The truth about lies

Professor John Mearsheimer speaks on international leaders and the culture of deceit Thursday evening at the International House.

By William Wilcox

Political Science Professor John Mearsheimer knows who’s lying, and it’s not who you might think.

While discussing his newest book Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics last night at the International House, Mearsheimer broke down a network of deceit between international leaders and their nations.

Attempting to peel away the multiple layers that exist within lying, he first drew a basic divide between truth-telling and deception, and then distinguished between “lying,” “concealment,” and “spinning.”

He demonstrated how all three types of deception were used by the George W. Bush administration against the American public.

“Saddam didn’t lie during the run-up to the Iraq war or the 1990s, but President Bush did lie during the run-up to the Iraq war,” Mearsheimer said.

The alleged deceptions of the Bush administration are part of what he labeled as “fearmongering,” a subgroup of lying in which a leader deceives his own people instead of another nation’s leaders or population. Mearsheimer separated international lies into five categories: inter-state lying, strategic cover-ups, myth-making, liberal lies, and fear-mongering.

“Fear-mongering is a very dangerous way of doing business,” Mearsheimer said. “The countries that fearmonger the most are democracies that wage preventive wars against distant threats. That in a nutshell is the United States.”

Mearsheimer said he was surprised to find few cases of inter-state lying. “There is not much inter-state lying,” he said. “I was shocked to find this. I thought as a card-carrying realist that people lied all the time.”

Fearmongering is far more common than inter-state lying, according to Mearsheimer, because “publics” often trust their leaders, whereas little trust exists between states.

“Publics tend to trust their leaders,” Mearsheimer said. “We expect them to look out for us. There’s trust there that doesn’t exist among states.”

During a question-and-answer session after the lecture, Mearsheimer also criticized the modern American media for not adequately seeking the truth when covering politics.

“I would say that what’s happened in the U.S. is that the mainstream media has given up ferreting out the truth and become a tool for presidential lying,” Mearsheimer said.

The event drew a mixed audience of students and community members to the loosely filled lecture hall.

“ gave me more confidence in international discourse,” first-year Chelsea Kendall said. “It’s nice to see that there is honesty between international leaders. At the same time it’s really appalling to see how people take advantage of people’s trust.”

The lecture was presented as part of The World Beyond the Headlines lecture series by the Center for International Studies, I-House Global Voices, and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore.