It seems that when votes are up for grabs and power is weighed in the balance, candidates will say or do what they think the electorate wants to hear to get into office or be reelected. They may or may not be sincere at the time.
It's true, as Democrats point out, that in the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush implied he would keep us out of military entanglements overseas and said he did not believe in nation-building, such as we now find ourselves doing in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I happen to believe that World War II passed the imminent-threat-to-our-nation test by which we can judge if a war is really warranted, but in the Democrats' recent rhetoric there is no mention of how their party's U.S. President and then candidate for reelection, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939-1940, assured voters he would keep America out of that maelstrom, even as he was making arrangements with Winston Churchill for substantial aid, including military, to Britain, and then, with our British ally, was establishing an oil boycott on Japan, though he must have known that by thus exceeding previous international laws on neutrality, we increased our country's chances of soon being a major combatant, opposing the Axis Powers.
And, while it certainly is arguable either way, there are indications that the current Bush administration may have made selective use of intelligence to better rationalize the invasion of Iraq.
Yet it is disingenuous of the opposition to object to that conflict, after the fact, when Democrat Clinton had contemplated the same thing a few years earlier, perhaps not taking such action mainly because of his personal legal/political troubles at the time, and when it had made little or no effort to pin the administration down on an alleged threat before overwhelmingly approving the resolution he used to justify the war.
Nor should Democrats omit from such discussions their own record of intelligence manipulations to justify bellicose policies that had already been decided upon in the White House.
Forty years ago, for instance, during the summer of 1964, Vietnam was heating up but was still only a small hint of the U.S. entanglement it would become. But we were engaged in secret intelligence and counter insurgency operations in the Tonkin Gulf. After the French had been defeated in Indochina, we took up their cause against the nationalist Vietnamese forces, fearing that, if we did not, all of Southeast Asia might go to the Communists, a fear fostered, it would later be learned, by bad intelligence.
As part of the preparation for clandestine efforts, our sending Asian mercenaries into North Vietnam to commit acts of sabotage and the kidnapping or killing of officials there (what today, if done against us or our allies, we would regard as terrorism), The U.S. sent the destroyer Maddox into North Vietnam's waters to gain information on coastal defenses.
When that country responded with torpedo boat attacks (as we would certainly defend our shores were the situation reversed), the Maddox fired on them, sinking one and damaging two others, and only then retreated to international waters. The next night, 8/3/64, the Maddox was ordered back into North Vietnamese waters to continue its secret mission. Soon after, Maddox's captain, based solely on radar and sonar, reported that he was under attack.
Not long afterward, he sent a second message: "Review of action makes reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather reports and over-eager sonar men may have accounted for many reports. No actual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before further action."
But (Democratic) President Johnson, seeking a politically exploitable excuse for major assaults on North Vietnam, completely ignored (and suppressed) that second message and went on television to tell the American public, based on the first message, that there had been "repeated acts of violence against the armed forces of the United States..." which "must be met not only with alert defense, but with a positive reply."
Congress then not only endorsed his decision to bomb North Vietnam but (assuming an unprovoked attack by North Vietnam on the U.S. destroyer, believed to have been legally in international waters at the time), by an 88 to 2 vote approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving Johnson authority to "take all necessary measures" against North Vietnam and its National Liberation Front.
Johnson used those new powers to greatly expand the conflict into a full-fledged war, sending - at the height of the hostilities - over 500,000 troops to Vietnam and leading to over 58,000 of our troops dying, many thousands more receiving serious, sometimes permanently disabling, injuries, and over 2,000,000 deaths among the Vietnamese. The war was later admitted to have been a mistake by Johnson's then Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara.
Ironically, in the fall of 1964, Johnson won a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater after having frightened voters with the prospect that the latter candidate would recklessly widen and intensify the war, leading to massive casualties and a prolonged, destructive involvement. Shortly following the election, he did just that.
Self-interested deception and manipulation may be found in many U.S. presidential campaigns and administrations, including those of Republican Presidents Nixon and Reagan or Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Clinton.
In my view, true democracy and national security would both be better served if our politicians were real statesmen, and less inclined to put expediency ahead of the truth. Until then, the public and our country might be better off with fewer secrets.
Centuries ago, a powerful priesthood assured its ends were served by telling everyone that only it could interpret the will of God. Both the Protestant Reformation and an Age of Enlightenment were required to get us beyond most of the misuse and corruption of power that ensued.
Today, governments have a similar hold on power, ostensibly for their citizens' own good, amid the general belief that only the executives and their staffs are capable of deciding what is safe for us to know.
Of course there are a few exceptions, to prevent acts of terrorism or invasions of privacy, and so on, but as the abuse of such secrecy in the past and its too often horrendous repercussions have shown, sometimes the ones, of whatever political party, who are supposedly protecting us by withholding a more complete sharing of information actually thereby do more harm than would follow from full disclosure.
As in the Middle Ages, we are adults. We can handle the truth and don't have to have it first shaped and selected by those with a vested interest in maintaining a priestly control over us by withholding it.
Each time our government is found to have cried wolf when there was no wolf, or when what was there really was only a little puppy, it loses credibility. How can we trust our leaders of either main political party in a true crisis, when they abuse their power in this way by strategically controlling our access to information or by distorting it?
So please, whether you're in the Democratic, the Republican, or a Green, a Black, or a Purple Party, do not filter or fabricate your citizens' relevant knowledge. We desperately need legitimate information to properly exercise our responsibilities in a real democracy.
Don't tell us you won't take us into a conflict when you will. Don't horde information and yet tell us the color of terrorism today is yellow, orange, green, or red. Don't screen what we may learn of the threats against us and yet tell us that Libya, Spain, Vietnam, Germany, Canada, Cuba, Afghanistan, France, North Korea, Panama, Britain, Granada, Mexico, Iran, Russia, or Iraq is now our new enemy, we're in imminent danger, and we must once again go to war.
Don't assure us we must simply believe you because you are the All High Keepers of Our Secrets. Let us read the "Bible" for ourselves.
And, by the way, neither major presidential contender in 2004 is being candid with the electorate about the full costs of the programs they propose or, particularly, of those already in the system, especially Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Our country's coffers are empty. Honestly addressing such issues will demand that citizens tighten their belts and deal with decreasing money for entitlements, that the President and Congress regain bipartisan cooperation, responsibly cut government spending in quite major ways, and deal with the inevitable voter anger, or all of the above.
Candidates, please, please, just tell us the truth!