Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crisis over Foreign Relations of the US Series

"In a tense and adversarial meeting at the State Department yesterday, the chairman of the Department’s Historical Advisory Committee warned that the future of the Department’s “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series, which is the official record of U.S. foreign policy, is in jeopardy due to mismanagement by the Office of the Historian. Underscoring his concerns, he announced his resignation from the Committee."
So began a dramatic post on Secrecy News recently. FRUS is a crucial source for foreign affairs history, and is important as well for historians who place U.S. history, including legal history, in a global context. (In other words, if you're not familiar with it, you probably should be.) The post continued:
An Assistant Secretary of State rebuffed the criticism. He accused Committee members of engaging in innuendo and ad hominem attacks, and he abruptly walked out of the meeting.

William Roger Louis, the esteemed historian who has chaired the Committee for the last five years, presented his views in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (pdf), which he read into the public record at the December 10 meeting.

“The Historian’s Office has become an intolerable place to work; the exodus of experienced historians is significant; and the future of the Foreign Relations series is at risk,” Prof. Louis said.
Continue reading here. Inside Higher Ed carries the story, and Out of the Jungle weighs in.
It is hard to know how the production of FRUS can move forward effectively in this context. Secrecy News simply reports on this breakdown, and doesn't offer solutions. Reforming the FRUS process, and the overall issue of release of federal foreign relations documents, will soon be in the hands of future Sec. of State Clinton -- not known as a friend of open records. Stay tuned.