Obama opens his Administration with a powerful act that will echo for many years

On 21 January President Obama opened his Administration with a series of actions powerful both symbolically and substantively.  These will have far-reaching effects on America, esp on the climate science debate.  That’s good, because the stakes are high and time may be growing short.

Contents

  1. Excerpt from the memorandum about the Freedom of Information Act
  2. On First Day, Obama Quickly Sets a New Tone“, NY Times, 21 January 2009
  3. Examples of how this has already affected the climate science debate

1.  Excerpt from the memorandum about the Freedom of Information Act.

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIAto the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the FederalRegister. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIAreports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budgetto update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

2.  Background and overview of these actions

On First Day, Obama Quickly Sets a New Tone“, NY Times, 21 January 2009 — Excerpt:

President Obama moved swiftly on Wednesday to impose new rules on government transparency and ethics, using his first full day in office to freeze the salaries of his senior aides, mandate new limits on lobbyists and demand that the government disclose more information.

Mr. Obama called the moves, which overturned two policies of his predecessor, “a clean break from business as usual.” … The transparency and ethics moves were setforth in two executive orders and three presidential memorandums; Mr. Obama signed them at the swearing-in ceremony with a left-handed flourish.

The new president effectively reversed a post-9/11 Bush administration policy making it easier for government agencies to deny requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, and effectively repealed a Bush executive order that allowed former presidents or their heirs to claim executive privilege in an effort to keep records secret.

“Starting today,” Mr. Obama said, “every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.”

3.  Alreday we see these new policies affecting the climate science debate

Secrecy by scientists about their data and methods makes replication of their research difficult, sometimes impossible.  When even the reviewers do not have access to this information (as we have learned is often the case), “peer review” is a joke.  This battle for information has been one of the major battles — a front line — in climate research. 

But the times are changing, as we see in this struggle to get the key information about “Consistency of modelled and observed temperature trends in the tropical troposphere”, Ben Santer et al, International Journal of Climatology, Volume 28, Issue 13, 15 November 2008 (Abstract).

From Santer Refuses Data Request, Climate Audit, Steve McIntyre, 10 November 2008 — Excerpt:

Email from McIntyre dated 20 October 2008:

Dear Dr Santer,
Could you please provide me either with the monthly model data (49 series) used for statistical analysis in Santer et al 2008 or a link to a URL. I understand that your version has been collated from PCMDI ; my interest is in a file of the data as you used it (I presume that the monthly data used for statistics is about 1-2 MB). Thank you for your attention.

Reply from Dr. Santer:

I gather that your intent is to “audit” the findings of our recently-published paper in the International Journal of Climatology (IJoC). You are of course free to do so. … In summary, you have access to all the raw information that you require in order to determine whether the conclusions reached in our IJoCpaper are sound or unsound. I see no reason why I should do your work for you, and provide you with derived quantities (zonal means, synthetic MSU temperatures, etc.) which you can easily compute yourself.
… I gather that you have appointed yourself as an independent arbiter of the appropriate use of statistical tools in climate research. … Please do not communicate with me in the future.

See here for more details.  Note that the CEO of the Royal Meteorological Society cordially responded, and they will review their policies in this area.

On Climate Audit today, Steve McIntyrewrites about getting data about the Santer article:

With all the problems for the new US administration, the fact that they actually turned their minds to issuing an executive order on FOI on their first day in office suggests to me that DOE will produce the requested data. … Amazingly, in today’s email is a letter from a CA reader saying that the Santer data has just been put online here. He sent an inquiry to them on 29 Dec 2008; the parties responsible wrote to him saying that they would look into the matter. They also emailed him immediately upon the data becoming available.

Illustrating the proprietary attitude of government institutions to data from publicly-funded research, Dr. David Bader, Director of NOAA’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, wrote McIntyre (source):

Dear Mr. McIntyre;
I want to clarify several mis-impressions on your “climateaudit.org” web site with respect to the Synthetic MSU data sets on the PCMDI website.
1. The data were released publicly on 14 January 2009, at which time our Department of Energy sponsors and NNSA Freedom of Information Act officials were notified. These data were released voluntarily by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and we were never directed to do so as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Furthermore, preparation of the datasets and documentation for them began before your FOIA request was received by us. …

