The leaking ship, the captain and the kids 4

“Suddenly, it’s not about secret information anymore, or diplomatic relations. It’s about control. The atmosphere chills.”

So Diana West writes on the continuing Wikileaks affair in a Townhall article which needs to be read in full. (We have quoted her before on this subject in our post Thanks to WikiLeaks? December  3, 2010.)

WikiLeaks is exposing the way our government conducts “business.” It is not a pretty process. …

The rock-bottom worst of the revelations … shows Uncle Sam patronizing the American people, lying to us about fundamental issues that any democracy catastrophically attacked and supporting armies abroad ever since doesn’t merely deserve to know, but needs to know. Our democracy demands it, if it is to remain a democracy.

Most pundits, certainly on the Right, disagree. As Commentary editor Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote in the WSJ this week: WikiLeaks “is not informing our democracy but waging war on its ability to conduct diplomacy and defend itself.”

Funny, but I feel more informed — and particularly about what a rotten job the government knows it’s doing in conducting diplomacy and waging war on democracy’s behalf. I know more about the government’s feckless accommodation of incomparable corruption in Afghanistan; its callousness toward Pakistani government support for the Taliban and other groups fighting our soldiers in Afghanistan; its inability to prevail upon “banker” China to stop facilitating the military rise of Iran … and its failures to prevail upon aid-recipient Pakistan to allow us to secure its vulnerable nuclear assets.

One running theme that emerges from the leaked cables is that the U.S. government consistently obscures the identity of the nation’s foes, for example, depicting the hostile peoples of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as “allies.” It’s not that such hostility is a secret, or even constitutes news. But the cables reveal that our diplomats actually recognize that these countries form the financial engine that drives global jihad … But they, with the rest of the government, kept the American people officially in the dark.

Then came WikiLeaks, Internet publisher of leaked information, prompting the question: What is more important — the information theft that potentially harms government power, or the knowledge contained therein that might salvage our national destiny? …

The body politic should be electrified by the fact, as revealed by the leaked cables, that nations from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia are regularly discussed as black holes of infinite corruption into which American money gushes, either through foreign aid or oil revenue, and unstaunched and unstaunchable sources of terror or terror-financing. If this were to get out — and guess what, it did — the foreign policy of at least the past two administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, would be unmasked as a colossal failure.

And maybe that’s what behind the acute distress over WikiLeaks. Last week, I put it down to political embarrassment; this week, a new, more disturbing factor has emerged. The state power structure, the establishment more or less, believes itself to be threatened. Its fearful response has been quite startling. First, there were calls for WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange’s execution; these have simmered down to calls for trial. Amazon and PayPal cut off service to the WikiLeaks website. Then, in a twist or kink perhaps beyond even Orwell’s ken, Assange was arrested without bond this week on an Interpol warrant over very fishy-sounding charges about “unprotected” sex in Sweden — a country, we may now ironically note, of draconian laws governing sexual intercourse and no laws whatsoever governing violent Islamic no-gone-zones.

Those two harpies – a pair of celebrity groupies? – who conspired together to get a man they’d chased after arrested on absurd charges under ridiculous Swedish sex laws, are contemptible, and the Swedes who made and enforce such laws are beneath contempt.

Assange has not committed an act of treason since he is not an American citizen or resident in the US. If he is guilty of espionage for publishing the cables someone stole, then so is the New York Times, and if he is extradited and prosecuted for it, the responsible NYT people should be too.

We have yet to hear if any person has been exposed to danger or actually harmed by the leaks, and no cables that we have read could so expose anyone. We have been told by a commenter, CEM, that we “lack understanding as to the seriousness of the Wikileaks release of classified documents and information”, that “there  does not have to be a direct leaking of names to expose agents and sources”, as “often, the information alone can be innocuous”, but “the content and context of the data alone can provide clues to counter agents and governments as to the identities of agents and sources that can place them in grave danger”. He may be right. Some of us have, however, had some years of experience dealing with organizations concerned with international affairs and have learnt something from them (enough to state confidently that by far the greater part of “secret information”, about 95%, is from open sources, and of the remaining 5% very little is ever useful). In our judgment, the claim that these cables could harm the United States’ foreign relations, implicate secret friends among enemies, or dissuade any foreign power from dealing with the US if it needs to, would be hard to substantiate.

