Wikileaks: Patriot Or Traitor?

Now that we’re getting a look-see at what’s in the leaked diplomatic cables, the question inevitably comes up, do these disclosures help or harm the public interest?

The Obama administration has “condemned [the leaks]  in the strongest terms,”* although they stopped short of calling the Wikileaks guys traitors, which is where a lot of conservatives will go with it.  But that’s not surprising; some of the revelations are causing administration officials a considerable amount of embarrassment and are likely to generate some awkward conversations with our friends and allies who, until now, thought our government considered them friends and allies.  Politicians and bureaucrats never like having their private thoughts revealed.  (Suggestion Box:  Then don’t write them down in official documents, stupid!  Sheesh.**)

* Translation Into English:  They’re upset they got caught, but they’re not going to prosecute or persecute anyone.  (I’m sure you realize that unofficial persecution is always an option when official prosecution is not feasible or desirable.  See, e.g., J. Edgar Hoover, the Chinese government, the Myanmar junta, etc.)

** As a brief aside, you’d be amazed how often smart lawyers find damning evidence in corporate e-mails.  It’s positively incredible how many people in the corporate world exercise bad judgment about what they put in writing!  If you want to sue a corporation, the FIRST thing you do is exercise discovery of their e-mails.    And if you hate some government official be sure to use the FOIA or your state’s public records law to get his e-mails.  You’re especially looking for the ones where he used official communication channels to tell his mistress what he wants to do to her under her skirt.  As a lawyer, I can’t get over how incredibly careless most people are about what they write in discoverable corporate and governmental communications.  It’s manna from heaven!)

(Sorry about the footnotes.  I just like to clarify things.  It’s a habit.)

I have a built-in bias for disclosure because I was a newspaperman before I became a lawyer, and my daddy before me was a newspaperman who embarrassed more than one politician during his career.  So, this opinion piece isn’t going to be totally objective, and I think you should know that going in, but I intend to support my stance with objective reasoning.  Before I delve into this discussion, though, let’s look at some of the juicier tidbits that Wikileaks has exposed:

“U.S. officials believe North Korea has provided Iran with missiles that could allow it to strike Europe and Western capitals.”

Commentary:  The 1950s-era bomb shelter in your backyard, built by a previous owner of your house, is good for something after all.  Don’t dig it up just yet.

“The United States has carried on an unsuccessful effort to remove from a Pakistani research reactor enriched uranium U.S. officials fear could fall into the hands of militants.”

Commentary:  Never mind the bomb shelter; stock up on food, guns, and batteries, and move to eastern Washington.

“When President Obama took office, many allies feared his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how his aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran with economic sanctions and anti-missile defenses. The administration killed a Bush-era plan for a missile-defense site in Poland — which Russian leaders feared was directed at them, not Iran — and replaced it with one floating closer to Iran’s coast. The move seems to have paid off.”

Commentary:  Well, whaddya know, President Obama isn’t the limp-wristed pantywaist conservatives thought he was.

“In December 2005, the Saudi king expressed his anger that the Bush administration had ignored his advice against going to war. According to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, the king argued “that whereas in the past the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein had agreed on the need to contain Iran, U.S. policy had now given Iraq to Iran as a ‘gift on a golden platter.’ “

Commentary:  I agree with the king.  Although Saddam was an odious thug dictator, he kept Iraq’s factions from slaughtering each other, kept Al Qaida out of Iraq, and gave Iran’s ayatollahs a hard time, all of which are laudable in terms of American policy interests.  Maybe that’s why the first Bush administration gave Saddam so many guns — arguably the old man was smarter than his kid.  Removing Saddam, at a cost of $1 trillion of taxpayers’ money and the lives of 4,000-plus young Americans who will never see their children grow up or bounce their grandchildren on their knees, did rid the Middle East of an odious thug dictator who would have exploited the WMDs he didn’t have to give other Arab governments, some of whom are our friends and allies, a hard time if he’d had them; but from a cost-benefit standpoint you’ve got to question whether it was worth it.  Personally, I think we — and the 4,000-plus dead young Americans — would have been better off if we’d had a president with more reasoning ability than George W. Bush possessed when he decided to invade Iraq with American troops.   Our other presidents who embarked on military adventures at least had enough sense to use proxy troops when they could get them so impoverished foreign teenagers instead of impoverished American teenagers would do most of the dying.   And I also think exposing the invasion’s inherent stupidity to public view is a good thing.