It’s strange that Santer would tell McIntyre to recreate data when NOAA was preparing it for public release.  Even odder, the NOAA file containing the data unzips to a directory called “FOIA”.  Fortunately, the times are changing for the better and climate science will run faster and smoother.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Articles about the battle for release of climate science data and methods:

  1. Data Archiving, Disclosure and Due Diligence”, Climate Audit.
  2. Fortress CRU#2: Confidential Agent Ammann“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
  3. Fortress CRU“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
  4. Fortress Met Office“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 20 June 2008.
  5. Fortress Met Office continued“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 23 June 2008.
  6. E-Mail, “Personal” Records and Privacy“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 2 July 2008.
  7. Climate Audit and NOAA FOI Policy“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 3 July 2008.
  8. NOAA Response to March 2007 FOI Request“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 8 July 2008.
  9. CSIRO adopts Phil Jones’ Stonewall Tactic“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 15 July 2008.
  10. Openness & Government“, Shane Deichman, at MountainRunner, 26 July 2008
  11. Is Briffa Finally Cornered?“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 30 July 2008
  12. Emulating Mannian CPS“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 2 December 2008 – The struggle continues to get “hockey stick” Mann’s computer to code to work.  Only then can Mann’s work be replicated.  Odd that it appears in peer-reviewed journals; one wonders what “reviewed” means when the code does not run.
  13.  “Mann et al 2008 – Another Error Notice“, Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 5 December 2008 — Another correction by Mann, who seems unable to credit his critics.
  14. Peer review of scientific work – an inadequate basis for big public action – Documentation of McIntyre’s stuggles to get key data released about 2 climate science articles.

20 thoughts on “Obama opens his Administration with a powerful act that will echo for many years

  1. This presidential declaration is for public consumption only. Info-fiefdoms like NOAA and GISS will keep stone walling just like always.

    I am constantly amazed by the people who keep taking seriously things that Mr. Obama says. Hear the sound? Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop . . . . . . .

  2. Apt commentary about the previous state of affairs under the last maladministration here.

    Obama’s making the right noises. He’s been president for all of 2 weeks. Let’s give him a chance before condemning him, shall we?

    If only the policy of openness and transparency applied to United States military policy. If only U.S. army commanders on the ground in Afghanistan felt free to announce, without fear of demotion, that the Afghan war is unwinnable and hopeless, as several of the British commanders have already courageously done, and as Gen. Shinseki did in Iraq at the cost of his career.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: An interesting thought! Is the barrier to such open speaking in the military chain of command — or the politically appointed layers above them? Can the former over-rule the latter in such things?

    Note the recent articles like this one: “Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision“, Gareth Porter, Inter-Press Service, 3 February 2009.

  3. Speaking of such barriers in the military, you may be interested in the following article by Martin Cook in Parameters, the US Army War College Quarterly. It discusses some of the professional and ethical aspects of the types of “announcements” referenced by commenter mclaren, above, and queried by yourself. The review is a semi-long read, but worth it for the insight it gives into (at least one) military view of such disclosures, and related problems.

    Revolt of the Generals: A Case Study in Professional Ethics“, MARTIN L. COOK, Parameters, Spring 2008, pp. 4-15.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Fascinating article. Thank you for posting this link!

  4. More, regarding the military, that the AVF force structure which treats male and female soldiers as interchangeble – is a canard, and that political correctness and a thousand little lies sustain the system, which is broken. However, no one can say anything for fear of losing their career.

    This is the system that says standards mean everything to the military, but we have an army that has two separate sets of PT and other performance standards, allows aputees to serve on active duty but not fit men a year or two past the age cutoff, and even has three blind soldiers serving actively. Openness, and logic? Well, I can always dream, right?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: For more on this I recommend reading Martin van Creveld’s “Men, Women and War” (2001).

  5. That CounterPunch article reveals (seemingly) how a retired General is a key player in politicking current military policy. Since he is no longer actively within the ‘chain of command’ he is well suited for such a role since he now has nothing to lose so can provide cover for those involved who do. But there is something a little ‘off’ about somebody who has no direct responsibility in carrying out legally constituted strategy and tactics as presided over by the CIC nevertheless, apparently, being a key player in formulating them.

