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pudge (1)

pudge
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Journal of pudge (1)

Friday January 17, 2003
12:38 AM

Secrecy

[ #10034 ]
I've been watching the 1977 Richard Nixon interviews with David Frost on the Discovery Civilization channel, and the footage is extraordinary and interesting in so many ways, for so many reasons. This one segment, talking about Daniel Ellsberg and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers and the subsequent effort to keep them under wraps, seems to me to have some relevance today.

I say that secrecy for the promotion of a good cause is not bad, and I say that publicity that produces a bad result is not good. And without secrecy, we wouldn't have had the China breakthrough, we wouldn't have had the SALT breakthrough, we wouldn't have had the Vietnam settlement, and we wouldn't have had the Mideast breakthrough.

And basically what Ellsberg really boils down to, mainly, the discrediting and all the rest, what it boils down to: I didn't want to discredit the man as an individual, I couldn't care less about the punk; I wanted to discredit that kind of activity, which was despicable and damaging to the national interest.

I have no interest in condoning the specific actions Nixon's "Plumbers" took against Ellsberg. I really only include the latter paragraph to provide the context for the former (and because it's interesting, and I have nowhere else to put it!). What I am interested in is the larger question of secrecy, especially at the Presidential level.

Much of the talk today is about whether or not we should go to war with Iraq. One thing we all need to remember is that none of us really know what our governments know. We can't know, and we shouldn't know. That's a given, though we sometimes either forget or deny it. We can't say we have no evidence against Hussein (today's discovery of chemical warheads notwithstanding); we don't know. We can't say why certain actions are being taken, such as the mobilization of troops; we don't know. We can't say we know where any of this is really heading; we don't know.

Yet just below the din of the pros and cons and assumptions, there is the sentiment that if the US knows something, it should say what it knows; that if the US had anything, it would have said by now. But this is unreasonable on its face; how could anyone who doesn't know the secrets, know if the secrets should be told?

Some say the US government should not keep secrets from its people; but secrets are a part of the rules of the game, especially when it comes to international politics. This game is about patience. Shrewdness. Not showing your hand until the perfect time. Moving everything into place before revealing the endgame. Misdirection. Secrets.

Say what you will about Nixon, but he acted brilliantly in regard to many international issues, an none of us have any reason to question the notion that secrecy was necessary for China, for SALT, for Vietnam, for the Mideast. I think, rather, that it is nearly self-evident that secrecy is required for such major diplomatic engagements.

Today Saudi Arabia was talking about a possible overthrow of Hussein. Last week there were similar rumors, that Hussein might flee to Saudi Arabia (as many other ousted Muslim leaders have done: Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif, Uganda's Idi Amin, South Yemen's Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas, Libya's Idris al-Sanoussi).

Could it be that Hussein's exile to Saudi Arabia is the result of months, or even years, of work by the Americans and others, and that all of this has been leading up to it? Sure. Would this justify all the secrecy? You bet. Are there dozens of other possible scenarios like this that could justify secrecy? Of course.

There's just a lot we don't know, but we all act like there isn't. I am not saying people should sit on their hands, to wait and see what happens, that they shouldn't protest the war. I am merely saying that there are, necessarily, secrets; that we, necessarily, do not know what is going on. I will add only that if we do go to war, it is at that point, in my opinion, incumbent upon the President to reveal enough of the secrets that prove a real justification of it.

Just keep an open mind, and we will all together pray and hope that war is averted.

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  • Somewhere in the middle of college I read all of Nixon's books. I was born in 1970 and grew up being told that Nixon was the anti-christ, and I figured I had had enough of that and wanted to see what he had to say.

    I was astounded but some of the things he talked about. Secret bombing of Cambodia? Nixon says that he had a deal with Prince Sihanouk because neither of them wanted the North Vietmanese there. Many other incidents, especially his travels and dealings as vice president ( Rn: The Memoirs of Ric [amazon.com]
    • Yeah, while Nixon did a lot of things we don't approve of, and in some cases certainly were quite bad, Nixon talked briefly about how Kennedy and Johnson did similar things (for example, he said Kennedy and Johnson were both involved in buggings that had nothing to do with national security, including buggings of various lobbies, of Goldwater, of members of national conventions, etc.). It seemed to me Nixon was not trying to excuse himself, but to let people know that he wasn't all that different from the
      • Lyndon Johnson was the real gadget freak. He recorded everything.

        The Civil Rights Musuem [civilrightsmuseum.org] in Memphis, Tennessee has recorded phone calls between Johnson and Governor Wallace. The things that they actually discussed were not the issues that I was taught in high school history classes.

        Some of the recently released Johnson tapes also show that his public position on Vietnam was not his private position. Much like you say, he inherited a bad situation and a lot of people working at cross purposes.

        As you sa