Sunday, November 28, 2010
On the small chance you have not read them elsewhere, here is the opening New York Times article -- apparently the first of nine -- on the latest dump of secret documents by Wikileaks, these from the State Department. Whatever else one thinks about this Mother Of All Leak, they have effectively destroyed the credibility of the State Department, the favorite foreign policy agency of the doves. What foreign diplomat would dare speak candidly with our foreign service now? That will make the State Department even less effective. To get anything done, the American president, whoever he or she may be, will be more likely to turn to our intelligence agencies and military, the relative influence of which on American policy is bound to increase.
Of the related blog posts I have read tonight, this one at Hot Air is the best and quite closely reflects my own thinking (and indeed it shaped much of it). I would add this, however: For well over 100 years idealists have denounced secret diplomacy, arguing that it does more harm than good over the long run. Wikileaks may have effectively put an end to secret diplomacy, at least for a while, because interlocutors will have no confidence that their candid observations and backroom deals will remain confidential. We will therefore soon see whether the idealists are right.
FURTHER THOUGHT: If I were Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, I'd be worried about some much nastier country than the United States taking revenge and, more importantly, issuing a warning to any aspiring successor or copycat. There is no security that can put him out of reach of the Russians, the Saudis, and the Turks, should any of those very embarrassed countries decide that the world would be a better place with secret diplomacy. Both the Russians and the Saudis, at least, have killed people for much less. And, of course, there is the added incentive (for the Russians and Turks, at least) that most of the world will blame the United States if Assange ends up dead, so taking him out by some graphic and public method would seem to have a lot of upside.
It is inconceivable to me that the United States government does not have the power, influence and technical ability to shut this down in 15 seconds and move on.
The "perp" resides in a NATO country, is acting in a manner that defines espionage under our current legal definition and is clearly indulging in behaviour above and beyond anybody's definition of "free speech"
The response of the Obama administration? Send a firm letter to his lawyer and, as an aside, have Homeland Security shut down 75 internet sites for breaking the law on copyright infringment!!
Did they HAVE to demonstrate to the world that we can easily shut down internet sites on the same week as the Wikileak release??
Once again, I am left undecided whether the Obama administration has a fiendishly clever ulterior motive..OR..are the most colossaly inept collection of idiots that have ever graced the shores of the Potomac.
As one pundit put it: Do we have a Commander-in-Chief or a Litigator-in-Chief???
These leaks vindicate President Bush's assessment of North Korea, Iraq and Iran as the axis of evil and should be treated as such.
He seems more honest than his successor.
These leaks also support the suspicion that the State Department is a victim of its own duplicity: it is incapable of defining the enemy, Islam in all its variations.
As I write, Congressman King -- R-NY and soon-to-be-head of the Homeland Security Committee -- wants Wikileaks to be declared a terrorist organization and Julian Assange to be tried under the Espionage Act.
The obvious comparison is to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers back in the 1970s.
The Pentagon Papers had been commissioned in 1967 by Defense Secretary McNamara as a top secret critical history of the US involvement in Vietnam 1945-1967. They were just 3,000 pages long, with 4,000 pages of exhibits. They exposed a shocking disconnect between what LBJ and other public officials had said in public about Vietnam and what high-level officials had been saying internally.
Ellsberg had access to the Pentagon Papers from his work as a top level defense analyst -- he'd have passed almost any test for the highest level security clearance. In 1969 Ellsberg did a 180 on the Vietnam War, made some photocopies of the Pentagon Papers and gave them to Cornelius "Neil" Sheehan at The New York Times. Until Ellsberg did that, I'd expect that Dawnfire82 would have considered Ellsberg a role model.
I submit that the role of Wikileaks and Julian Assange today -- that of "publisher", actually -- is closer to the role played by The New York Times and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger back in the 1970s than to the role played by the actual Pentagon Papers leaker, Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was tried under the Espionage Act and could have been put away for life, but the charges were dismissed because of government malfeasance, as it was shown during his 1973 trial that the USA had improperly spied on Ellsberg. ... Ironic, that. ... Nixon's efforts to plug such leaks had led to his creation of the White House Plumbers, who were later responsible for the Watergate break-in.
Amazingly, today's actual leaker is 22-year old PFC Bradley Manning who managed to copy 250,000 sensitive cables onto CDs he labeled "
." To me, that's more shocking than anything in the cables themselves.
I followed the Pentagon Papers story as a newspaper boy who delivered The Daily News and The New York Times from 1968 to 1974. It made an impression on me, including that you can't always trust our federal government. Today, I often question its basic competence.
My opinions on this are still in work. Here are a few preliminary thoughts.
1. The latest leaks are clearly embarrassing to some among us, the State Department in particular, but I'm not sure they are as damaging to national security as the NYT leaks a few years ago about then secret US intelligence gathering capabilities.
2. I'm troubled by the lack of candor of US officials when describing the state of the world to us ordinary folks.
3. I wonder whether, given our system of government and our nation's shared values of government by the people and for the people, our diplomatic style has become opaque and more like the style of governments we don't admire and less like the style we would like them to follow. In other words, are we leaders for our cause?
4. The going meme is that we can't be trusted to keep secrets. I wonder whether it is really that we can't be trusted to follow our ideals. And if we don't believe in them, why would anyone else? Again, I'm speaking of the disconnect between what our government tells us and what they really believe--about who they are and who we are.