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'Why Leaders Lie,' Whether You Believe It Or Not

Why Leaders Lie

When is it all right for leaders to lie to other leaders, other nations or their own? Political scientist John Mearsheimer poses that provocative question in his new book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics.

"The fact is that strategic lying is a useful tool of statecraft," Mearsheimer tells Weekend Edition host Scott Simon.

Even so, Mearsheimer, who teaches political science at the University of Chicago, says there aren't actually many cases of what he calls "strategic deception" to be found.

"Most people believe that leaders lie all the time, and I thought that when I first began the book," he says. "But I discovered actually not many examples of leaders lying to other countries and even not that many examples of leaders lying to their own public."

Most people don't believe Mearsheimer, either. "They tell me I'm just not looking hard enough." It's an irony he bears with pragmatism.

"It pains me to make the argument that lying is sometimes a good thing," he says. "But international politics, as you know, this is a rough business — and sometimes it makes very good sense to lie."

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