In October 2005, Hans Blix, the former UN weapons inspector, said that the US administration misled itself and the world. He went on to qualify: “I’ve never maintained that the administration deliberately misled” the public, ”I think they misled themselves, that we can see. And then they misled the world.” How did they do so? By failing to apply critical thinking, Blix explained, and thereby over-interpreting inconclusive evidence in order to reach desired conclusions.
On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the factors which led to the war are under renewed scrutiny (see the BBC’s latest Panorama: The Spies who fooled the world). Lord Butler is quoted as saying “There were ways in which people were misled or misled themselves at all stages.”
Adding the reflexive “oneself” to a verb such as “mislead” plays havoc with agency: who is doing what to whom. To “be misled and mislead themselves” in one and the same breath is to perform a Houdini-like prestidigitation. A similar, if milder, mischief comes into play with “to be volunteered”, or “to be suicided”, where the impersonal passive shifts agency away from the speaker and onto some nameless other.
Since Blix, the verb “to misle” (pronounced mIs’el), has become popular slang for “to dupe” or “to lie”, and a “misler” is one who engages in such practices. By extension, “Misledia” refers to “powerful self-serving news organizations that claim to be mainstream, fair and balanced” while being intentionally misleading, and “Misinfotainment” refers to television news which combines entertainment with journalism in a way that is designed to incite emotional responses from viewers instead of providing facts.
The idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate.
The “war on terror” also implied that the correct response was primarily military. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife.
What Milliband is saying is that there is a gulf between the meaning of these words and the reality on the ground. It’s not the policy that was at fault, or the people who coined and disseminated the term, but the implicit and insidious meanings lurking in the dark crevices of language. Language led us into the wrong war, it would seem. How dangerous it is, and how fortunate we are to have leaders who can smoke out its misling and Machiavellian implications!
Now it’s up to us to apply our critical thinking and ask why the phrase “to mislead oneself” is being resurrected and disseminated just now? Could it have something to do with the Maxwellisation process currently under way before the Iraq Inquiry findings can be published? “Maxwellisation”? Oh, the delights of neologisms!
 Blix Says US misled itself.
 The Guardian, 15 January 2009.