Comments: No Deterrence Allowed

I wrote an undergraduate paper on missile defence a few years back. I had found this 2002 interview with Paul Wolfowitz; he made a substantially similar argument:

Posted by graeme at July 14, 2010 07:41 PM

blug post: "Say what you want about the U.S. foreign policy establishment, you can't claim they don't tell us exactly what they're up to."

Actually, they tell us exactly what they're up to, and then they deny it.

Recommended Relevant Reading: To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon's Secret War Plans [1987]
"From Library Journal: The authors, both university physicists, maintain that U.S. nuclear policy for the past 40 years has not been one of deterrence as publicly stated, but rather has been one of threatening the use of nuclear weapons. This policy has been documented in such book as the New England Regional Office of the American Friends Service Committee's The Deadly Connection ( LJ 4/15/86) and Barry M. Blechman and Stephen S. Kaplan's Force Without War: U.S. armed forces as a political instrument ( LJ 3/1/79). . . ."

Posted by N E at July 14, 2010 09:03 PM

I am not so sure the militarists tell us their agenda; a lot of their propaganda is so stupid I wonder if they believe it; they also seem to coordinate among each other about the latest message.

Does Donnelly has a financial motive to promote these views?

Posted by Edward at July 14, 2010 10:03 PM

Edward, your comment is directly related to Irving Kristol's comment quoted on the prior thread.

Posted by N E at July 14, 2010 10:57 PM

I believe -- and I could be wrong here -- that this is what Calgacus would call a ``Roman Peace".

Posted by bourbaki at July 14, 2010 11:34 PM

I think the operative phrase "lesser states" says it all. Don't you?

Posted by demize! at July 15, 2010 02:27 AM


I wonder which one of those truths belongs to the "reality based community". What did he mean by "truths for students". Is he implying their instruction should be dumbed down or disengenuous?

His comment reminds me of a passage from Mein Kampf.

Without a concrete example, however, it isn't completely clear what he has in mind.

demize: I also wondered about the phrase "lesser states".

Posted by Edward at July 15, 2010 07:01 AM

I should have thought that the US being The Indispensable Nation™, all other states are, by definition, lesser.

But I suppose some allowance has to be made for those states which, through perfidy and espionage (but never, ever, through their own cleverness, which can, of course, never equal that of The Indispensable Nation™, either in quantity or quality) have obtained their own nuclear weapons. That is, until The Indispensable Nation™ can figure out how to relieve them of that burden.

Really, that pledge thingy should be changed to read 'One nation, indispensable...'. Really, it does make one wonder how the world ever managed before it came along.

Posted by NomadUK at July 15, 2010 07:19 AM


Like you, I can only really guess at exactly what Kristol meant, and I haven't ever even read Leo Strauss (though I'm going to take a peek at his 'Thoughts on Machiavelli' for obvious reasons). I think on a theoretical level Kristol was saying that different people have different capacities to understand, and telling people things they can't understand isn't right or smart. That almost sounds unobjectionable, but on a practical level I think he was saying you have to con different people differently, and sophisticated people have to be conned quite differently than unsophisticated people.

I don't think you're wrong to see similarities to how Hitler viewed truth.

Here's an example of the importance of ideas to Kristol compared to political results in talking about the balderdash economics he preached about taxes:

"Among the core social scientists around The Public Interest there were no economists.... This explains my own rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems. The task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority - so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government...

In other words, everything he said about budget deficits was bullshit and he knew it. I think this is typical, not exceptional, and they will sometimes admit it, though they'll certainly deny it.

Posted by N E at July 15, 2010 11:29 AM

For Israel, the best form of deterrence from the danger of missiles raining down on them is the Greater Israel Project. Involves a little ethnic cleansing, but hey, ya do whatcha gotta do. After all, God told us we gotta do this stuff, as Frank Zappa observed.

And since we are, after all, dumb all over, and a little ugly on the side, it shall be done.

Posted by JerseyJeffersonian at July 15, 2010 01:44 PM


That is a fantastic substitution.
You could do the very wonkiest of comedy clubs.

Those Madeleine Albright types feel righteous about their opinion that the US is 'indispensable' because they believe they know more and understand better what it takes to keep the world running smoothly without more world wars and holocausts and such. (That's also why they can accept the necessity of deception and terrible sacrifices). The world has never been able to create a sufficiently strong League of Nations or United Nations (the US AND the Brits made sure of that), so someone has to keep all hell from breaking lose yet again, with China and Japan going at it and Germany and Russia going at it and everybody else joining in the fracas, which actually could kill just about everyone. The nastiest bombs are bigger now, and I bet there may be some nasty bioweapons in a few vaults too.

