First Look at ‘Why Leaders Lie:The Truth about Lying in International Politics’

Colin Powell claims Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction in front of the UN in 2003
John Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago politcal scientist who also wrote ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’ is set to come out with a new book in January titled: “Why Leaders Lie: The Truth about Lying in International Politics.” According to the book’s description “Mearsheimer provides the first systematic analysis of lying as a tool of statecraft, identifying the varieties, the reasons, and the potential costs and benefits.’Why Leaders Lie’ has not been released yet, but you can preview some of it on google books. I quickly focused in on his discussion of lying and the run up to the Iraq war.

Mearshimer notes several lies the Bush administration told the public. First, that Rumsfeld said there was evidence Saddam Hussein was allied with Osama Bin Laden. Second, that the U.S told the world Iraq had WMDs. Third, that Bush claimed war with Iraq was a last option. According to Mearsheimer, going to the UN in September 2002 was only a diplomatic cover.

Mearsheimer makes an interesting point about why politicians sometimes resort to fearmongering and lies. He notes that countries “might be prone to paralysis and thus unable to respond in a timely manner to a serious threat” and “Leaders will have powerful incentives to fearmonger when the governmental machinery is sclertoic, because rousing the people might be the only way to force the political system into action” (57).

Mearsheimer says that the situation surrounding the Iraq war reinforces his central claim. Leaders are more likely to lie to their own countries than to other states.  Mearsheimer is thus unsurprised that Saddam Hussein didn’t lie to other countries about  possessing WMD’s and that the Bush administration did lie to the American public.

Although only a few excerpts of the book are available it looks like a book to watch out for in the new year.