Taking a Leak


Many takes on the Rumsfeld memo have been circulating through the media and the blogosphere. One is that the defense secretary's private comments are less sanguine than his public posture. That is a legitimate point. Another is that it's good to know Rumsfeld is forcing himself and his subordinates to confront some hard and important questions. That is also a legitimate point.

A third is that the leak should not have happened. Blogger Lt. Smash, whose monicker has always reminded me of Nick Fury, dares call it "treason," which seems bizarre to me. The memo includes no confidential war plans, no secret information about intelligence sources or troop movements. Its take on the war effort is not terribly different from what you'll hear from mainstream pundits of both the left and the right, and the questions it poses are, as Smash notes, "precisely the kinds of topics that our military leaders need to be discussing." Furthermore, it's very possible that the document was "leaked" by Rumsfeld himself.

The memo might be embarrassing to officials who prefer to hold such discussions behind closed doors, but there is nothing in it that aids or comforts the likes of Osama bin Laden. I understand Glenn Reynolds' argument that "when this sort of self-examination -- which is essential to winning any war -- becomes the subject of leaks and bad press, you tend to get less of it." But there's something to be said for carrying out some self-examination in public, where leaks are beside the point and your bad press can at least focus on what is rather than what might be. I see only one scandal in the Rumsfeld memo, and it's neither the document's contents nor the fact that it was released to the public. It's the fact that such talk is ordinarily reserved for closed session.