Try Explaining Freedom-to-Know to a Warlord

The Bush administration is in trouble for lying about the justification for a war in Iraq.

The Army and the Pentagon are in deep trouble for interrogation procedures.

Those are facts that set the Muslim world dancing in the streets and make various other anti-American hearts beat just a little faster. One can imagine Jacques Chirac stifling a smile over his evening cognac, Gerhardt Shroeder wagging a knowing German finger and various Arab governments nervously wondering where events will take them from here. Just what we deserve, they crow and are joined in that by a substantial percentage of the American public.

And it is just what we deserve. Not only what we deserve, but what we have self-inflicted and that, in fact, is the wonderment of it all and what makes us unique from all but a very few governments of the world. The salient fact is that, in both situations, the truth came from inside rather than outside America.

Muslim hatreds didn’t bring us to our knees. The “Arab street,” however you define that, had little enough effect. The United Nations, European Union, NATO, Chirac and Shroeder combined hadn’t the power to modify our intention. You can argue that they should have, and you probably are right, but the fact is they didn’t.

What may well cost this administration another term is the uniquely American constitutional protection of our citizens’ right-to-know. Powerful stuff, this freedom of the press. More powerful than presidents, than misleading by the CIA and FBI, it’s the air in the top of the American bottle that always (eventually, usually slowly, almost always painfully) allows our nation to float cork-up.

I don’t know how we explain that in meaningful terms to most of the world, let alone the warlords and dictators of this planet’s darkest corners. It is inexplicable, other than in our own nation, where we take it for granted. Americans are known for a kind of naïve optimism. It’s our inherent trust that “the truth will out” that shapes our character and keeps us from our own worst excesses.

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