© 2011 Brad Jackson. All rights reserved. bill clinton hapy as can be

Back to the Blog Lying – The Most Fun a Politician Can Have with His Clothes On


Download Podcast | iTunes | Podcast Feed

On today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, Brad Jackson is joined by Pejman Yousefzadeh and Elizabeth Blackney to discuss the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, and John Mearsheimer’s new book, “Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics.”

We’re brought to you as always by BigGovernment and Stephen Clouse and Associates. If you’d like to email us, you can do so at coffee[at]newledger.com. We hope you enjoy the show.

Related Links:

Bachmann, Gingrich, and Romney. Oh My! And Then There’s Rick Perry.
Exciting Things About Tim Pawlenty
The Awful, No Good, Very Bad Republican Presidential Debate
A tweet from Ben Domenech about the debate
CATO Speech: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth about Lying in International Politics
Why leaders lie
The Case of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer


Follow Brad on Twitter
Follow Pej on Twitter
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter

Lying Politicians

June 15, 2011

Jackson:           On the show today Pejman and Elizabeth are here today to discuss the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire earlier this week.  They’ll pick winners and losers from the night.  Then we’ll talk about John Mearsheimer’s new book, Why Leader’s Lie:  The Truth About Lying in International Politics.  I’m your host Brad Jackson.  You’re listening to the June 15, 2011 edition of Coffee and Markets.

All right, gang.  So, earlier this week was the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire.  I wanted to start of the show by getting the take from each of you on who you thought won the night.  Pej, let’s start with you.

Yousefzadeh:  Mitt Romney won because nobody laid a glove on him.  And then everyone else decided to go and make a goofus of himself.  I mean, Tim Pawlenty came in and said, I’ll give you 5% growth every year.  And then Ron Paul decided to double down on that and said I’ll give you 10 to 15% growth every year, and we won’t have to turn it off because they’ll be no inflation, and compared to all of that Romney seemed sensible.  And no one laid a glove on him and therefore I say he won by a knock out.

Blackney:        You know, I tend to agree with you Pej.  I think that Mitt Romney came out the big winner of those who were in attendance.  I thought that he looked presidential.  I think that Tim Pawlenty was the big loser of the folks that were in attendance.  I think his inability on Sunday on Meet the Press he called it Obamnicare and, you know, was trying to lay manly blows on Mitt Romney and then when confronted by that quote by John King, who is arguably the worst presidential debate moderator in human history, talking about Coke or Pepsi, I mean, the debate was kind of absurd, then he wouldn’t follow through with the bunch when he was standing there in front of him.  And he just looked like a punk.

I mean, I’m not surprised because I’ve never thought Tim Pawlenty was going to go anywhere.  He’s got suburb staff.  He’s got some of the best presidential campaign staff in the country.  And you know, his success thus far is a testament to them, not so much him and his awesomeness.  I thought Mitt Romney did really good.  I thought the winner who wasn’t there last night though was Rick Perry.

Jackson:           Absolutely.

Blackney:        I think Rick Perry looks, you know, looks better and better to a lot of different sectors of the Republican party, for those of us who are, who concern ourselves with military and foreign policy.  I’m real curious where Rick Perry is going to come down on some of those issues now, because I thought that his would have been a welcome breath of fresh air in that.  And I think the big loser from last night has to be Sarah Palin, because Michele Bachman, I thought, acquitted herself quite nicely last night.  And you know, I’m not a big Tea Party girl, but I’ve got to tell you, I thought she was very impressive.  Now, maybe some of that is the low expectations, but I thought that Sarah Palin probably sat at home last night and was thinking maybe she needed a Michele Bachmann voodoo doll.

Yousefzadeh:  I encourage everybody to go to www.excitingthingsaboutTimPawlenty.com.

Blackney:        It’s a great site.

Domenech:      I’m going to check this out.  I’m going to pull this up right now.

Yousefzadeh:  And find out just how charismatic the Minnesota governor can be, in addition to being manly enough to back up his tough talk against Mitt Romney when confronted face to face.  Really, I mean, if we’re talking about a big loser I think the big loser is the Republican primary and caucus voter.  And these people have got to get better.  And the fact of the matter is that the tone, and the tenor, and the substance of the debate was just so awful.  I agree that the whole Coke or Pepsi, Elvis or Johnny Cash, these questions that John King decided to throw out in an effort to be amusing, was just some of the most awful stuff I’d seen in a while.  And I really wish that he would have spent his time asking Tim Pawlenty, wait a minute, how do you plan on getting 5% growth every year without having inflation spring up, without having the Federal Reserve raise interest rates, and slow the growth down in order to try to stop inflation?