“During a Dec. 27, 2005, meeting with the commander of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, United Arab Emirates military readers “all agreed with Abizaid that Iran’s new President Ahmadinejad seemed unbalanced, crazy even,” one cable reports.”

Commentary:   Everyone knows Iran’s presidential election was rigged and Ahmadinejad “won” because Khamenei wanted him to win, and Khamenei wanted him to win because Khamenei has tasked him with getting the Bomb for Iran.  Look, Ahmadinejad is just a water boy, and gets paid for building a Bomb for Khamenei.  He probably doesn’t even care who it’s used against, as long as it’s used against Israel.  The guy’s a whore without a conscience.  To understand why Ahmadinejad has no conscience, you need to know his personal history.   During the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s, which replicated the horrors of World War I trench warfare, Iran used children to walk across minefields to explode mines with their bodies so the Iranian troops behind them could advance through the minefields to attack Iraqi positions.  Ahmadinejad, in his youth, was one of these “basij martyrs” but somehow miraculously survived the war.  Now think about this.  You’re a kid, and your government has drafted you to a battlefield, and told you to walk out there and blow up a mine by stepping on it.  If you somehow miraculously survive this experience, as Ahmadinejad miraculously did, you might be a little messed up in your head for the rest of your life.  Ya think?!!  At a minimum, this guy has to have PTSD; I have no idea what Iran has in terms of veterans’ counseling programs, but I’ll bet it’s scanty.  I’m not sure “crazy” is the right word, but I’m fairly sure this guy would be unfeeling toward the Israeli children who might disappear in a flash of light if Iran gives its prospective Bomb to their Hezbollah buddies.

“While Persian Gulf leaders recognize the options for dealing with Iran are limited, the dispatches indicate they repeatedly have urged U.S. military action, fearing that allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb would shift the balance of power decisively in the region.”

Commentary:  Well, whaddya know, all the Persian Gulf oil-producing states (except Iran) want us to attack Iran!   Personally, I think Obama should make that decision based on what’s in our best interests, not what’s in the oil-producing states’ interests.  And when you’re talking about the Saudi king, don’t forget this guy is charging us $86 a barrel for oil that costs him only $2.50 to get out of the ground.  Some friend.  But our conservative friends will tell us that it’s right, just, and godly for King What’s-His-Face to charge us whatever the market will bear, in a market manipulated by his government, in the name of market ideology.  Conservatives worship markets the same way Pre-Contact Native Americans worshipped the sky, sun, wind, and stars.***

(*** You may recall that Post-Contact Native Americans were forced at gunpoint to worship our Christian god in the name of “civilizing” them, although I suspect they still snuck in a few prayers to the sun and wind and eagles when the white missionaries weren’t looking.) 

Okay, so now we know the Saudi king thought Bush was out of his freakin’ mind to invade Iraq, North Korea is more dangerous than we thought, and everyone in the Middle East except Khamenei wants Ahmadinejad gone.  This information changes my thinking on some public policy issues I’ve been pondering, and I’ll bet it affects your thinking on those issues, too.

Journalists, and writers of all stripes, have a built-in bias against governments hiding information.  One of the things our government has historically tried to hide is photographs of dead bodies of American troops killed in war.  That’s sort of defensible in terms of the sensitivities of the dead soldiers’ families, although that’s not the government’s primary motive in hiding from us the awfulness of what modern military weapons do to human bodies.  All governments, including ours, try to sanitize war.  They don’t want us thinking too much about the fact those weapons do hideous things to human bodies, or the fact that young men (and, nowadays, women too) who have had their limbs sheared off and jagged holes torn through their organs with burn marks around the holes’ edges and their skin burned off with incendiary ordnance and hanging in strips that resemble the remnants of a punctured balloon (in case you’re wondering, I saw this in Vietnam) will die horribly agonizing and excruciatingly painful deaths if a medic can’t get to them to pump them full of morphine as their last breaths rattle in their fuel-air-explosive-charred throats.  So it’s left to war correspondents, novelists, and poets (see, e.g., Wilfred Owen) to depict the horrible realities of war so the young people who read their literary works as part of their high school and college humanities class assignments will grow up to be somewhat resistant to their governments’ bombastic appeals to patriotism and supporting the troops and all the rest of that testosterone-soaked chest-pounding posturing that apes and conservatives love so much.  (See, e.g., the Bush conservatives who tried to burn down a congressman’s brother’s house with the brother’s children in it because they went to the wrong house.)