  6. I’m not taking these actions of the President too seriously. It still looks like business as usual in Washington D.C. to me. this LA Times article makes the point better than I could. Excerpt:

    Ask anyone in, say, Sparks, Nebraska, if they think it’s OK for someone who didn’t pay $34,000 taxes over several years to be in charge of the Internal Revenue Service because he’s so smart, good with finances and familiar to power brokers. And, after he’s caught, everyone agrees he didn’t really mean to do it. (Also ask them if they think they’d get away with the unintentional excuse in their own tax case defense.)

    [And ask me, the commentator, if “anyone” {with any sense} REALLY believes that the smartest financial mind in the country made an unintended mistake here]

    Ask anyone in central Indiana if it passes the smell test that a defeated senator immediately gets hired for $1 million a year plus free car and driver to advise a guy who’s already very rich and then makes around $5 million in two years from industries doing business with the federal government, including one he’s now asked to reform by a new president who’s been elected as an avowed reformer.

    Obama … didn’t see or smell the hypocrisy trouble in that. Obama was all over TV last night doing the stand-up (and politically savvy) thing to cauterize the wound, accepting full responsiblity for the Tom Daschle Cabinet fiasco.

    … Cooper didn’t ask about the propriety of appointing a sudden millionaire to now oversee the people who paid him. He asks if the president should have dumped Daschle earlier?
    Obama says Daschle was the best guy; his own mistake was political, creating an impression of hypocrisy by campaigning one way and appointing another.

  7. McClaren writes that the Afghan war is unwinnable and hopeless, which echoes anti-Iraq War sentiment of 2005-2006, yet the recent Iraqi elections seem to indicate the Iraq war IS won. And that there is lots of HOPE in Iraq.

    I think a significant less-spoken about reason to fight for Iraqi Freedom more than Afghan freedom is the thought that Iraq was more civilized, industrialized, and urbanized, thus more likely to accept being democratized.

    It will be far more costly (more than an order of magnitude) to nation-build a tolerable Afghanistan as long as opiate drugs remain as illegal as they are.

    Legal drugs, but with many restrictions, might well be something a post 2010 Obama Administration ill support, in order to stop losing in Afghanistan. After being so wrong in Iraq about Iraq being hopeless, it’s really unlikely seeming that Obama will be willing to ‘lose Afghanistan’ to the terrorists.

    It would be nice if he pushed all US funded aid to include internet readable invoices for clear tracking of all cash.

  8. Wonderful! I’m certain Senator Christopher Dodd’s dealings with Angel Manzillo, Timothy Geither’s tax audit history, and James Hansen’s algorithm for the microwaving of GISS data will now become public knowledge that will be eagerly reported by a non-partisan, watchdog press. What a well-informed and educated citizenry we’ll both have the honor of being part of. I eagerly await the Brave New World of 198…oops I mean 2009.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The last is IMO quite likely in the next year; almost certain over the next few years. Geither’s tax audit history is not public information under current standards; the significant details have been released already. As for politicos, you will eventually find yourself in a realm where all are honest (but first you die).

  9. Perhaps our sole hope of recovering this country is that the same technology used for the kleptocracy will now be used to implement openness in government and re-empower the citizenry. What seems to be difficult as of now is to find anyone remotely qualified to do anything who is untainted by the last ten or more years of corruption. Still, our host is right that these new actions are a good beginning and stand in sharp contrast to the prior administration. Obama never claimed to be perfect and in the Daschle case has been stand-up about it, at least. Another sharp contrast. And of course if he were perfect, there would be those who would complain about that.

    In terms of our military, the past decade would seem to indicate that the real problem is careerism and the revolving door, things that both Grant and Lee would consider to have led to dishonor. Some resignations were clearly in order prior to the Iraq debacle, and the talking-head-for-hire to both defense contractors and the media, while cuddled close by the Rumsfeld Pentagon, was a disgrace to our military. And of course it was one of our remaining nobilities, the officer class, that indulged in same. Public opposition to one’s commander in chief while still serving, though, is not indicated, I don’t think, under any circumstances.

    The triumphalism over the latest Iraqi election is a bit overstated. The war was won in 2003. The ‘surge’ was a combination of bribery, self-interest on the part of some Sunnis, and the US keeping things calm so ethnic cleansing could proceed. That four provinces did not hold elections indicates that the country is already in a state of de facto partition that will not change without a bloody civil war. Hopefully, we just leave as planned in 16 or fewer months and present a grateful Iran with a new ally, all at a cost to us of just a few trillion dollars, plus our physical and mental casualties.

