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The Sunshine Presidency Takes History to a Dark Place

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Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

The 30-year-old history of U.S. foreign policy: now, there's a dynamite issue! Explosive, in fact! Far too dangerous, it turns out, for Americans to be informed about or have access to basic documents about -- so you might conclude from a recent report at Steven Aftergood's website Secrecy News.

According to him, "A 1991 statute mandated that the State Department publish the documentary record of U.S. foreign policy (known as Foreign Relations of the United States, or FRUS) no later than 30 years after the events described." They were years behind when President Obama, still in his sunshine mode, hit the Oval Office and ordered State "to complete the processing of the backlog of 25-year-old records awaiting declassification by the end of December 2013."

Didn't happen, of course. And that, it turns out, is the least of it. A State Department historical advisory committee (HAC), a "panel of distinguished historians," has just weighed in with its own fears that "a substantial percentage of those records that have been reviewed by the NDC [National Declassification Center] have not been cleared for release to the public. In the opinion of the HAC, the relatively high number of reviewed documents that remain withheld from researchers and citizens raises fundamental questions about the declassification guidelines." The historians wonder, in fact, whether the majority of the FRUS volumes will ever see the light of day.

History, too, may need its Edward Snowden, a rogue historian with access to those State Department documents and the urge to travel to Hong Kong or tour the bowels of Moscow's international airport terminal. If no such historian appears, then Americans curious about the documentary history of our past may get another 30 years of the good old runaround -- and even then it'll be nothing compared to what Nick Turse, author of the bestseller Kill Anything That Moves, received from the U.S. military, as he relates in "The Classic Military Runaround."