I’m having a Rumsfeld moment

I always thought that, for all his faults, Donald Rumsfeld was unfairly mocked for his famous remark about “known unknowns”. Here’s the passage in question:

“as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

It may not be a classically dumbed-down sound-bite, but it is entirely logical. It has echoes of the wisdom of another oft-derided sage, Neddie Seagoon:

“If only I knew what little I know, I would know a little.”

As usual, there is a connection (however twisted) between this and a recent piece of news… in this instance, an article about the apparent dropping of a law-suit between US trade representatives and a number of other parties from countries including EU members states.

If that sounds vague, have a look at the article in question and you’ll understand why. Information about an “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” has apparently been withheld on grounds of national security, scuppering any enquiry into what it is about. It has been turned into an “unknown unknown”. We aren’t allowed to know what we don’t know.

The newly-arrived Obama administration proclaimed goals of transparency, accountability and communication. In the UK, serial ‘politics survivor’ Gordon Brown has stated his commitment to rebuilding public trust and confidence in the political system as a whole, and our elected parliamentarians in particular. Allowing the “Rumsfeld philosophy” to persist does little to build the credibility of those postures.