WikiLeaks is exposing the way our government conducts “business.” It is not a pretty process. Sometimes Uncle Sam limps along like a powerless giant, as when secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton vainly plead with China to stop facilitating the military rise of Iran. (But don’t let that stop you from buying that made-in-China flat-screen TV for Christmas. Great price.) Sometimes Uncle Sam slimes around like the mob, as when shutting down opposition to the Copenhagen climate accord is his racquet and bullying is his game.
The rock-bottom worst of the revelations, however, 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 (mentioned above but worth a reminder); 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, or, as they mincingly prefer to call it, “terrorism.” 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?
Whether such information was originally “classified,” 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-go zones.
Things went completely “1984”-ish when the federal government weighed in, actually warning federal employees not to read the WikiLeaks materials – still “classified,” after all. Creepier still, the Library of Congress followed suit, voluntarily blocking the WikiLeaks site from library computers. Now, universities are warning students not to post public comments about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter – lest Big Brother takes note and holds a federal employment grudge.
Suddenly, it’s not about secret information anymore, or diplomatic relations. It’s about control. The atmosphere chills.