Following Tony Blair's admission (to David Frost on al-Jazeera) that the Iraq invasion was a disaster, the Washington administration (having finally dumped Rumsfeld) has started to make similar noises.
Someone once said that the first casualty of war is truth. (For various theories about the origin of this phrase, see Guardian Notes and Queries.)
So what does it mean when statesmen finally admit something that most people already knew? What is the purpose of a belated truth?
One popular excuse for telling lies in wartime is to keep up morale. We must support our troops, therefore we must pretend that they are doing well even when they aren't.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive! One falsehood leads to another, and it becomes harder and harder to abandon the deceit. The deceit becomes self-perpetuating. The first falsehood may have had some plausible purpose (effect) - support the troops, dishearten the enemy - but the purpose of the 50th falsehood is merely to provide cover for the previous 49.
When we realise someone is lying to us, this generates a hostile feeling. And when the lying SOB suddenly starts telling the truth, it is such a relief that it is sometimes tempting to forgive him everything. That's where it starts to get Machiavellian ...
See earlier posts: Disaster in Iraq, Real Audience.
See also Joan Didion "Cheney's Fatal Touch" (New York Review, October 5, 2006). Mark Danner "Iraq: The War of the Imagination" (New York Review, December 21, 2006).