[January 14, 2020] “Death to the Dictator” was the chant from Iranians after demonstrations that broke out at several Tehran universities.1 These political problems come in the aftermath of Iran’s leaders adamantly denying involvement in the crash of a civilian passenger airplane. For three days, Iran blamed the plane’s crash on an engine malfunction. What the leaders learned quickly was that there are consequences for lying.
Lying is something we all struggle to control. But in some cultures, lying is tolerated, if done for a “good reason.” Some say that leaders in the Middle East are always after the best possible deal they can get, no matter what it takes, and “that includes lying,” according to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA). It is “honorable and heroic to successfully lie and deceive the infidels,” in this case Americans.2
Successful lying in today’s electronic and social-media-filled world is difficult. There can be a severe blowback when high-ranking government officials lie to deflect blame for poor decision-making. The old joke that politicians are lying only when their lips are moving is apt in this situation.
Iran had vowed revenge for the U.S. killing of General Qassem Soleimani while he was at the Baghdad, Iraq airport (see my earlier comments here). There was a promise by senior government officials that America would pay for the “assassination.” Rockets were fired from Iran onto U.S. bases in Iraq.3 No one was killed. But the Iranian government claimed that 30 American servicemen were eliminated in the retaliatory strike — another lie.
Iran’s Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei went public to admit his regime had mistakenly shot down the civilian passenger plane; killing all 176 aboard including many Iranians. What began as vigils for Iranian lives lost on the flight soon turned to outrage at the regime. Angry crowds gathered around Tehran and other cities to send a clear message that they will not tolerate their government lying to them. “Death to liars” and “Death to the Islamic Republic” were other chants at the demonstrations. In a theocratic dictatorship, this is rare and not tolerated.
Deflecting blame is another tactic of dictatorships. By doing so, it gives that person a pass on their culpability and failures. It didn’t take long. After the acknowledgment that Iranian air defense forces shot down the passenger plane, the Iranian government blamed it on “US adventurism” for the fatal error. A government spokesman said that the delay in releasing the information was not aimed at hiding the issue but it is the routine drill first to study the case.
More lies from the Iranian government, which all can see, continues. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani released a statement saying that “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.” I bet they do but not for the reasons they imply.