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Editor's Brief

Having Zero Credibility Has Costs

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June 14, 2019 6:32 p.m.

The current (as yet) low level crisis in the Persian Gulf is a good example of the consequences of extreme, chronic lying on the part of the US government. All government’s lie, as I.F.Stone put it. But they don’t all lie to the same degree or in the same way. The Trump administration lies at almost unprecedented levels even compared to the Bush, Nixon and Johnson administrations. Those three lied about intelligence and international incidents with far greater consequences (so far); but for pure willingness to lie and frequency, it’s just not even close.

With that said, you don’t need to assume irrationality or perfidy on the part of the Iranians for them to be behind this. We had a deal with the Iranians backed by all the global powers. We broke the agreement and are now trying to strangle the Iranian economy with new sanctions. By historical standards those actions are reasonably understood to be acts of war. Low level attacks on commercial shipping just under the level that might trigger direct US retaliation has a clear logic to it.

On the other hand, pretty much every regional adversary has a strong incentive to mount some kind of false flag operation, or rush to blame the Iranians. At least a couple have recent histories of reckless, high-risk gambits to advance their perceived goals. The obvious player here is Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman. Others seem possible as well.

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