  10. I agree with the main thrust of this thread that the orders and memoranda are (potentially) significant. Obama, like any President, is beholden to many different masters and powerful interest blocs, akin to the ‘barons’ of yore. On the one hand he may be little more than a puppet or spokesperson; on the other he might be someone who, though willing and able to work with those he has to work with by necessity, also has a bona fide agends of his own.

    And assuming he does, it seems to me that he might be working mainly on the atmosphere, the culture, of governance. His interest in disclosure is long-standing. He is an expert on Constitutional Law. Rather than getting into trench warfare on every issue he is rather trying to change the tone as well as the general ethical context. That will take time but ultimately it’s the only substantively effective approach.

    I hope this is what is going down…

  11. I agree that the orders are totally without significance. Business as usual. New boss same as the old boss, yada yada yada. A sucker born every minute. The marks just keep begging to be taken. The new con same as the old con. Learn? Hell no, they’ll never learn.

  12. Kleinhoffer,

    Talk about the proof being in the pudding. I’ve learned this about the man Barack obama intends to appoint as the #2 man in HUD, Ron Sims. When local activist, Armen Yousoufian. The Seattle Times describes the deliberate obfuscation campaign Ron Sims mounted on behalf of The Seattle Seahwks when they wanted a new NFL stadium.

    In 1997, Yousoufian asked the office of County Executive Ron Sims for copies of studies pertaining to the impact of the proposed $300 million Seahawks stadium. County residents were about to vote on a referendum to pay for Qwest Field.

    King County delayed release of the information for nearly four years, denying Yousoufian the information before the vote.

    “The unchallenged findings of fact demonstrate King County repeatedly deceived and misinformed Yousoufian for years,” Sanders wrote.

    Assuming that Barack obama bothers vetting people before he offers high-ranking executive positions in government, he had to know that Sims consciously and deliberately engaged in an activity 180 degrees removed from the type of open government these executive orders actually suggest.

    My question is this. If Barack Obama cares about open government, why would he appoint a man like Ron Sims?

  13. As to proof being in the pudding, this site might be one to watch in terms of what, if anything, gets done. This article is about new AG promising to review and possibly release many of the secret memoranda/orders issues by #43. “Eric Holder on State Secrets, OLC Opinions“, Federation of American Scientists, 2 February 2009 — Excerpt:

    “Last week, the ACLU called upon the Justice Department to release OLC opinions concerning Bush Administration policies on surveillance, detention, and interrogation.

    “Releasing the memos would … signal to Americans, and to the world, that you intend to turn the page on an era in which the OLC served not as a source of objective legal advice but as a facilitator for the executive’s lawless conduct,” the ACLU wrote.

    “The news organization Pro Publica has prepared a database of pertinent OLC opinions from the Bush Administration. See “The Missing Memos” by Dan Nguyen and Christopher Weaver, January 28.”

  14. Perhaps Mr. Holder could release a few documents from the Adminsitration of #42. Al Gore’s contacts with Kenneth Lay regarding the Kyoto Treaty would be a nice start. Here’s a brief selection of what I’m talking about.

    CEI specifically requested documents from various Cabinet-level agencies relating to the following Enron’s lobbying efforts and the Clinton administration’s cooperation:

    * An August 4, 1997 meeting in the Oval Office between a few high rolling CEOs such as Enron’s Ken Lay, and President Clinton and Vice President Gore, addressing possible Clinton administration’s positions at the upcoming (December 1997) treaty negotiations in Kyoto, Japan.

    * A July 1997 meeting for select, invited industry participants (e.g., Enron) hosted by the White House, including Clinton and Gore, regarding that administration’s case for policy action on the theory of man-made climate change.

    Regrettably, GW Bush was entirely too secretive and respectful of his predecesor’s dirty laundry to give this to CEI and let it hang all over the Internet.

    And perhaos, particularly if Dick Fuld attempts to subpeona it in his legal defense one day, Holder can share with us all the jurisprudential logic he used to justify the pardon of Marc Rich. Pudding. Yummy.

  15. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/KB04Aa01.html

    This recent article from Chalmers Johnson in ATOL neatly dovetails the twin issues of this thread involving the military and open government. They are not an instant intuitive ‘fit’ as topics, so hats off to FM for linking them thusly above, but as this article shows – published today as it happens – they go together mightily.

