02 September 2010

Tony Blair on Truth

The following quote from Tony Blair's memoirs has already received some attention:
"Politicians are obliged from time to time to conceal the full truth, to bend it and even distort it, where the interests of the bigger strategic goal demand it be done.  And don't get too offended by it; we all make these decisions every day in our business and personal lives."
Setting aside what you may think about Blair and the Northern Ireland peace process (which is the context for the above quote), is it in fact the case that larger goals justify concealment, bending and distorting?  Is there a trade-off between truth and effectiveness (even if we hope otherwise)?  

It would be easy to mock Blair's statement (and many are) but there is a deeper conversation worth having about the relationship of argument and action, what it means to tell the "truth" and the consequences for being perceived not to have done so.  Blair is correct that such decisions are part of our every day lives. 

For my part, I took strong issue with Blair's selective use of intelligence in the case of the decision to go to war in Iraq, discussed in The Honest Broker.  At the same time I appreciate his candor.  Do democratic politics offer a corrective to politicians whose liberties with the truth go too far?  Sounds like great material for my graduate seminar this term.