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THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, [and humanitarian aid].

Let’s parse the latest from the White House. What are targeted air strikes? I guess those are different from untargeted air strikes, like the ones we conducted for years in Afghanistan, where we mistakenly murdered people at weddings and funerals. We insisted those were targeted air strikes, too, only we missed. You wonder why the president feels he needs to tell us the air strikes he orders actually have targets. I guess he doesn’t want listeners to think we drop bombs and launch missiles indiscriminately. That would recall our missions to incinerate Japanese cities, which Curtis LeMay would say worked just fine.

The second part of the president’s announcement is interesting, too. He says that the purpose of targeted air strikes is to protect American personnel. No government official ever calls people people. People are always personnel. That reminds us that they are official people. In any case, almost all of our American personnel are in Baghdad, many of them sent there during the last month or so. Are they in danger because the Islamic State and its Sunni allies are launching attacks close to Baghdad?

According to the maps put out by the government’s propaganda partners, you bet our enemies are launching attacks close to Baghdad! Whether these attacks endanger American personnel in the Green Zone is another question. Whether we are launching air strikes near Baghdad is another question, too. If you read the news, you see we are launching air strikes against the Islamic State’s artillery positions in the north part of the country. We do not want to shoot up the ring of cities around Baghdad, no matter how many officials we have in the Green Zone. Shooting up the outskirts of Baghdad does not make good propaganda back home.

Nevertheless, the president wanted to reassure all of us that we will not be dragged into another shooting war in Iraq. Therefore he had to say that air strikes in the north part of the country were intended to protect Americans in the Green Zone (and Erbil, where we have a few more advisors to help the Kurds). It’s another illustration of the general rule: no matter what the government tells you, don’t believe it. Whatever a government official tells you, think about what’s actually going on.

That’s especially true of the president’s pronouncements, which generally illustrate the second rule of government discourse: the higher the official, the more likely the statement is untrue. The higher the official, the more responsibility the person has to hide the truth. The higher the official, the bigger the consequences if the truth does escape.

The third general principle relates truth to people’s relationships with each other. Friends tell each other the truth. Enemies use truth and lies interchangeably to achieve their selfish purposes. You figure out which category the government is in.

In this case, the government looks terrible when it lets thousands of Yazidis die of thirst in the mountains. It looks terrible when the Kurdish peshmerga have to fall back from their own cities and towns. It looks terrible – let’s just say it – when a country we fought hard to bring into the Western camp falls into two parts, one allied with our arch-enemy Iran, and the other conquered by a band of medieval barbarians who know how to fight. We don’t know what to do to counter a disaster like this. So we say we will launch air strikes to protect “our American personnel,” and we – government officials in particular – endeavor to act as if nothing especially bad has occurred – no more war coming your way.

Cheney and company wanted to add a major piece of Middle Eastern real estate to America’s empire. Iraq had so much to recommend it, with its central location. All we had to do was roll in our armor and hang Saddam. Saddam Hussein is dead, the armor is gone, and now the real estate deal does not look so appealing. Hubris goeth before a fall. Why? Because hubris in people like Cheney is nothing more than incompetence born of dishonesty. When you lie to other people, you lie to yourself as well. You think you are powerful, but you demonstrate for everyone that you are impotent: stupidly impotent.