All foreign policy realpolitik types ultimately think the world is more or less what Machiavelli said, so there needs to be Marshall, not just a petition or conference, and the Marshall needs to be tough or the bad guys will just kill him before they start in on each other and everybody else. (Worse, they'll undermine law and order by stealing from corporations and divvying it up among people.) By fate or chance, the United States has become the Marshall. If it makes you feel better, it is really expensive, so most Americans aren't going to be getting a university education or very good health care. Or much retirement income.

So if allowed to add to your wit, I'd suggest as a first try "One nation, indispensable, with weapons and ammunition for all." Everyone needs to learn to hunt, cuz it looks like that's all they'll be getting.

Posted by N E at July 15, 2010 01:46 PM

NE as per last paragraph: HEAR! HEAR!

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 15, 2010 04:29 PM


What is needed is a neutral, empirical way to judge the validity of a claim. Who gets to decide what is "truth" and what our beliefs are?

In science, for example, there are procedures such as peer review to attempt to keep everybody honest. In politics and the media, however, there is no check on the powerful when they lie, as we have seen over and over again.

Posted by Edward at July 15, 2010 09:07 PM


That would be great, but I'm not optimistic about it, and brain research doesn't look encouraging to me. (I'm no expert, but I have some family reasons to have watched that fairly closely, and alas, there isn't a 'truth' sphere in the brain.) Keeping everyone honest is so far away that I'm more optimistic about stopping climate change.

On the other hand, we're on that part of the curve where rapid progress should be possible fast if we can get the organized deception under control. There's just so much room for improvement if we can do that. That deception was originally a corporate contribution, but the military and intel agencies have become enthusiastic disciples too, and they're as good as it gets now. (Sun Tzu: 'All war is deception' and 'The greatest victory is winning without firing a shot').

It probably won't happen though, so read your Aeschylus and practice random acts of kindness.

P.S. As soon as politics intrudes into the domain of science the peer review process disappears or breaks down.

Posted by N E at July 15, 2010 09:53 PM


I don't agree that it is unrealistic to have a system that enforces honesty; this can be viewed as a question of profesionalism; when a journalist or editor lies they should be fired. When a politician deceives they should be disciplined or impeached. Liars and criminals need to fear the consequences of lying. Today the U.S. institutions are failing but in the past the U.S. has been more a nation of laws with a certain degree of transparency and checks and balances.

Posted by Edward at July 15, 2010 10:56 PM

"Today the U.S. institutions are failing but in the past the U.S. has been more a nation of laws with a certain degree of transparency and checks and balances."

...or at least that's the official "anti-official" story, one layer beneath the obvious deceptions, looking nostalgically beyond the obviously deceptive present to the illusion of a lawful past...

The next layer down I suspect you'll find deceptions and lack of transparency or checks or balances going all the way back to the Mayflower.

Just within the scope of my own memory - things I personally remember:

*CIA overthrown governments (1950s onward) all denied at the time.

*JFK running on a mythical "Missile Gap"

*Johnson and the "Victory in Vietnam" illusion

*Nixon and the "I have a plan for Vietnam" illusion

*Carter and his human rights stands, except for the $100,000,000 in arms for Indonesia's slaughter in East Timor, ok'd by Ford and Kissinger

*most everything about Reagan

*Bush, Carter, Bush, etc, etc, etc

Posted by steve the artguy at July 16, 2010 01:36 AM


I agree with you about what should happen, but what should happen doesn't happen. In the past I sense it didn't either. At least many seemingly astute people in the past didn't think it did.

Steve the artguy did pretty well, but you seem pretty seriously interested in this issue. That being so, I refer you to Sisela Bok's book Lying and this audio interview of her:

You can look up Sisela Bok on Wikipedia to see who she is. She has quite a lineage.

I myself was raised by formally uneducated parents who received lesser truths under Irving Kristol's method to think that honesty predominates, so I have been perpetually surprised by the level of dishonesty in the world.

Posted by N E at July 16, 2010 02:14 AM

Steve and N.E.

I am not sure that there is that much actual disagreement between us. My basic points are that

1) There are institutional ways to oppose lying.

2) The U.S. seems to be at a low point as far as the quality of its institutions.

I realize that there have been plenty of deceptions in the past but the real question is where do we stand today vis-a-ve earlier times.

I guess this is my response to Krystal's remark: No Mr. Krystal, there are not different "truths" for different people. There should be institutional ways to ensure the quality of the "truths" you want to peddle.

Posted by Edward at July 16, 2010 09:37 AM

On the one hand, I agree with Edward on his basic points.

