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Why Leaders Lie: The Truth about Lying in International Politics [Paperback]

John J. Mearsheimer

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, thoughtful, readable 9 Jan 2011
By Robert Spitzer - Published on Amazon.com
Mearsheimer's new book is a much-needed think piece on lying that accomplishes two very different tasks: first, providing an analytical framework (he calls it a "theoretical template") for subsequent research on this self-evidently important yet neglected topic; second, providing a clearly written exegesis on lying that is utterly accessible to the average reader. Who would have assumed, for example, that lying between nations is rare, whereas lying by democratic governments to their own people is more common by comparison? In a time when self-made complexity and obscurity is too readily mistaken for insight, one cannot help but admire the crystalline clarity of Mearsheimer's superb little book.
37 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cornerstone, Not the Whole Building 2 Jan 2011
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
By no stretch should this book be dismissed as a three. While I might normally have gone with a four, I am settling on five for balance and because the author not only covers an extraordinarily important topic in a sensible measured way, but his endnotes are another book all by themselves--I recommend all readers start there.

Where the author falls short is in lacking a strategic analytic construct for measuring the true costs of lying in blood, treasure, and spirit. He tends to ascribe pure motives to leaders (for example, not at all confronting the raw fact that Dick Cheney committed 23 documented impeachable acts (see my review of Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency for the itemization) and Dick Cheney also led the telling of 935 documented lies best covered by TruthDig but also in Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.

The book disconnects grand strategy (global engagement) from domestic prosperity in a manner I find disconcerting, and while the author is most able in documenting the costs to a democracy of lies to the public, I do not see nor feel the deeper reality: lies destroy the Commonwealth. Lies allow a two-party tyranny to sell out to the Arabs (not just the Israelis), to Wall Street--lies permit the mortgage clearinghouse fraud, the derivatives fraud, and the Federal Reserve fraud on the one hand, while also fooling the public into a national security policy that is clinically insane, catastrophically costly, and ultimately a self-inflicted wound that could be fatal.

Morton Halperin covered this topic better in Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy; Second Edition and one can never go wrong with a close look at Art of Diplomacy: The American Experience. More recently Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) is helpful.

The book does not render a deeply philosophical look such as provided by Will Durant in both Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition as well as The Lessons of History. It does not get into the nuances of what I call data pathologies and information asymmetries, a foundation domain for Advanced Information Operations (IO) and Cyber-Command (an oxymoron, but comprehensive in intent).

Lies kill one's comrades. Lies are treason. Flag officers and Senior Executive Service officers who go along with political lies for careerism are betraying their Oath to the Constitution. Until we have a cadre of professional leaders that reassert their integrity, political leaders will continue to lie, and the Republic will continue to decline. [Professional leaders lie also; I would court-martial them for doing so--inter-service lies are intramural murder in my view.]

This book is a five for impact, disregard any lesser appreciations.

See also (I only get three more links):
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power

All by books are free online at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog (but better in hard copy from Amazon). My two extensive lists of lists of book reviews do what cannot be done here at Amazon: examine the best of non-fiction across the 98 categories in which I read, one master list focusing on the negatives that are killing us all, the other on the emergent positives. Find them if you wish at PBI under REVIEWS:

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)
Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very meh. Get it from the libaray, but don't buy it. 15 Mar 2012
By D. H. - Published on Amazon.com
Bottom line up front: Don't bother buying it, it would be a waste. Get it from the library or used for under $5 and you can finish reading it in one sitting. He's basically telling you things that you already know, just in a structured way.

Given that Mearsheimer is a heavy hitter in the IR field, I expected more. The premise of the book is interesting, though the ideas are not nearly thought out enough to warrant an entire book. The "meat" of the book is only about 100 (tiny) pages and within that he repeats himself constantly. It really seems as though he took what should be a 15 page essay and fluffed it up with a bunch of WWII examples he knew off the top of his head and an intro and conclusion that does nothing to add to the analysis of the topic.

Some of his points also don't come across very strong. He outlines a number of cases in which leaders lie, both to their own constituents, but also to other states. That part is logical, though his "proof," which is basically a couple of anecdotes, don't back it up much. However, one of his claims is that states don't often lie to one another--a strong claim at first glance. He admits that he had assumed just the opposite, that leaders lie to other leaders all the time in international politics, but that he was proven wrong during his research. After reading it, I'm still not sold. In fact, he spends a substantial amount of time giving a handful of cases in which leaders DO lie to one another (like Soviet Union exaggerating how many missiles it had, or during treaty negotiation, or in preparation for a war). After reading all of his outlines for this, I'm more convinced that leaders lie to one another all the time! He even at one point says that states that get caught for lying won't have much negative impact once important negotiations come along again, showing there's really no strong justification NOT to lie.

Finally, and this one was really distracting, there were a number of typos throughout the book. They jumped off the pages distracting me from his argument and are peppered throughout. Seriously, Mearsheimer is a respected theorist and academic and this is a professional publication that should have been thoroughly edited. Apparently it was not, and it's embarrassing to see the mistakes. It almost makes me think that all of the people who gave blurbs on the back of the book--including Moises Naim who used to be Editor-in-Chief for Foreign Policy--didn't even give the book a serious read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Leaders Lie 15 Mar 2013
By William A. Harris, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a public relations professional it really hepls one understand the spin that politicians and those trying to manipulate public opinion use the techniques described in the book.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few minor logical fallacies, but still rewarding experience............ 13 July 2013
By Hyok Kim - Published on Amazon.com
There are already accurate positive reviews on this book so I won't repeat what others have said accurately.

I'll provide a few minor quibbles so that the readers can get more out of this book.

On page 50;

"The Bush administration actually had solid evidence before the war that Saddam and Bin Laden were not working together."

...and for proof, he wrote;

"As noted, two high-level Al Qaeda operatives captured after September 11 independently told their interrogators that there was no link between the two."

Didn't it occur to him that they could have been lying about it to conceal the link?

...and also, he wrote;

"Moreover, neither the CIA nor the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) could find conclusive evidence of a meaningful link between bin Laden and Saddam before the United States invaded Iraq. Nor was the 9/11 Commission able to uncover evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between those two leaders."

Please notice lack of proof doesn't necessarily mean the existence of disproof.
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