I wish he would ask Ron Paul, how on earth do you think we’re going to get 15% growth a year?  I mean, it’s an outrageous claim.  It’s like me saying that in the course of this podcast I’ll grow to be 10 feet tall.  If you don’t ask me how in the hell are you going to do that, then I don’t know what business you have being a journalist.  And if you actually try and pass that claim along to the American people, I don’t know what business you have thinking you can be president.  I really hope we can finally at long last kill and bury the notion that Ron Paul knows a single thing about economic policy, monetary policy, fiscal policy, anything having to do with dollars, cents, currency –

Blackney:        Reality.

Yousefzadeh:  — how arithmetic tells the tale of what’s in your wallet.  Any of that.  It’s just an absolutely dreadful performance.  I mean, it was just a financial innumeracy, the likes of which I had not seen in, from anyone pretending to be a serious presidential contender.

(Commercial Break)

Jackson:           Pej, an old friend of yours John Mearsheimer is back in the news with a book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics.  Our friend and colleague Ben Domenech, said he found this to be incorrect and unserious and I think he has a point.

What’s your thought on this Pej, and of course you know John Mearsheimer better than any of us.

Yousefzadeh:  Well, of course, I’ll come out with the full disclosure.  Both in college and graduate school at the University of Chicago I took classes with John Mearsheimer.  I liked him as a professor back then.  I thought he was a very entertaining, very knowledgeable lecturer.  And ever since then I kind of wonder whether or not the whole invasion of the body snatchers moving has played itself out with John Mearsheimer.  We could talk all day about some of his misconceptions about the Israel lobby (phonetic sp.) or how you could respond to those misconceptions.

But with regards to this new book, I haven’t read the book so I guess this may be somewhat unfair.  I’m only going by a Boston Globe review of the book in which Mearsheimer is interviewed.  But one of the things he argues is that lying is particularly noticeable and prevalent in democratic states where leaders need the support of citizens in order to execute their policies.  Well, yes and no.  I mean, maybe leaders have a need to lie because they need to secure democratic support from the populous, but I would say that lying is much more prevalent in countries like North Korea.  Lying is much more prevalent in countries like Iran.  Lying is much more prevalent in authoritarian and totalitarian states where people are told don’t believe you’re supposed lying eyes.  Just trust us in believing that everything is okay.

And from the article, at least, again I haven’t read the book it doesn’t seem as though Mearsheimer takes into account all of the ways in which democratic countries open societies can counteract governmental lying.  I mean, we have free access to the Internet.  We have free access to 24-7 news and information.  We have free access to various experts who can speak out against the government on a particular subject in which they accuse the government of lying.  We have vibrant political opposition movements whose duty is to call shenanigans onto government and who are more than willing to do so.

So, there are a lot of, there is a tremendous amount of built-in safeguards in democratic societies and free societies against government lying and he doesn’t seem to mention those.  And, you know, finally there’s just the issue of the Bush Administration and its statements vie-a-vie Iraq and  Mearsheimer basically taking for granted that they lied.  There is no evidence of this.  There is no evidence that the Bush Administration lied.  There is no evidence that the Bush Administration sought to convince people that Saddam Hussein was behind 9-11 and certain –

Blackney:        Well and let me just jump in here Pej, if you don’t mind.  I was troubled when I read this article and I would love your insight.  The Iraq thing really stood out to me as somebody who is a campaign and delegation media director in California.  And I worked for the campaign chairman in California, a man named Jerry Parski (phonetic sp.) who at the time was the Chairman of the Board of Regents of California.  And every time we had interviews or needed to schedule things when we were heading to the Republican National Convention for Bush’s reelect in 2004 we were asked night and day about Iraq.  We were asked about WMD.  We were asked all of these questions.  And you know what’s funny, is that not once did anyone ever say or convey anything where we thought we were being lied to or we were going, we were being directed to lie to someone else.

And what troubled me most about Mearsheimer is that he uses as his vignette to prove his point Scott Ritter who is now a discredited and known pedophile, it just seemed like the most bizarre example of something to use.  Is that the kind of example that was characteristic throughout his career?  I’m not real familiar with Mearsheimer?

Yousefzadeh:  No.  I mean, and that’s the strange thing.  He was much more rigorous in lectures.  He was much more rigorous in academic seminars.  Perhaps there still continues to be a pronounced difference between his public face and the private face that he shows students when cameras aren’t around.  But you know, we don’t even have to talk about Scott Ritter.  That’s part of my response to him.

If there was an effort to lie on the part of the Bush Administration, why didn’t they try to plant WMDs?  Why didn’t they try to engage in some sort of a cover up or in some sort of a scam to try to convince the world that yeah, we actually did find WMDs.  If there was an effort to lie on the part of the Bush Administration, did that conspiracy go back in time and recruit the Clinton Administration, President Clinton while he was in office?  Vice President Gore while he was in office?  A whole host of democratic representatives and senators who during the course of the Clinton Administration said yes Saddam has WMDs?  Yes, this constitutes a clear and present danger?  And yes, we’re going to have to move to take him out?  I mean, I believe it was in February of ’98 when President Clinton spoke at the Pentagon and said, you know, if we don’t do something, something bad is going to happen.  He all but declared war.