    What comes through is the enormous challenge in turning around what is the policy equivalent of a fleet of linked supertankers, namely decades of military-industrial ‘complexional’ inertia masquerading as momentum but nevertheless one of the main drivers of the current status quo. It’s a real boondoggle of a clusterf**k! – SNAFU to the power of 10.

    It is quite impossible to do such things by direct confrontation or simply telling them all to switch engines into reverse and turn on a dime. Not only that, but most of such supertankers are a) carrying toxic products b) those for which there are no longer buyers and c) barely afloat and d) can’t be allowed to sink too close to home. There are no easy options, and certainly few that can be executed quickly and effectively.

    Given the enormity of what is called for (if indeed it is even being attempted for which the pudding of evidentiary consumption has yet to be served up), strangely enough it seems that indeed the best beginning is to engender Obama’s shallow sounding ‘hope’ for ‘change’. For if indeed such hope becomes pervasive, it might gradually translate into institutional momentum in a new direction. Long before the supertanker begins physically to turn the decision to turn it was taken; we are not yet there although ‘hopefully’ we might be at some point.

  16. Tom Grey claims: “McClaren writes that the Afghan war is unwinnable and hopeless“. This is a distortion of what I said, severe enough to constitute deliberate misstatement.

    The reality is that I said If only U.S. army commanders on the ground in Afghanistan felt free to announce, without fear of demotion, that the Afghan war is unwinnable and hopeless, as several of the British commanders have already courageously done…

    Here is the hard evidence that the British commander in Afghanistan has said that war is unwinnable. His is not the only opinion that the Afghanistan war is unwinnable.

    Tom Grey, please provide hard evidence proving that the British commander in Afghanistan did not say these things and that many other non-U.S. military personnel including Russian veterans of their own Afghan campaign have not also said that war is unwinnable, or stand revealed as a liar and character assassin.

    Moving on to Tom Grey’s claim that there is “hope” for Iraq, I shall demur to William S. Lind, author of the marine Corps 4GW Field Manual:

    Would more troops turn the war there in our favor? No.

    Why not? First, because nothing can. The war in Iraq is irredeemably lost. Neither we nor, at present, anyone else can create a new Iraqi state to replace the one our invasion destroyed. Maybe that will happen after the Iraqi civil was is resolved, maybe not. It is in any case out of our hands.

    … A second reason more troops would make no difference is that the troops we have there now don’t know what to do, or at least their leaders don’t know what they should do. For the most part, American troops in Iraq sit on their Forward Operating Bases; in effect, we are besieging ourselves. Troops under siege are seldom effective at controlling the surrounding countryside, regardless of their number.

    When American troops do leave their FOBs, it is almost always to run convoys, which is to say to provide targets; to engage in meaningless patrols, again providing targets; or to do raids, which are downright counterproductive, because they turn the people even more strongly against us, where that is possible. Doing more of any of these things would help us not at all.

    More Troops Into A Lost War? – William S. Lind, 2006

    The final word, however, comes from Martin Van Creveld: Why Iraq Will End As Viet Nam Did.

    All the troops, all the superweapons, all the tanks, all the JDAM laser-targeted smart bombs, all the sigint and all the F-18 supersonic fighter jets and all the nuclear powered aircraft carriers in the world cannot restore a willingness to the Sunnis to live peacefully side by side with the Shia and the Kurds in Iraq. Kurdistan has already effectively formed its own separate state with the Iraqi flag outlawed; the Sunnis and Shia have ethnically cleansed one another into barricaded separate neighborhoods wherein they stockpile weapons for the final bloody fratricide. The U.S. invasion of Iraq broke Humpty dumpty in 2003 and all the king’s men and all the king’s horses cannot put Humpty together again.

    Insofar as the American war in Iraq has the goal of leaving behind a stable democratic integrated state called “Iraq,” that war has long since been lost as definitively and as decisively as it is possible to have done.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Let’s dial this down a bit please, and keep this a policy discussion. Also, I thought that this was a reasonable summary of your view (as you cited someone using the words “unwinnable and hopeless”, and colored by summing up my view quite well). It is easy to get these things slightly wrong (as here), and doing so is a venial sin, inevitable during Internet conversations.

