Secrets and Self-Government
by Ryan McMaken
In recent weeks, Bush administration officials has been debating among themselves over how much "evidence" they should release to the United Nations in their case for launching an invasion of Iraq. The debate was largely set off by demands from the international community that the Bush administration (and its British toadies) produce information proving not only that Iraq is attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction, but that Iraq plans to use these weapons to assist Al-Qaeda in its terrorist activities. Bush's recent State of the Union Address did little to address a connection between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and his proclamations on international arms control warranted barely a mention of North Korea, a Stalinist regime that almost certainly has nuclear weapons, yet has been declared untouchable by the president.
Through the entire non-debate that is currently taking place in Washington on invading Iraq, little has been said by American lawmakers demanding that the Bush administration actually make a case for Iraqi Al-Qaeda alliances that goes beyond "just take our word for it." As the British antiwar forces have contended, the warhawks are just "clutching at straws" and hoping that the United Nations won't notice that the United States plans to violate United Nations resolutions in the name of enforcing United Nations resolutions.
The reason the Bush administration has given for withholding the evidence from both the American people and the international community, is that to divulge such information would jeopardize our ever nebulous "national security." In essence, the Bush administration believes that it is entitled to win a political battle without having to fight one first. Both Americans and foreigners alike should apparently all be willing to simply trust to the alleged benevolence of the United States and cede all rights to make an informed decision.
A lot of this problem comes down to how much self-government Americans are willing to give up in the name of allowing the president to maintain absolute control over what he has determined to be secrets of national security. Unfortunately, when it comes to self-government, Americans seem to be willing to part with it whenever some new president beats the war drums and attempts to convince Americans that a fiery death is just around the corner if anyone is foolish enough to question the prerogative of Washington to have total control over the secret information it collects with our money.
As one might expect, much of this willingness to sit back and be told what's what by the feds stems from the American acceptance of the war propaganda of the Second World War. Most of us have seen at least one or two of the wartime posters demanding that Americans buy war bonds or fill out their tax returns. The basic assumption is that all patriotic Americans will enthusiastically cede all personal, intellectual, and economic autonomy to the "war effort" and that using so much as one un-rationed potato will lead to a Nazi victory.
The most ingenious political invention of the war party during the cold war was the canard that "politics stops at the water's edge" and that no patriotic American would ever put domestic or local concerns above the interests of winning the fight against the communist conspiracy. The idea that politics stops at the water's edge, of course, is only true if Americans are willing to buy into the war hysteria. If we wanted to, Americans could simply demand that Washington make a real case to the American people before starting a war. If the Bush administration were to present an actual case, and submit to a public debate, it might become clear that the president is basing almost his entire case on information obtained from defectors and detainees, which are notoriously unreliable sources of information.
None of this will happen however, because it is clear that the Bush administration honestly believes that it is immune from public scrutiny on matters of foreign policy, and the president has made it clear on numerous occasions that he believes that the question of whether or not the United States should go to war is his and only his decision. And, this is to be a decision based on examination of secret evidence gathered by secret sources.
It should be obvious in this time of war anxiety that the Bush administration expects a free pass in any public debate on whether the United States should plunge itself in a war of conquest in the Middle East. We Americans should be ashamed of ourselves for letting this state of affairs come to pass. We criticize the United Nations for being an obstructionist talking-box, but when the United States is unwilling to have even the most perfunctory examination of actual evidence that the United States is in grave danger from a broken down third-world regime, somebody has to stage the debate.
Information is power, and when the state claims the right to have absolute control over information that is instrumental in making informed decisions about matters of war and peace, it claims the right to exercise unchecked power over the men and women that will die in its wars. Americans can quietly accept this usurpation of power if we chose, but we do so at our peril.
February 5, 2003
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