We respect the views of those who think otherwise. We share their patriotic instincts. We have thought long and hard about the whole affair (giving special consideration to the reasonable points made by Fernando Montenegro – see our post More on Wikileaks, December 4, 2010). From what we can discover about Julian Assange we do not think he would be on our side of most issues. If the publication of the cables really harms any individual, we wouldn’t think of defending it. If it has damaged the United States in any way that we would recognize as damage, we would be as angry as the angriest. But as far as we can see now, and knowing that we risk the disagreement of some of our highly valued readers, we line up with Diana West. Our libertarian instincts have been strongly roused. We wonder if some of our more libertarian readers feel and think the same way. We hope all our readers will consider our arguments as carefully as we try to consider theirs.

The WikiLeaks operation could be put to permanent good effect – if only our fellow conservatives who hold liberty to be the highest value would learn the real lesson from it, and let the information they have been given make a difference in the future to the sort of people they trust to steer the ship of state.

It should ensure that never again is there another captain like Obama.

And that no administration and Department of State goes on treating citizens like kids who must be kept from knowing what they’re doing.

  • Fernando Montenegro

    First of all, thank you again for considering my comments. I truly wish all conversations/debates I engaged in were as nice as this one.

    I’ve read Diane’s piece and I agree with the overall tone.

    I take objection to being shocked that “government business is not a pretty picture”: of course it is not. It would be very nice if all foreign relations where with respectful countries and individuals, alas that is not the case. One of the demands of office is to be able to deal with all kinds and be able to navigate the maze of what actions are moral, what are legal, what are proper, and what is in between.

    I understand and thoroughly agree with the frustration and the anger that the leaks have revealed a profound disconnect between the public narrative of foreign policy and the reality as viewed by State Department officials. I want more transparency, but I want that transparency within a legal framework.

    You mention “If the publication of the cables really harms any individual”. I don’t know about the cables yet – diplomacy often moves at a glacial pace – but Assange’s previous handiwork on the Afghan war was severely criticized for doing just that:
    http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/taliban+hunt+wikileaks+outed+afghan+informers/3727667.html
    http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/international_politics/wikileaks%2bdamage%2balready%2bdone%2bsays%2bhuman%2brights%2bgroup/3727677.html

    In a way, I see WikiLeaks being similar to “animal-rights activists” that break into labs to release animals from testing. No real care for consequences.

    Again, I *fully* support reviewing the frameworks of how people have access to government information: I think a more transparent government is a better government. What I *don’t* do is delegate that to the leader of an activist organization with no accountability to anyone but themselves.

    Thank you for the discussion. It has been most illuminating. May we all take from it what we can and keep on striving in the pursuit of our enlightened and legitimate self-interests.

    Respectfully,
    Fernando

    • Jillian Becker

      We were hoping you would comment again, Fernando. You’re an ideal – which is to say – rational interlocutor!

      We agree that foreign relations are never a “pretty picture” – and the idea of innocent foreign governments being shocked to learn how America plays the diplomatic game is disingenuous.

      It is murder to reveal names. Fortunately that seems not to have been done this time.

      Did you see that I answered your comment on “Revelations of wickedness?”

      Appreciatively, Jillian

      • Fernando Montenegro

        Thank you for the kind words.

        In thinking about the what was revealed – diplomatic cables – I think we won’t see as many sensitive names listed (which is a good thing!), as WikiLeaks has done some minimal scrubbing and the immediate impact appears to be more embarassment at the leak and the disconnect between reality on the ground and what Washington acts on.

        That being said, I think the damage to US interests will be more subtle, over a longer period of time:
        – less transparent conversations with foreign interlocutors leading to less clarity about foreign affairs.
        – US officials will certainly be more guarded in their communications, fearing for their careers. Again, less “real” information.
        – Inter-departmental information exchange will likely diminish, reverting back to the ‘silo’ mentality of pre-9/11. Naturally, this increases the likelihood that critical information will be missed in the ongoing fight against terrorists.

        I think that the immediate embarassment and long-term reduction of information sharing both inside the US foreign policy apparatus as well as with outside entities is, unfortunately, a “victory” for WikiLeaks. That the administration appears unable to do anything about it other than bully companies into knee-jerk responses is a sad, sad picture to behold…

        Here’s to hoping some good comes out of all this…

        Fernando
        PS: Thanks for the comment on Revelations… I’ve made some comments there as well.

  • Ralph

    Yes, they do treat us as children which means they consider themselves to be adults. We are kids who must be cared for by the state and tought what and how to think by the state. I resent their attitude toward we “children” as much as I’m appalled by contents of the wikileaks.
    Sorry if I’m a bit off subject.