  17. I think as many above have stated, this is a good start and does indeed offer hope. I think the true test of these openness measures will be if a few years down the line the reveal something embarrassing to the Obama administration. Not that I have anything against him, but there is so much going on in modern government that at some point, somewhere, someone is going to make a mistake, break the law, or stonewall an inquiry. So far what these acts remain a political tool–one that satisfies the reformers and anti-Bush crowd as well as cementing his image of change, though I doubt it was conceived with that kind of political cynicism. However, it has yet to make the evolution into a civic tool like the FOIA it comments on, a change that is perhaps more reliant upon us than the ‘bosses’ in the White House.

  18. FOIA should be understood as a cultural concept, as Erasmus says, or on a sliding scale whose application shrinks or expands with the political bent of the administration and outer circumstances. You can bet that in conditions of “national emergency” (pretty common these days) it will shrink, or not expand much.

    Government culture is not something distinctive from national, or business, culture, and an “open books” culture in business would be almost unthinkable. Consider the private conversations between Paulson and, say, Rubin, or any of their deputies or friends, over the past several years. Will any of those ever appear in the public record? Who will demand them? Congress? Ha Ha!

    On national security matters, openness is even more unlikely, since the real reasons for our actions there are generally inadmissable, and would shatter public confidence in government if widely known.

    I would rank Obama’s position here as about as serious as his attempt to limit financial executives’ bonusses. Good luck!

  19. FM: This is how flame wars start. Each side overstates the other’s position a little, and things spiral out of control. As I said above, I thought Grey (comment #7) had adequately summarized McClaren’s position (comment #2) — but it is easy to get these things wrong. They are venial sins, inevitable during Internet conversations. As for Grey’s opening line here, note that adding McClaren’s full quote reads far milder than Grey’s original excerpt (in italics).
    .
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    Now, after being fairly truthful about what McClaren seems to mean, he claims I {FM: full quote added, Grey’s original quote is in italics}:

    “please provide hard evidence proving that the British commander in Afghanistan did not say these things and that many other non-U.S. military personnel including Russian veterans of their own Afghan campaign have not also said that war is unwinnable, or stand revealed as a liar and character assassin.”

    McClaren previously wrote a post which seemed to make the point that Afghanistan was unwinnable and hopeless, and he quoted generals as saying this.

    I took his quoting others, and his own tone, as approving this opinion and sharing it. If he wants to claim that he, personally, does not believe Afghanistan is unwinnable, than I’ll apologize for misunderstanding. If, instead, he agrees with the folk he quoted, I don’t understand why he thinks I’m lying.

    He point could also be that he would want generals & other soldiers to be able to claim that it’s unwinnable, without fear of demotion. While this maybe was his main point, I didn’t address it, as I was briefly discussing my view of Iraq as being on the verge of being won, with always more difficult task of winning in Afghanistan.

    Plus a side point about illegal drugs as funding terrorists, and perhaps leading to a choice of either legalize drugs or lose in Afghanistan. And yet a final point that Obama won’t want to lose.

    FM notes about generals disagreeing with Obama thru a link that states: The assertion that Obama’s withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus’ strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.

    I thought this was McCain’s main political campaign position, and a true statement: a withdrawal policy threatens the gains won by the surge. If there is withdrawal, and increased Iraqi problems, I will certainly blame the problems on Obama’s withdrawal.

    Living in Slovakia now, I never have seen a reason to insist on a unitary Iraqi state, so if there’s a split by the democratic (and increasingly corrupt) Kurds, I won’t feel it’s a failure. [In terms of disrupting Iran, there are even advantages to it, despite it being hugely annoying to Turkey. I think Turkey should be required to hold a referendum on whether the Turkish Kurds want to secede.]

    When Iraq no longer has elections nor a free press, I would agree that Operation Iraqi Freedom is a failure. But whether it is one, two, or three (probably corrupt) fairly democratic countries is not a criteria I’d use for judgement.

    Any general who disagrees with his or her Commander in Chief should have the Free Speech to publically disagree, and to honorably resign so as to not follow the orders they disagree with. CEOs who disagree with the Boards of Directors should have the same freedom — and Carly Fiorina was fired, too. If Petraeus and/or Odeirno disagree with Obama’s choices, they should resign and go public with their argument. Shinseki was correct to ‘resign’, and maintain his opinion.

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