Although the proximate stimulus for this article was the Dubai port situation, I speak about the general role of secrets in contemporary governance and the larger issue of how tolerant we should be of Presidential taciturnity.
In World War II, it is only a small exaggeration to say that the fate of the world hung on secret activities. Would our secret atom bomb program be completed before the German equivalent? And could it be kept secret from the Soviets? Would our cryptographers succeed in breaking the secret codes that the enemy used to issue military instructions over their radios? Later, when we did break the code, everything depended on keeping the enemy unsuspecting. We managed to fool them and they did not switch codes, gaining us an untold advantage.
With secrecy at such a premium, we learned to be satisfied knowing less. In return, public servants were more conscientious about earning our trust. For the most part, whenever we discover today the filed-away secrets of yesterday, we find that our leaders of then acted upon them wisely. Those days are long gone. Nixon's perfidy and Carter's incompetence, Reagan's occasional distractedness and Clinton's pathological duplicity, have all taught us to regard their caveats as emptier than their predecessors. Nine times out of ten, daylight is better. And the secrets tend not to be so darned big anyway.