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Afghanistan: The Public Option

Defense Secretary Robert Gates obviously works very hard at being inscrutable. He is a definite adherent to the “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” approach. So when he gently suggests in a speech that President Obama’s advisers should deliver their advice “candidly but privately” you can bet he’s swinging a club at General Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal was anything but private with his insistence the US needs to send thousands more troops into harm’s way on the treacherousAfghanistan battlefield he commands.

Now his boss is going public himself, putting his usual placid face on some candid advice he had on his general and his military colleagues who have also gone semi-defiantly public to spread the word they favor, as they so often do, emphasizing force before finesse, this time in Afghanistan.

The “advice” from Gates? Candidly? ”Shut the hell up. Remember who’s boss.” And Gates made it clear he was also speaking to the civilians at the administration’s top levels who were also seeing to it, their private counsel to the president was anything but private. Were you listening Vice President Biden? Biden, as we know, is opposing heavy troop commitments.


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The question is SHOULD we know. Secretary Gates, who, by the way, grew up in the CIA, is obviously a secrecy kind of guy, from the school of those who believes openness interferes with making effective decisions about complicated high stakes policies.

But there is another way of looking at this. What about the proposition that in matters of life and death, which is what war is, those who might live or die, along with their families , have every right to know what goes into these fateful decisions? Actually all of us should monitor very closely and influence these deliberations. It’s called “Open Government”. A quaint concept.

Not only is that supposed to be our guiding principle, but it works better. We can look everywhere around us an see the mess all the closed decision making has left. Obviously, the veil of secrecy has obscured incompetence at the very least and left the United States lost on the road into Afghanistan, and more importantly, out.

This is not to say that bona fide operational and intelligence information should be revealed when doing so would jeopardize lives or national security. The rest, however, should be out there for all of us to see. The argument that advice cannot be “candid” unless it’s “private” usually means there’s something very wrong about the advice.

As for the contention that letting it all hang out will only mean that opportunistic political opponents can sabotage any initiatives, you don’t solve that by hiding. You fix that by exposing and replacing the shameless opportunists who put their ambitions over the good of the entire country.

It’s shame that this even needs to be said: The public should know as much as possible about what goes into their leaders’ decisions. The last thing we need is an inscrutable government.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 6, 2009 10:25 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Chicago is NOT Their Kind of Town.

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