By Fareed Zakaria
The United States made its share of mistakes during the Cold War. But because of a democratic system of contestation, transparency, checks and balances, many of them were exposed early. New administrations could shift policy without losing face. Course correction was routine. Despite the nostalgia that many mandarins have for an old Metternichian model, it is the big, raucous, contentious democracies — Britain and the United States — that have prevailed in the world, not Nazi Germany, imperial Japan or the Soviet Union.
“A case can be made . . . that secrecy is for losers,” the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in his 1998 book on the subject, adding, “Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage.” Closed systems work badly. Open systems have the great advantage of getting feedback — criticism, commentary, audits, reports. The CIA claims that its programs after 9/11 worked very well and suggests that the best judge of this should be itself. The Senate report provides an alternative view with substantial evidence and argumentation. This debate will make the CIA better, not worse. And the revelations of the National Security Agency’s vast espionage will force it to refine its snooping to programs that are effective and justifiable.