The ‘noble lies’ of Barack Obama and John Brennan

Mr. Lee Harris has written a marvelous, provocative, and thoroughly troubling book called The Next American Civil War. The Populist Revolt Against the Liberal Elite, (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2010) Of the many issues Harris discusses, I was most struck by his clear and cogent analysis of the cultural war raging between what he calls America’s “cognitive elite” and all other Americans.

Harris argues that members of the the cognitive elite — educated in our in-bred, prestigious universities — firmly believe they know what is best for all Americans, and regard opposition to their plans as evidence of ignorance, stubbornness, poor education, or just plain stupidity. Harris argues that to shape America and the world as they want it, members of the cognitive elite resort to what he calls the “noble lie” to trick those they deem inferior — that is, most Americans — into believing their actions are really in the interests of all. In fact, they are interested only in holding power and running America and the world as they see fit, with as little as possible input, interference, or opposition from non-elite Americans.

The idea of the “noble lie” stuck with me and I read recent speeches by President Obama and his terrorism adviser John Brennan with it in mind. Obama’s speech was delivered at West Point on 22 May; Brennan’s on 27 May in Washington. Not not surprisingly, they abounded with multiple noble lies:

Obama: “The war began [on 9/11] only because our own cities and civilians were attacked by violent extremists …”

Fact: We were attacked on 9/11 by Islamists who represent the hatred of most of the Muslim world for U.S. foreign policy. These men may have been, in our eyes, “extreme” in their actions, but they were in the mainstream of anti-U.S. government opinion held by more than 75-percent of the Muslim world. Among Muslims, there is nothing extreme in a fiercely negative view of U.S. foreign policy; the intra-Muslim argument is only over how to respond to U.S. intervention.

Brennan: “The president’s national security strategy also outlines how we will strengthen other tools of American power…. This includes addressing the political, economic, and social forces that can make some people fall victim to the cancer of violent extremism. … Through new partnerships to promote development in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, we are working to foster good governance, reduce corruption and improve education, health, and basic services, all of which helps undermine the forces that can put the disillusioned and dispossessed on the path to militancy.”

Fact: We are not fighting Muslims who are motivated by hunger, illiteracy, joblessness, or any other supposed socio-economic malady. We are fighting Muslims inspired by hatred for Washington’s actions in their world, many of whom come from the Muslim’s world’s best, brightest, and most devout.

Obama: “We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces…. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. … We will need the renewed engagement of our diplomats, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts. We need development experts who can support Afghan agriculture and help Africans build the capacity to feed themselves. … We need law enforcement that can strengthen judicial systems abroad and protect us here at home.”

Fact: It seems that neither the Democrats or Republicans will ever learn that the more we intervene abroad, the more wars we will fight. Obama, in this case, wants to increase U.S. intervention abroad — and the wasteful spending attendant to it — in all non-military areas. These programs all will have a tail attached to them: U.S. aid will be conditioned on the degree to which recipients embrace Western values. Some foreigners will accept the deal, most will prefer their own traditions, faiths, histories, and values and will become America’s enemies. And there is something exquisitely ironic in Obama’s administration being so very Kiplingesque, eagerly playing the role of superior and condescending Westerners lavishing money — which they have to borrow from China — in a selfless effort to remake their little brown brothers in their own elite image.

Brennan: “Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself and one’s community.”

Fact: This statement can only be described as a bald lie meant to mislead Americans. In the Koran and the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad references to jihad are overwhelmingly martial, and the war that is waged when conditions for a defensive jihad are met — as they are today — amounts nearly to a form of worship. Those who support Brennan’s point rely on a supposed saying of the Prophet that a personal jihad is more important than a military jihad to defend Islam and Muslims. That saying has utterly failed to pass Islam’s very stringent process for verifying the accuracy of sayings attributed to the Prophet, and it has been rejected outright by leading Islamic scholars.

Obama: “And so a fundamental part of our security has to be America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. … Together with our friends and allies, America will always seek a world that extends these rights so that when an individual is being silenced, we aim to be her voice. Where ideas are suppressed, we provide space for open debate.”

Fact: This is the most dastardly of the “noble lies” because it uses truth dishonestly. By invoking the words of the Declaration of Independence Obama rightly refers to the Founders’ belief that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are universal values. The lie comes front and center when he refrains from saying that the Founders, to a man, believed that U.S. leaders who decided they had a duty to impose these rights on foreign nations and peoples would ultimately destroy their own nation.

There are many more “noble lies” in the two speeches but the foregoing is a representative sample. Once seen as reservoir of noble lies, the speeches are a clear sign that our “cognitive elite” in both parties intend to continue their bankrupting and war-causing fifty-year binge of interventionism. Whether in military, agricultural, educational, judicial, or economic terms, Obama is bent on intervening in all spheres of life in any country that suits his fancy. He will do this in the name of all Americans, but the intervention will be nothing more than Obama and his elite colleagues trying to remake the world in their elitist image. Regardless of the financial, human, and security costs to the rest of us non-elite Americans and our soldier-children, Obama and Brennan are ready and eager to shoulder a burden likely to ruin America. Kipling would be proud.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and he helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.