Blackney:        Well, this has something, well, he did.  And I remember that because my late husband was on the ground in Iraq in February of 1998.  It is, he was there when Kofi Anon (phonetic sp.) and Madeline Albright, or Madeline half bright as I usually refer to her, were in country in Iraq doing their last meeting with Saddam Hussein who basically thumbed his nose at the United States and then the President went on to say well, you know, it’s on like donkey Kong now brother.  I mean, it was, we had people on the ground since 1991 in Iraq.  And in 1998 my husband had been there in the latter half of ’97 and then was extended through early 1998 and it was when he came home from there that he, later that Spring that passed away in the line of duty, but it was, those days and what was happening in Iraq are kind of etched in my memory and in my mind.

And the problems that we have had with Iraq, it’s very easy when things seemed kind of quiet to the casual observer to say that oh, well we didn’t have troops.  Or oh, it wasn’t a problem.  Or oh, we were containing it.  Or oh, we were doing, the truth of the matter is that Iraq was always a very serious, very hot problem.  And this isn’t any different.  And I found Mearsheimer’s statements almost naïve.  And then talking about the strategic lie, it all seemed like he was almost trying to cultivate an eccentricity or cultivate a position that doesn’t really exist simply for book sales.  And someone with his pedigree, I was really surprised, Pej.

Yousefzadeh:  You know, one of the things we could cite is the Iraq Libration Act which was a congressional statement of policy calling for a regime change in Iraq.  And it got signed by the President of the United States.  It got passed in 1998 and that president was Bill Clinton.  I realize Dick Cheney is an immensely powerful man, but I don’t know how he went back in time and caused Bill Clinton to sign the Iraq Libration Act.  I am perhaps he –

Jackson:           Pej, he’s Darth Vader.

Yousefzadeh:  Well, I would once again ask that people like Dick Cheney not be insulted with comparisons to Darth Vader.  He’s far more competent than that.  Perhaps he went back in time and also set up the tryst with Monica Lewinsky.  I don’t know any more.  I mean, this sort of thing is just so easily torn apart and I don’t remember Mearsheimer being like this.  And I mean, when he and Steven Walt another professor of mine before he left the University of Chicago to go to Harvard, when they wrote the Israel Lobby I read a story of an unnamed international relations scholar who was asked what he thought and he just sort of stopped and said, look I don’t want to take anything away from these people because they’ve written some amazing, very seminal works.

You know, Mearsheimer wrote a book called Conventional Deterrence which is a path breaking book on war.  Steven Walt added to the formulation of realist theory by discussing defensive realist theory, which basically said that you don’t, states don’t necessarily have to go to war in order to maximize their power, contrary to what Mearsheimer says.  They can engage in defensive alliances and protect their interests that way.  All of this is really path breaking stuff.  And if you’re a serious international relations scholar you have to study this stuff.

Blackney:        Then he did none of that.

Yousefzadeh:  So, I just want to know what happened since then.  I just want to know what occurred.  I’d like to know what scholarly kryptonite they happen to cross that somehow caused them to put out arguments and works that are really less than impressive on multiple levels.  And granted, you know, it’s kind of easy to stereotype some of their arguments, and if you’re stereotyping their arguments you’re not presenting them properly.  But you don’t have to stereotype their arguments in order to find the holes in it.  And it’s just so at variance with what I learned from these people that I don’t know if I’m ever going to reconcile it for as long as I live.

Blackney:        Well I was troubled, at the end of the column that’s in the Boston Globe that we saw, there is a, the idea folks say to him, “So ultimately the lesson is lie selectively, lie well, and ultimately be good at what you do.”  And Mearsheimer agreed, and he said, “I’m sad to say that’s true.  Yes.  I’m sad to say that’s true.”  I thought that it seemed, for someone who has the academic pedigree and this long, you know, very up until recently respectable career, I am troubled when you see someone who kind of throws in the towel, oh well all politicians lie.  But if you are a politician, just be better at it.

And there’s a lot of this that I have a problem with just as a normal person, as a voter.  That well, you’re just going to have to assume they’re lying to you.  And it seems like it borders on the, you know the, what lies behind a truther.  Or what lies behind a birther.  Or what lies behind, that they assume no matter what the government is always lying.  And he goes on about how well, you know, they’re lying about domestic politics.  And he says they’re good strategic, he tries to kind of off-put this with a well, there are good strategic reasons for lying.  I think that it seems like he’s never been, sat through a lecture about psychological operations or any of those things.  It just, it really had a flavor of, it just savored strongly of bitterness to me.

Yousefzadeh:  I think there are very real incentives for governments and for politicians to lie.

