Why the Washington Post’s publication of General McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment was a patriotic act.
The publication of General Stanley A. McChrystal’s confidential assessment of the situation in Afghanistan has precipitated much tut-tutting by the chattering classes. The consensus seems to be that the leak of this document (to the Washington Post’s esteemed Bob Woodward) was an unconscionable violation of professional ethics, a hindrance to good government, and a threat to harmonious civil-military relations. Duke University political science professor Peter Feaver has well summed up the conventional wisdom:
It is not good to have a document like this leaked into the public debate before the President has made his decision. Whether you favor ramping up or ramping down or ramping laterally, as a process matter, the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters without it appearing concurrently on the front pages of the Post. I assume the Obama team is very angry about this, and I think they have every right to be.
Feaver never explains why, in an advanced democracy with an educated citizenry, the commander-in-chief “ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters [of public policy] without it appearing concurrently on the front pages” of a major newspaper.
This may be because Feaver is a former National Security Council official in both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations. As such, he may be accustomed to wielding power behind the scenes without much public scrutiny or public accountability. He thus likely prefers secret government to public government.
But just because U.S. government officials are accustomed to doing things discreetly, behind the scenes, and without much public notice doesn’t mean that that is the best way to conduct the affairs of state. In fact, a strong counter argument can and should be made: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said the renowned Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
Indeed, would Iran-Contra, and its consequent marring of the Reagan administration, have occurred if the idea of engaging Iranian regime “moderates” had first been exposed to public scrutiny?
Would the CIA have made (as it did during the Cold War) ridiculous and wildly inaccurate estimates of Soviet and East European economic prowess had their analyses been subject to independent, outside peer review? Would Congress have permitted the surge if General Petraeus had not publicly testified about the situation in Iraq?
The answers to these three telling questions is likely, “No, no and no.” This is important because, as Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman observes:
The way we have to make policy and get close to the truth is through the process of argument. And rather than arguing too much, which is the conventional wisdom — you hear a lot of hand-wringing about it; ‘oh, can’t we all just get together and be nice’ — the fact is we can’t; that’s not the way we operate. And rather than argue too much, I don’t think we argue enough about the fundamental things.
This is why General McChrystal welcomes a vigorous and robust public discussion about Afghanistan. He understands how American democracy works. He understands that informed and well-considered decisions are more likely to be wise and efficacious decisions.
“The process of going through a very detailed policy level debate is incredibly important and incredibly healthy,” the general said during his speech last week at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
Publication of the general’s confidential Afghan assessment greatly facilitates this debate because it makes this debate accessible to the public. In fact, it involves the public in the debate. And, in an advanced democracy with an educated citizenry, this is as it should be. No one, after all, has a monopoly on wisdom; and so, truly, there is wisdom in numbers.
Sure, public deliberation can complicate things for government officials. No government official, after all, likes to be second-guessed or preempted. “Leaks like this make it harder for the Commander-in-Chief to do deliberate national security planning,” Feaver whines.
Too bad. That’s what democracy is all about: empowering the public and giving people a voice in the public policy process. In the immortal words of President Harry Truman, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Indeed, if a president and his team cannot handle the heat of public scrutiny and public involvement, then they are not fit to preside over the executive branch of the United States government. Our republican form of government, after all, is based on democratic self-rule, or rule by the people.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?