Secrecy News

The 1970 Crisis in Jordan, and More from FRUS

Many of the roots of today’s conflicts in the Middle East can be discerned in the crises of the past, some of which are newly documented in the latest volume of the official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

The new FRUS volume includes a section on the Nixon Administration’s response to the intense fighting between the Jordanian military and the Palestine Liberation Organization in September 1970, which threatened to topple the monarchy of King Hussein.

Another section treats “the Nixon administration’s efforts to replace the political and military structure left by the former British Empire with a newer structure that met America’s … needs,” as well as “the Nixon administration’s efforts to articulate a grand strategy toward the Middle East region through arms sales and military modernization for its regional allies.”

See Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969-1972; Jordan, September 1970 (published December 23, 2008).

The new FRUS volume was completed earlier this year, prior to the unexpected departure of Dr. Edward C. Keefer from the State Department Office of the Historian.  He had served for years as General Editor of the series, but left abruptly in what was perceived as a sign of mounting turmoil in the Historian’s Office.

Widespread concerns about continuing upheaval in the Historian’s Office were addressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a meeting with historians on December 22.

Secretary Rice announced that she had established “an outside Review Team to provide recommendations about how to ensure the FRUS series remains the gold standard for diplomatic history scholarship.”

Aside from its importance to diplomatic historians and other specialists, the FRUS series embodies the vital principle that all U.S. foreign relations activities, no matter how highly classified they may initially be, will eventually be brought to light and published for the world to see.  Thanks to a remarkable 1991 statute, it is actually against the law for the FRUS series to be anything other than “thorough, accurate, and reliable.”