Strategic cover-ups can take two forms. Leaders can lie about a policy that has gone badly wrong
. The motivating reason for the falsehood is to protect the country's interests, not to shield the individuals who are responsible for the policy failure, although that is usually an unintended consequence. Leaders can also lie to hide a controversial but smart strategy, because they fear that it will meet serious public resistance and not be adopted.
The aim in this instance is not to conceal a bungled policy from the body politic, but to implement a particular policy without arousing strong opposition. In both cases, however, the leaders believe that there are sound strategic reasons for the cover-up.
They are lying for what they judge to be the good of the country. Inter-state lies are directed at other states, while fear-mongering is directed at the home front. Strategic cover-ups, in contrast, are usually aimed at both of those audiences. To be more specific, a leader bent on covering up a controversial or failed policy will always seek to deceive his public and will frequently try to deceive another country at the same time. In other words, the intended audience for a strategic cover-up can either be the home front alone or the home front plus a foreign audience. But the target of this kind of falsehood cannot be just another country, because that would be an inter-state lie.
Strategic cover-ups, it should be emphasized, are not examples of concealment, which is when leaders deceive their intended audience by hardly saying anything about an important foreign policy problem. With strategic cover-ups, leaders are dealing with international issues that have a public face and are certain to prompt hard questions that the government will have to answer. In those cases, however, leaders will tell lies because they believe that it is in the national interest to deceive their fellow citizens, and often other states as well.
One reason that leaders sometimes seek to hide failure and the incompetence that caused it is because they do not want to convey weakness to an adversary who might exploit it, or because they think that it might damage their relationship with other countries. Of course, they also worry about the home front, where news about botched operations and ineptitude can undermine national unity, which is especially important when fighting a protracted war that is not going well.