Monday, October 23, 2006

Daniel Ellsberg Helpfully Predicts the Past


Daniel Ellsberg article from 10/22/06 in Harpers

The irritating part is that Ellsberg's article relates past events. That the build up to Iraq WAS exactly like the build up to Vietnam. He did not write this article during the build up to Iraq. If my friends and I, sitting at a table in Prague with three newspapers spread out in front of us in early 2002, could predict the outcome of the Bush Adventure in Iraq and forecast all the things that would go badly - and we did, nearly to the letter (this is not bragging - this is depression) - as well as show how weak the President's case was for going to war, how far down river Colin Powell had sold himself and the country along with it, and how little Iraq had to do with OBL & how much it had to do with oil, ANYONE could have done it. It was not hard. But America was psychotic, and the press & most of the left were either asleep or suffering from a national Stockholm syndrome, captured and mollified as they were by the threat of appearing unpatriotic (if you are fighting for what you believe to be the democratic ideal, how can you be unpatriotic in a country which holds democracy as its ideal?) at the gunpoint pointed at them from the right through the cross-hairs of the Patriot Act.

In a backa$$ward way, I think what will actually save America is its failure to win in Iraq. If, on the heels of the success of the Patriot Act I, the military, at the behest of this administration, had won a decisive victory in Iraq (though impossible for any western government to do ever) then the power that the administration would have felt its right to take and keep would have been immense. And I think our democracy would then become one where life and the pursuit of happiness would be guaranteed, but not necessarily liberty. That would become a conditional given at the pleasure of the government.

I think I like the whacko conservatives in the west more than the whacko liberals of the east. The western conservatives never forget that the greatest threat to this country will always be our own government. The liberals think that government can be made into your buddy.

Ellsberg said once that the thing in government that most truly corrupts is not money and power, it is the secret information, like the dossiers on the Johnson administration's goals for their involvement in Vietnam, that a select group of people in government get to see. Once you have read that information, he said, the arguments of people who do not have access appear stupid and irrational, not based on facts and merely jousting at windmills. And that breeds contempt among those people who have access to top secret documents for all the people who don't have access - which, as Ellsberg notes, is nearly everyone else in the country.

Which of course makes the final part of Ellsberg's essay (excerpted as it is from his book) scarier. The efforts of the Bush administration to develop plans for a war against Iran must be seen through the lens of Ellsberg's caution about the corrupting influence of top secret information. What may be farthest from the consciences of those with security clearance in Washington is that possession of top secret information merely makes them informed, but it does not - especially in a democracy - make them right. They may be arrogant enough to feel their information charges them to pursue their mission outside the will of the people, as Reagan did in Iran-Contra (note the irony of Iran's position in both operations - this is naught but a war of princes!) We hope that our system checks the arrogance of the few who might seek to work in opposition to the will of the many. Should the left win control of one or both houses in Congress, we will see whether our hope will be met satisfactorily.

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