The Bush administration is unique in its passion for hiding its activities and keeping the American public in the dark. But the regime is only exploiting a deep-seated tradition in American politics--that foreign and military policy should be considered the province of "experts". To deal with these matters we have created rigid authoritarian bureaucracies shrouded in secrecy and little affected by changing administrations or public opinion.
Unlike people in other countries, Americans are thought by our leaders to be too stupid and uninformed to be involved in foreign policy questions. And to make sure they stay this way, foreign policy information is largely classified. Life seems much easier for bureaucrats when they're not held accountable for the idiotic things they do.
We carry out covert operations all over the world, and it is these very activities that have generated most of the hatred directed toward the United States today. How sophisticated, how wise, how far-sighted were these actions, conceived and carried out by 'experts'?
It wasn't, after all, the American people who had the idea of overthrowing the democratically-elected Mossadegh of Iran and replacing him with the brutal dictatorship of the Shah, which led to the Iranian revolution, the hostage crisis, and the dominance of the anti-American Ayatollahs.
Nor was it the American people who then had the idea of arming Saddam Hussein to fight Iran.
Nor was it the American people who had the idea of arming and financing the Taliban to harass the Russians in Afghanistan.
Nor was it the American people who had the idea of building a training center in Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden, arming and funding him and helping him recruit a hundred thousand fanatic fundamentalists to fight the Russians.
Nor was it the American people who had the idea of financing the production of heroin in Afghanistan in order to addict Soviet troops--making it the largest producer in the world, and handing Osama bin Laden billions of dollars to finance his campaign of terror.
Nor was it the American people who then had the idea of giving the Taliban 43 million dollars to stop growing heroin, as part of the "war on drugs".
Nor was it the American people who had the brilliant idea of invading Iraq.
In democratic organizations mistakes are more quickly exposed, making it easier for the organization to correct them and become more efficient. And a range of viewpoints gives them the flexibility to adapt to change. Authoritarian bureaucracies lack this trait, which is why they seem incapable of learning from experience. Germs that would die within minutes if exposed to the light can live and breed forever in a dark enclosed environment. Mistakes that are covered up tend to mushroom into disasters, and classified material is usually released only when it's too late to prevent the follies it reveals.
We, the people of the United States, are supposedly too shortsighted to have any say in foreign policy. But is it really possible to be more shortsighted than our "experts" have been? It has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars to prop up military dictators all over the Third World, and then cost us many more billions to clean up after them. And if American soldiers are to be killed because of actions which we pay for, and which have generated so much hatred against us, shouldn't we have a say in authorizing them? Our nation would be a great deal stronger and richer if democracy had "handicapped" our policy makers a little more in the past.
A series of polls conducted at the end of the millennium found that from 2/3 to 4/5 of the American people wanted the United States to sign international accords, wanted to strengthen the UN, and felt the United States should not act unilaterally to reduce international crises, but should share leadership with other nations.
We live in a shrunken, interdependent world, in which a problem anywhere quickly becomes a problem everywhere. We live in a global economy, in which national boundaries are increasingly meaningless. We live in a global ecosystem in which pollution in one part of the world poisons people thousands of miles away. To pretend that the United States is somehow an isolated entity is a kind of political psychosis. Yet the "experts" seem strangely unaware of this new world and have managed to retain a kind of 19th century insularity, while our "uninformed" populace is thinking globally.
No one would argue that the American public should be involved in the day-to-day conduct of foreign and military policy--although they could hardly come up with anything more shortsighted and expensive than the "experts". But there's no reason why they should be excluded from a consideration of the general outlines of such policy, since they bear the burden of its costs and the repercussions of its failures.
Most American cities have a General Plan--publicly derived--against which specific development proposals can be measured. The United States needs such a General Plan for foreign policy--one that more accurately reflects the will of the people and could act as a restraint on the myopic and puerile adventurism that has characterized the "expert" policies of the last fifty years.
We need a plan that reflects the shrunken world we actually inhabit, not the world of Rudyard Kipling.
Power corrupts, as we know, and those most drawn to positions of power are the very ones most likely to abuse it. The more our leaders are able to limit the input of ideas and feedback--the more they are able to pursue single-track, ideologically-driven policies--the more policy disasters we can anticipate. The more power is centered in a small group of leaders who cannot be challenged or criticized, the more that power will be abused. For the only way not to abuse power is to share it.