel has anything to do with these assassinations and bombings, the officials smile coyly. They don’t deny it. Would you? Israel wants Tehran to believe that the long arm of its intelligence service can reach inside Iran’s borders. It wants Tehran to know that it can’t hide.

Now if Israel stands behind the attacks inside Iran, the United States is complicit. The United States does not have to plan the attacks, assist with carrying them out, or collaborate directly in any way. It is complicit because it is Israel’s patron. It funds Israel and protects it. It is complicit by virtue of its relationship with Israel. In international relations, you are your brother’s keeper, and you are in part responsible for your allies’ behavior. When you cast your power and your interest with another nation, you can’t take it back anytime it’s convenient. Your allies’ acts become your acts, even if you don’t participate directly. That’s certainly true for relationships as close as the one between Israel and the United States.

Imagine if Hezbollah whacked an Israeli nuclear scientist in Tel Aviv. Then imagine that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad denied categorically that Iran had any involvement in the assassination. How would we react to a pronouncement like that? Would we give it any credit? Of course not. Iran serves as Hezbollah’s patron – the relationship goes back many years. We would disbelieve Iran’s claim of innocence, even if we had no evidence of Iran’s participation.

Aside from dishonesty, we have the matter of hypocrisy, a point almost too obvious to raise. We pretend to be the main, stalwart opponent of terrorism in the world. Exactly when political assassination became a legitimate weapon of warfare, I don’t want to guess. United States sentiment at this point might even say political assassination does not count as terrorism, so jaded have we become about the kind of war we’re fighting. Here’s what Rick Santorum, former senator and aspiring chief executive, said recently about assassination:

If people say, “well, you can’t go out and assassinate people” — well, tell that to Awlaki. Okay, we’ve done it. We’ve done it to an American citizen, so we can certainly do it to someone who’s producing a nuclear bomb that can be dropped on the state of Israel . . .

If we’ve done it to an American citizen, we can do it to anyone we perceive as a threat. No hypocrisy in that stand, right? At least Rick Santorum is more candid than Hillary Clinton. He frankly advocates taking out civilians in other countries if we think they pose a threat to us or to our allies. The secretary of state categorically denies our involvement in such an act, even though it’s obvious to Iran and everyone else that the attacks carried out inside its borders must originate with the United States’ close ally.

Which do you think is better, Santorum’s candor or Clinton’s claim of we didn’t do it? Which stand is worse? Either way, political assassination as a weapon against our enemies seems here to stay. The Bush crowd says we have to fight fire with fire. If that includes torture and assassination, so be it. If that includes hypocrisy and dishonesty in our propaganda, so be it. If our enemies attack our cities with airliners they turn into cruise missiles, we can do anything we like. We can even attack and kill people who didn’t attack us, like Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan in Tehran. Wait, though, we didn’t kill him. Israel did.


Steven Greffenius authored Revolution in the Air, Revolution on the Ground, Ugly War, and Soldier of Misfortune. He is currently writing Kennedy’s Assassins: Taking the Measure of the Most Misunderstood Murder of All Time.