Blackney:        Sure.

Yousefzadeh:  In related news, water is wet.

Blackney:        Exactly.

Yousefzadeh:  But his arguments, his specific arguments with regards to why leaders lie are, at the very least in this article, they are presented so simplistically that I don’t think anyone can really take the stuff seriously.  I mean, lie selectively, lie well, and ultimately be good at what you do.  Well, fine.  But it was a whole lot easier for Bismarck, or Cassel Ray (phonetic sp.), or Talleyrand to do that sort of thing than it is to do it in the age of Twitter, and Facebook, and smart phones, and constant access to the news.

Blackney:        Well, even Omar al-Bashir (phonetic sp.) who is, you know, got a full scale genocide underway currently Sudan, is having a hard time lying to his people.  They’ve had demonstrations in Sudan, and they have abducted people, and now there are reports of people being abducted, and children being slaughtered, and people being killed in all kinds and horrible war crimes are happening, and you know, they run off to Adasababa (phonetic sp.) for more negotiations.  Oh, we’re not doing anything bad.

And it’s, you know, it’s just not, it just doesn’t ring true to me when we read a column like this.  It just seems like he doesn’t understand the difference between a dictator like Omar al-Bashir or Kim Jong-il (phonetic sp.) in North Korea, or one of these other horrible actors, you know, Poll Pot or the Soviet Union.  I mean, pick a time frame where you had a horrible dictator, the lies that they tell are far different and not about a strategy the way a western and open society would think of it, but two an end of creating more suffering.

I don’t think that a lie that is about creating more suffering and hoarding power is the same as a lie that is told on foreign policy, or about weapons, or something else, in a western country that is about psychological operations that does not create more suffering.  That is, to deceive the enemy is not something I have a problem with.  I just thought that this seemed to take the moral relativism argument and try and recraft it in a way where it doesn’t sound like that’s what he’s doing.

Yousefzadeh:  Right.  Well I mean, I don’t necessarily think he has a problem with deceiving the enemy.  I think his discussion is, you know, why do leaders lie up to their own people?  And the discussion was supposed to be, why do leaders lie to other leaders?  And presumably he found that leaders don’t lie as much to other leaders and that kind of lie is rare.  I’m not going to sit around and count how many times leaders lie to other leaders, but when leaders do lie to other leaders it’s pretty significant.  I mean, Harry Truman went and dropped hints about the development of the atom bomb to Joseph Stalin and Joseph Stalin didn’t show a lick of interest.  And Harry Truman sat around and said gee, I wonder why that is?  Well, the reason is because Joseph Stalin had spies in the Manhattan Project who knew what was going on.

So, leaders may not lie often to other leaders, but when they do it is tremendously significant.  And as for leaders lying to their own people, I really fail to see why it’s more pronounced in democratic countries because in those countries the lie more easily outs.  I mean, Leonid Brezhnev was not forced to resign about anything, but Richard Nixon was.

Blackney:        Right, and for lying obviously.

Yousefzadeh:  And for lying.  And, you know, Kim Jong-il hasn’t been forced to, hasn’t been impeached by his national legislature, or assembly, or whatever kangaroo parliament he has, but Bill Clinton got impeached by the US House of Representatives.  And George W. Bush has been improperly accused of lying.  I mean, in this circumstance the government is trying to –

Blackney:        And nobody can bring a case against W. because there is none.

Yousefzadeh:  Right.  Well, but try telling that to all the people who are convinced he did lie, including a University of Chicago professor who frankly ought to know better.  In fact, the Bush case kind of takes the Mearsheimer thesis and puts it on its head.  I mean, he’s accused of lying, but in fact, lies are told of him.  The administration was unwilling or unable to try and pierce through with the truth.  It was unwilling or unable to do things like say to the American people in a way that made them understand that gee, the Dolpher (phonetic sp.) report went to, the Dolpher inquiry went to Iraq and found out that even though there were no weapons of mass destruction, there were programs of weapons of mass destruction that could have been started up again on a moment’s notice, and that’s almost just as bad.

The administration wasn’t able to go around and say gee, we put together this commission called the Silverman Robb Commission and they investigated as to whether or not the Bush Administration lied the country into war in Iraq.  And the answer was no.  There was no evidence that the Bush Administration lied the country into war.  They haven’t been able to pierce through with the counter argument that, you know, all the stuff that we’re saying was stuff that the Clinton Administration was saying, was stuff that international intelligence agencies were saying.  We were entirely in the mainstream of conventional thought with regards to Iraq’s possession of WMDs and to accuse us of somehow fostering this grand gigantic conspiracy story which again entailed us to go back, entailed our ability to go back in time and get the Clinton Administration involved as a co-conspirator, is unbelievably silly.  But try telling that to the average person whose understanding of the issue is compiled in a bumper sticker.  Bush lied, people died.

(End of Podcast)