Now, I’m not above trying to appeal to emotion when trying to win an argument.  After all, that’s what Stephen Crane did when he wrote “Red Badge of Courage,” and what Arturo Pérez-Reverte Gutiérrez did when he wrote “The Painter of Battles” (a novel you definitely should read, if you haven’t already, if you hate war as much as I do).   And it’s easy to get emotional when you’re talking about governments firing off weapons that rip apart, blow jagged holes in, and burn to cinders, living human beings.  That’s why governments don’t want people writing about that stuff.  It might, you know, turn you against war.  And when a lot of ordinary citizens turn against war, that makes it harder for policymakers to use war as an instrument for achieving political objectives.

So, back to the question of whether the Wikileaks are more harmful than helpful.  First of all, I would argue that who gives a rat’s ass whether something a journalist reveals makes a politician uncomfortable.  I would tell the politician, if it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it.  Secondly, I’m all for shining the bright light of day on the activities of the cockroaches hiding under the kitchen sink.  One thing I agree with conservatives about is that government is full of cockroaches.  (See, e.g., all of history’s wars.)   This one isn’t too hard to figure out:  Sunlight good, cockroaches bad.

In my opinion, the Wikileaks disclosures are in the finest tradition of American expose journalism.  Our government didn’t want the Pentagon Papers published, either.  It didn’t want My Lai or Abu Ghraib exposed.  Truman, if he were alive, probably wouldn’t welcome a public discussion of the fact his administration let all the Japanese doctors who vivisected live prisoners without anesthetic, including American POWs, avoid prosecution or punishment for their unspeakably cruel crimes against humanity.  In fact, governments, including ours, routinely let hideous genocidal dictators and tortures off the hook because it’s convenient to do business with them.  Did you know the U.S. government eagerly glommed onto the “research findings” of Nazi “scientists” who tortured living human beings to death to find out how high an altitude the human body could go to without a pressure suit before it exploded?  Yeah, governments, including ours, do a lot of stuff that they understandably don’t want journalists and writers exposing to world opinion.

I’m not saying there are no legitimate state secrets.  For example, if our government has figured out how to build an anti-matter bomb capable of disintegrating the planet I don’t think we want to share the formula with Kim Il Jong or Ahmadinejad, although I suspect we’ve already given it to Israel.  But the criterion should be whether disclosing the information would harm the public interest, not whether it would harm some politician’s or bureacrat’s career or reputation.

In this respect, the Wikileaks disclosures seem efficacious to me.  They’ve shed light on actions and policies of our government, and of those of foreign governments whose actions and policies impact us, which we didn’t previously know about.  Knowing this stuff will help us, as citizens, make better-informed and better-reasoned judgments about what our government’s policies should — and shouldn’t — be.  That’s my journalist’s bias talking, but it’s a valid bias.  And if these disclosures embarrass our political leaders or bureaucrats, who cares?  That’s why we pay them the big salaries we give them.

It’s obvious to me that Wikileaks is a patriot, not a traitor.  But just wait, the conservatives (and not a few lock-step Democratic officeholders who wish to protect the administration above all other considerations) will scream “treason!” and “hang ’em high!” simply because, as a matter of course, conservatives (and other sycophants of all stripes) always have to be wrong.   Being wrong is what they live for.  Insisting that those who govern us do what’s right is what we who inhabit the fact-based and reasoning-based intellectual world live for.

4 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    nice post. thanks.

  2. 2

    Super 🙂

  3. 3

    У вас можно статьи копировать ?

    It is possible to copy articles from you?

  4. theaveeditor #

    No problem

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