“Cover Your Ass” or “Protect Your Assets”?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
When the Bush Administration (or any Administration) insists
that intelligence-gathering details must be kept secret for reasons of
“national security”, and that they’re prevented from effectively refuting
accusations that they screwed up out of a need to protect intelligence assets,
how do you disprove that? How do you
know whether they are telling the truth, or merely covering their asses, or
even putting out deliberate misinformation to fool the enemy?
Steven Den Beste has a long
post discussing this issue in relation to the leaked
Democrat memo which outlines a strategy to use their access to classified
data on Iraq against Bush in the 2004 campaign. Steven contrasts that memo with Dewey’s willingness to forego
similar political attacks in 1944 in order to avoid compromising our ability to
decrypt enemy codes.
The problem is, waiting years later until the war is over to
reveal intelligence failures is too late.
Such a delay may prevent failures from ever coming to life, or
else by the time they do see daylight no one may even care. Certainly such a delay does nothing to
quickly correct those failures and avoid new ones. And it means that the same higher-ups who were ultimately
responsible for them will remain in charge.
This dilemma offers a responsible opposition political party
the opportunity to play a vital role.
Senators and Representatives from the other party (or parties) who sit
on intelligence oversight committees should bore in on mistakes and failures
and insist on fixing them. This must be
done behind closed doors, but the implicit threat always exists that continuing
failure by the Administration to correct really horrible problems could provoke
the opposition into going public.
This only works if the opposition is patriotic and sincere, and
is perceived to be patriotic and sincere, in its desire to quietly fix
problems. Unfortunately, the Democratic
Party and its Presidential candidates and its other spokesmen are increasingly
perceived by the general public as being knee-jerk political opportunists who
are in thrall to the radical anti-American leftists within their own party.
This leaked memo will (justifiably) confirm that perception.
The memo eviscerates the implicit threat that the Bush
Administration risks public exposure if it fails to respond to closed-door
critiques. Who is going to believe the
Democrats now if they do that? The Bush
Administration will simply characterize the charges as being politically
motivated, and then accuse the Democrats of endangering lives and harming the
war effort by violating security restrictions.
The result is that a vital check-and-balance within our
system has been rendered all but useless.
The lack of credible political opponents is harmful to the
The Democrats have shot themselves in the foot with this
memo. They will pay a political price
for that. But the rest of us will also
pay a heavy price, measured in our greater vulnerability to terrorist attacks.