Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!

DIPLOMACY –  The patriotic art of lying for one’s country.    Ambrose Bierce)

French President Sarkozy called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a liar in a conversation with President Obama

caught on an open mic at last week’s G-20 summit.

Ooops! (photo:

“I can’t look at him [Netanyahu] anymore, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, the French media website Arret Sur Images reported

“You’ve had enough of him, but I have to deal with him every day,” Obama is said to have responded.

The private conversation happened last Thursday in the southern French city of Cannes, heard by half a dozen journalists whose headphones were still receiving audio from the presidents’ wireless microphones.

The handful of reporters including one from the Reuters news agency confirmed the quotes.

Since when did lying in the best interests of your country become a crime?

That’s what Diplomats and Politicians do all the time. It has nothing to do with morality. It has everything to do with expediency. So why the shock and surprise at the Sarkozy- Obama exchange?

Shush! Don’t say another word!

While this may be treated as a welcome PR gift by some on the left, and kneejerk Palestinian supporters, does it have any real significance? Strangely, it may end up doing more damage to Obama than Netanyahu.

In an interview with the Post this summer, John Bolton, a Republican and former US ambassador to the UN, said of Obama that he was “the most anti-Israel president in the history of the state, without any question.

Given the undeniable cross party support for Israel in the American Congress, and Obama’s current precarious position in the Polls, his comment will come back to haunt him.

Apart from this specific example, world history is replete with lying. It is an inherent and important  feature of the  very structure of the human psyche.

Augustine of Hippo wrote two books about lying: On Lying (De Mendacio) and Against Lying (Contra Mendacio).He describes each book in his later work, Retractions. Based on the location of De Mendacio in Retractions, it appears to have been written about 395 AD. The first work, On Lying, begins: “Magna quæstio est de Mendacio” (“There is a great question about Lying”). From his text, it can be derived that St. Augustine divided lies into eight categories, listed in order of descending severity:

  • Lies in religious teaching
  • Lies that harm others and help no one
  • Lies that harm others and help someone
  • Lies told for the pleasure of lying
  • Lies told to “please others in smooth discourse”
  • Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s life
  • Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s “purity”
  • Lies that harm no one and that help someone

Augustine wrote that lies told in jest, or by someone who believes or opines the lie to be true are not, in fact, lies.

He did not include Diplomatic lying, but maybe that doesn’t  truly qualify since it is a working tool of all politics.

Lying to achieve a Political or Military objective

Just 2 examples:

If only Hitler wouldn’t have lied to me!” – Neville Chamberlain

Chamberlain said of Hitler: “I got the impression that here was a man that could be relied upon when he had given his word.” 

In 1962, Nikita Khrushev assured John F. Kennedy that no offensive missiles would be placed in Cuba

Lying or propaganda?

Arthur Ponsonby, a Member of Parliament in the U.K.  wrote a book in which he related to the subject of  lying in wartime:

Falsehood in War-time identifies the role propaganda plays in World War I, in general and specific terms. Ponsonby states that the book was not written to blame nor expose any individual or authority over another; it was written to inform and disillusion the masses. General ideas of propaganda that nations used were:

  • Depicting the enemy in a negative light
  • Provoking patriotism
  • Exaggerating victories, concealment or minimization of defeats, and the continuous exposure of enemy atrocities in order keep up morale
  • Asserting that they (the nation) did not want war
  • Having the information come from “intellectuals and literary notables”

Ponsonby lists over 20 different falsehoods that “pretty well cover the ground.”  He doesn’t condemn lying during war-time, saying without lying there would be “no reason and no will for war,” and shows how it must (is) be used through his examples and explanations.

Lying for self preservation

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U...

Richard Nixon – should have told the truth!

Lying, as a form of self preservation, is an essential to the normative structure of our society. Frequently, however, it is the lie itself, and not the action it is protecting, that is seized upon by the media. In the case of Richard Nixon and the Watergate cover up, it was the lie that destroyed him.

It is more than possible that, had he taken responsibility immediately and apologised – or grovelled,  the American public would have forgiven him.

After all, sometimes, this can be quite a  forgiving public:

Official White House photo of President Bill C...

Clinton – given up cigars……

“I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people.”(William Jefferson Clinton)

It true to say that America, and Clinton, have moved on. Today he is seen as a serious statesman. John McCain even thinks Clinton should run Middle East peace efforts!

Lying to be kind.

Something we all do, almost everyday. Fulfilling one of  Augustine’s definitions: Lies told to “please others in smooth discourse”.

NEVER tell the truth! (Photo:

Probably one of the most famous examples of this type of  “kind” social lie is the only possible response to the question “does my bum look big in this?” 

If the answer is not obvious, dear reader, then you need to consider a crash course in social skills.

It’s either that or Marriage Counselling sometime down the road!

Andyboy – Telling it as it is!

Update! Just look at this article published November 16th 2011 in Ha’aretz!


One comment on “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!

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