Just the Facts
The "facts" the President Johnson promised the American people, when he sent troops to the Dominican Republic, still lie in the locked files of the State Department and the Senate. The President has refused to release the testimony his own officials gave to Fulbright's Foreign Relations Committee last summer. Hoping to keep that record secret, he has also withheld the State Department's white paper on the same subject.
The President plans to continue this secrecy, wrote Max Frankel in the New York Times, because he fears the new light that the testimony would cast on the Administration's intervention. Frankel revealed in a recent story that the officials were determined from the beginning to prevent a victory by Juan Bosch's supportors, and that they explicitly solicited from the military junta the urgent request that the U.S. send troops to protect American lives.
According to Frankel, whose distinguished reporting in the past makes the reliability of this information almost unquestionable, the Senate testimony also reveals that the Administration seriously considered an attack on the rebel forces shortly after beginning its "neutral" peace-keeping operation--and that it abandoned the plan only because of the high casualties expected to result among women and children.
The Administration, Frankel wrote, fears that publication of this information would "rekindle a bitter debate and furnish new ammunition to its critics." Officials are correct, no doubt, in their expectation that the testimony would cause at least some adverse reaction.
But no criticism or adverse reaction could be more detrimental to the United States than the administration's present policy of secrecy. By deliberately concealing the "facts," President Johnson has undermined his consensus at home, and the image of this country abroad. His passion for unanimity has precluded informed public discussion; his supportors and critics alike are forced to rely on rumor and speculation instead of fact.
No consensus can survive in a vacuum. By continuing to withhold the testimony of his own officials, the President may succeed in keeping ammunition from his enemies, but he cannot hope to gain popular acceptance for his policies. Rather than ending debate or criticism, his policy of secrecy only insures that both will be uninformed.
Even more serious, the President's secrecy inhibits improvement of policy and correction of past mistakes. It prevents those who seek to forestall the repetition of these mistakes from pin-pointing responsibility and analyzing errors. And it conceals only temporarily: secrecy cannot preclude the long range consequences of a misguide policy.
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