On the other hand, I regard Krystal's remark as being sort of true. Just to repeat:

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people,” Kristol once wrote. “There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

However, I wouldn't regard these as different "sets of truths", but rather as successive approximations to the truth. Kristol, I'm pretty sure, was more willing to have gross contradictions between the different versions, rather than simply longer words and more detailed explanations of what leads to what. And notice that, by implication, he places himself at the highest level.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at July 16, 2010 10:43 AM

mistah charley ph.d.

You may have read Sisela Bok's book, but if not you would like it. Bok seems to have weathered the storm of disillusionment that Bacon refers to below. Here are some quotes from the frontispiece to the introduction to her book:

"When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful."
-St. Augustine "On Lying"

"Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing
to themselves?"
-Bacon, "of Truth" (Ouch, say I)

"After prolonged research on myself, I brought out the fundamental duplicity of the human being. Then I realized that modesty helped me to shine, humility to conquer, and virtue to oppress."

-Camus, The Fall

Posted by N E at July 16, 2010 12:50 PM

steve the artguy: XACTLEE.
What about politicians and others that THINK they're telling the TRUTH, in reality are just full-o-shit?

Posted by Mie Meyer at July 16, 2010 04:05 PM

There was a pretty interesting article on the Boston Globe last week about a Uni of Michigan study showing how people process political facts, particularly those contrary to their previous understanding. The gist is that humans (like most primates) are emotional creatures, and in the (dis?)information age facts themselves are prone to backfire more than ever.

I blame Plato for being such an asshole.

Posted by BenP at July 16, 2010 04:29 PM

Sorry for the consecutive post, but I wanted to echo mistah charley. It brings to my mind something Kierkegaard said about teaching...

"To be a teacher in the right sense," a great teacher once wrote, "means to be a learner . . . to put yourself in the other’s place so that you may understand what he understands and in the way he understands it, in case you have not understood it before. This is the secret of the art of helping others. It begins with self-humiliation: the helper must first humble himself under the one he would help, and therewith must understand that to help does not mean to be a sovereign but to be a servant."

I tend to think Kristol's ilk are as 'sovereign' as it gets.

Posted by BenP at July 16, 2010 04:42 PM

mistah charley, ph.d.,

I think Kristol's comment can be given a benign interpretation and a sinister interpretation. The benign one is that your explanations should be in a language your audience can understand without altering a "truth". The sinister one is that you should figure out what matters to a person so that they can be manipulated into doing your bidding even though they may not really comprehend what is happening.

The reason I am inclined toward the sinister interpretation is that as I understand it the neocons believed that there were a select few people (themselves) who were endowed with the wisdom to chart a course for humanity and that they should use lies to achieve their ends.

At the very least we can say that even if Kristol had in mind the benign interpretation, the neocons have lived according to the sinister one. Examples such as the Office of Special Plans, for example, come to mind.

Posted by Edward at July 16, 2010 06:15 PM

A point about cognition in a quote of Leo Tolstoy, 1897, from the frontispiece of The Big Short by Michael Lewis:

"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intellilgent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him."

So often you basically just need to give people some help with deceiving themselves. My children were pretty adept at this sometimes.

I'd bet Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss had some sophisticated views about truth and persuasion, and I don't think they embraced a view of truth quite as cynical as Hitler's, but I do think their sense of superior wisdom and insight has lead, and almost inevitably leads, to deception that has no real connection to the best interests of those deceived. I really like BenP's quote from Kierkegaard and agree with his observation about why the attitude of the neocons toward truth is wrong.

Posted by N E at July 16, 2010 09:58 PM

Clearly the neoconservatives have contempt for democracy, and regard the masses as existing for the purpose of being used, confused, and abused, "sheeple" to be milked, sheared, and slaughtered, metaphorically speaking (except that the slaughter is literal).

On the other hand, those who are interested in education, not indoctrination, might be interested in the following. At the blog "Mind and Earth" they reference the"Understanding by Design" work of Wiggins and McTighe. A summary can be seen at

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at July 17, 2010 08:24 AM

The blog's name is actually "Earth and Mind".

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at July 17, 2010 11:01 AM

That's yet another thing I have never heard of, but I'm glad to hear teaching for understanding is catching on.

Someone I know well who works in development is a big fan of the 'appreciative inquiry' philosophy/model of organizational development, the basic idea of which per wiki "is to build organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't." The emphasis on results is what reminds me of this method of understanding by design. Both seem quite constructive to me and likely to improve people and organizations. It's hard to think of a more important goal than getting as many people as possible to work together constructively and cooperatively to make things better instead of exploiting and killing each other.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2010 01:17 PM