Our Government's Secrecy Has Caused Far More Deaths Than 9/11
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Why have our strategic choices been so disastrous? In large part because they have been militantly clueless. Starved of important information, both the media and public opinion were putty in the hands the Bush administration and its neocon followers as they dreamt up and then put into action their geopolitical fantasies. It has since become fashion for politicians who supported the war to blame the Iraq debacle on “bad intelligence.” But as former CIA analyst Paul Pillar reminds us, the carefully cherry-picked “Intel” about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program was really never the issue. After all, the CIA’s classified intelligence estimate on Iraq argued that, even if that country’s ruler Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction (which he didn’t), he would never use them and was therefore not a threat.
Senator Bob Graham, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003, was one of the few people with access to that CIA report who bothered to take the time to read it. Initially keen on the idea of invading Iraq, he changed his mind and voted against the invasion.
What if the entire nation had had access to that highly classified document? What if bloggers, veterans' groups, clergy, journalists, educators, and other opinion leaders had been able to see the full intelligence estimate, not just the morsels cherry-picked by Cheney and his mates? Even then, of course, there was enough information around to convince millions of people across the globe of the folly of such an invasion, but what if some insider had really laid out the whole truth, not just the cherry-picked pseudofacts in those months and the games being played by other insiders to fool Congress and the American people into a war of choice and design in the Middle East? As we now know, whatever potentially helpful information there was remained conveniently beyond our sight until a military and humanitarian disaster was unleashed.
Any private-sector employee who screwed up this badly would be fired on the spot, or at the very least put under full-scale supervision. And this was the gift of Bradley Manning: thanks to his trove of declassified documents our incompetent foreign policy elites finally have the supervision they manifestly need.
Not surprisingly, foreign policy elites don’t much enjoy being supervised. Like orthopedic surgeons, police departments, and every other professional group under the sun, the military brass and their junior partners in the diplomatic corps feel deeply that they should be exempt from public oversight. Every volley of revealed documents from WikiLeaks has stimulated the same outraged response from that crew: near-total secrecy is essential to the delicate arts of diplomacy and war.
Let us humor our foreign policy elites (who have feelings too), despite their abysmal 10-year resumé of charred rubble and mangled limbs. There may be a time and a place for secrecy, even duplicity, in statecraft. But history shows that a heavy blood-price is often attached to diplomats saying one thing in public and meaning something else in private. In the late 1940s, for instance, the United States publicly declared that the Korean peninsula was not viewed by Washington as a vital interest, emboldening the North to invade the South and begin the Korean War. Our government infamously escalated the Vietnam War behind a smokescreen of official secrecy, distortion, and lies. Saddam Hussein rolled into Kuwait after U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie toldthe Ba’athist strongman that he could do what he pleased on his southern border and still bask in the good graces of Washington. This is not a record of success.