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Pompeo’s War on the Truth

Then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, speaking at a rally in 2013. He faces a senate grilling for his secretary of state nomination today.Mark Taylor/Creative Commons

Following his poor speech at the University of Louisville, Mike Pompeo fielded some softball questions from Mitch McConnell. Here was the start of one of Pompeo’s answers on Iran policy:

So the previous administration chose Iran to be its primary security partner in the Middle East [bold mine-DL]. We thought that was a fundamentally flawed proposition. The Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, was a central part of that. Its stated goal was to deter Iran from being able to have a nuclear weapon system, when, in fact, it was a guarantee that there was a glide path for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo’s record of constantly lying about Iran and the nuclear deal is well-known, but this particular whopper deserves some additional comment. Iran hawks routinely accuse Obama of doing things that any honest observer knows to be completely untrue, but the claim that Obama “chose Iran to be its primary security partner in the Middle East” may be the most ridiculous fabrication yet. Pompeo’s public statements are so outrageously false that they make the propaganda in Orwell’s Oceania seem mild by comparison. To their discredit, the Obama administration heavily armed many states in the region, including and especially Saudi Arabia, so the idea that they were in any way “partnering” with Iran when they were busy arming Iran’s rivals to the teeth is remarkably dishonest even for Pompeo.

The nuclear deal was and is a good nonproliferation agreement that made it practically impossible for Iran to develop and build a nuclear weapon, but that is all that it was. Needless to say, the bit about the JCPOA providing a “glide path” to a nuclear weapon is also a flat-out lie. This is a case of turning the reality of the JCPOA’s major success as a nonproliferation agreement on its head and pretending that it does the opposite of what it has done. Claiming that a deal that heavily restricts Iran’s nuclear program will lead to an Iranian nuclear weapon is so irrational and nonsensical that it shouldn’t have to be refuted, but unfortunately it is the default position held by almost every Republican in government. They have to pretend that the deal does the opposite of what it does because they cannot honestly criticize it on nonproliferation grounds.

It isn’t news that Pompeo and other Iran hawks make things up out of thin air, but it is a sign of how thoroughly warped and corrupted our foreign policy debates are that the Secretary of State can peddle obvious, scurrilous lies alongside the Senate Majority Leader and it is simply taken for granted as part of the landscape. The debate over the nuclear deal and Iran policy is always a very uneven one between ignorant blowhards and ideologues on one side and reasonably well-informed people on the other, and yet the blowhards and ideologues are able to get away with spreading unfounded propaganda without paying any political or professional price. There is no accountability in our foreign policy debates, but more than that the worst people in these debates are repeatedly rewarded for their lies with more influence and power.

Pompeo has been waging a war on truth ever since he became Secretary of State, and his standing in the Republican Party has only increased. The rise of someone like Pompeo is a symptom of a bigger problem of the GOP’s corruption and debasement that has been unfolding in front of us for the last two decades at least.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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