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Columnist finds Brit memo telling

Alan Braunholtz

It’s a shame when you can’t trust your friends to keep your secrets. That must be what the Bush administration feels about Britain right now. A classified British government memo surfaced in their recent elections that exposes the nasty secret that we’d decided to invade Iraq before we’d even conducted our intelligence analysis. The memo dates from July 2002. We completed our national intelligence estimate in October 2002. So much for blaming faulty intelligence. The decision had already been made even while the administration told us that they’d made no decision to go to war.The memo sums up a meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his security advisers. In it, the head of MI-6 (their CIA) reports about a shift of attitude here with military action inevitable, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” The memo continues: “The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” The British government doesn’t deny the legitimacy of the memo and anonymous U.S. officials confirm its accuracy.Why continue crying over spilt milk? Hopefully, to stop other glasses getting knocked over. The glass here is honesty, open government and trusting your citizens with the truth.Without the time pressure of imminent (and we now know non-existent) WMD terrorist threats from Iraq, we might have taken time to organize a much better post-war Iraq than the one that now faces us and the poor Iraqis.Our current government has a habit of secrecy. Secrecy corrupts and is guaranteed to breed distrust. The obsessive hiding of the energy task force; the EPA shelving of reports that showed the cost of mercury pollution far outweighed the cost of limiting its release from power stations are cases in point. The administration fights the Freedom of Information Act whenever possible.Our government either doesn’t trust us to make the right decision with the knowledge or its beliefs are so strong they transcend debate. What they wish to be true simply is true. It may actually be true, but an argument is a good thing. A lively public debate can invigorate listless parroting of presumed positions into a living argument that clarifies the rationale behind that position. It also allows input from unexpected sources that may have seen a solution the experts haven’t considered. If you don’t trust your views to criticism, perhaps they’re not as solid as you think.We’re all a vital part of this debate. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said, “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error. It is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” To participate, you have to be informed, which should be easy in this modern age. But the news media come across as lazy, more interested in market share, while we select sources that speak to our comfort zone. Skepticism is a useful tool and should be applied to friend, foe and news reports.Twenty federal agencies produce and distribute so-called “news’ segments for local TV stations. In these actors play the role of reporters who, not surprisingly, push stories supporting the government agency and its policies. The General Accounting Office called these government-sponsored propaganda and therefore illegal. The Justice Department lawyers maintain these are genuine news stories not aiming to influence public opinion and the GAO’s ruling isn’t legally binding anyway.The truth can be disturbing. It’s comforting to hide in ignorance. This seems to be a common attitude toward science. Congress used to have an Office of Technology and Assessment that gave advice to the House and Senate on science and technology. It did an awesome job with unbiased integrity. It didn’t suggest or recommend policy. It presented “just the facts,” so our leaders could make better informed decisions. That’s quite a useful tool when fewer than 2 percent of the Congress have a scientific background and many are apparently scientifically illiterate. Unfortunately, they didn’t like “just the facts” and shut it down. Ignorance is so less challenging.Ignorance is also very costly. According to Thomas Jefferson, “If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Stop questioning what those in power are doing and they’ll misuse your trust for their own ends. Jefferson believed that informed skepticism keeps the government honest.I’m surprised at the lack of media coverage and reaction to the British memo. Our government rushed us to war under false pretenses while squashing debate with the false dichotomy of “you’re either with us or against us” that excluded all the middle ground.I shouldn’t be. History shows that once someone’s forsaken their skepticism and bought in, they’re invested and it’s too painful to pull out. This applies to UFOs, alien abductions, crop circles, etc. With crop circles, despite confessions and demonstrations by the original hoaxers in England, the “cerealogists” won’t give up their beliefs, which were strange to start with. If aliens wanted to talk to us, they’d probably work out a more efficient way than crop circles.Of course I may be too invested in my distrust of this government to see their actions objectively. It’s a point I’m willing to debate, though.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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