« Wikileaks From Severa… | Home | The Return of...Quote… »

Wikileaks from Several Perspectives: Eric C Edition

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2010", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

Yesterday, Michael C went over how Wikileaks made him feel from several perspectives. Today, I want to address a few of my own views in relation to Wikileaks.

Conspiracy Theory Sceptic - Vindicated. Despite Bradley Mannings’ claim that he had access to material that contained “incredible, awful things” or Assange’s assertion that the logs contained “war crimes” not much was revealed. Take Cablegate. In the words of one of our favorite foreign affairs commentators, Fareed Zakaria, “the sum total of the output I have read is actually quite reassuring about the way Washington — or at least the State Department — works...The WikiLeaks documents...show Washington pursuing privately pretty much the policies it has articulated publicly.” (Also from Zakaria: “Our anger at WikiLeaks should not obscure the fact that it is Washington's absurd data-sharing policy that made this possible. That's the scandal here that needs fixing.” Obviously we agree.)

Or look at the Afghan War Diary. In the words of The Wahsington Post, “...the Wikileaks material tends to fill out and confirm the narrative of Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009 that most Americans are already familiar with.”

Or just read this comment from Thomas Ricks on the Iraq War Logs, “Civilian contractors shooting up people, Arab-Kurd tensions, abuse of prisoners, Rumsfeld in denial, Iranian meddling, Maliki paranoid? At this late date, that's the full-house Iraqi version of a dog bites man story.” You can practically hear the disappointment in his voice. Well put.

If you have to choose between government incompetence vs government conspiracy/malice, choose incompetence every time.

Jaded Observer - Delighted. Wikileaks has more examples of personal hypocrisy and flip-flopping than anything else. Ever.

First, Wikileaks--or more precisely David Kernell--hacked Sarah Palin’s emails. Conservative commentators, like Sean Hannity, Karl Rove and Limbaugh were, rightfully, outraged. They weren’t outraged, however, when Wikileaks hacked Climate scientists emails. (Ironically, Climategate has been totally debunked.) But now that Wikileaks has targeted the military and the State Department, they are again outraged.

Then we have Mr. Assange. He wants to expose the secrets of the powerful, but he runs perhaps the most secretive group on the planet, and then he was outraged when his court papers got leaked. Rushing to Wikileaks defense was Anonymous who, by name and actions, are the most secretive group on the planet. They ran DDOS attacks on Amazon, Visa and Mastercard, defending “freedom of speech”. Yet their attacks on people who oppose them scare me. Just by writing this, I’m afraid they could launch a DDOS attack on On Violence, which ironically limits my freedom of speech for fear of mob violence.

Free Press/Free Speech Advocates - Saddened. Make no mistake about it: Wikileaks is bad for government openness. Politicians on both sides of the aisle freaked out over Wikileaks, and the “threat” it posed to our nation. Why? Let’s have Julian Assange explain, “In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said ‘only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government’.” Except Wikileaks hasn’t exposed deception. At all. As we showed above, it either confirmed what we already knew, or made American diplomats look good and honest. With no deception backing it up, it will be hard or impossible for free press/free speech advocates to make the case to protect these inalienable rights.

And it has already happened. Accordng to On The Media, “The new Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act seemed finally poised to address this and many other injustices by extending freedom of speech where the American people most need it. But on December 22nd, after the bill passed the House unanimously, a mystery senator put what is called an “anonymous hold” on the bill, effectively letting it die with the end of the legislative session.” As the host goes on to say, Wikileaks was the strawman used by some Senators who publicly announced opposition to the bill.

ten comments

Anyone tell me if some of the links don’t work.

This didn’t fit into the post, but Rod Blagovich has a similar thing happen on the Daily Show (go to min 5:20) http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-au..

For interested readers in the L.A. area, UCLA’s Burkle Center is putting on a 3-part series regarding Wikileaks. The second session is next week:


I like the contrast between the differing perspectives of you and Michael. It makes for an interesting read. Further, it mirrors my own conflicting opinions on the issue.

Thanks Vicki for the link. I just wish I lived in LA to take advantage of it.

@Matty P- We aren’t that far apart. I mean i consider myself a free speech advocate. You are right that this issue shows how Wikileaks isn’t just good or just bad, its just complicated.

Let’s not forget Assange’s tantrum when he discovered that a WikiLeaks affiliate “leaked” without his permission. This just further proves that Assange isn’t really concerned with noble concepts such as “transparency” or “unfettered access to information” as he is about media attention.

The assertion that Wikileaks clears the US government of what could be considered war crimes is factually inaccurate. There are things with little probability of being prosecuted albeit, however handing enemy prisoners of war over to a nation that you knows systematically tortures people (like Iraq does) is a war crime. Killing enemy combatants attempting to surrender because you are incapable of taking them prisoner is a war crime. There are hundreds if not thousands of incidents in the Iraq papers especially that can be classified as war crimes. Does it exonerate the US government of creating missions explicitly trying to massacre civilians? Yeah okay, it does that, but thats not setting the bar very high.

Like people have said Wikileaks doesn´t have any “whales” in their papers, or things that completely turn people´s beliefs on Iraq and Afghanistan on their heads. But consider this, just a year ago people who would have suggested that the Pakistani government is aiding the Taliban, that US military ground forces were operating in Pakistan, or that the US military was lying about the number of civilian deaths in Iraq would have been labeled a conspiracy nut. Now there is indisputable proof that these things are occurring.

Wikileaks has to be a small circle at this point when there is such an incredible amount of pressure against them, and I think the fact that the allegations made against him were leaked to a right wing Swedish by the police speaks for itself. There is a line to be drawn between personal data, and data being withheld by a government that rightfully belongs in the public domain (which was said by Assange himself, as far as the Palin emails go he has stated on the record they would not have been releases if she wasn´t running for VP).

I still don´t understand how Wikileaks hurts the case for government openness over te long term. Ultimately it puts the US government in a no win kind of situation. It has three options right now as far as its openness:

A. Try and shut down Wikileaks (which is what the DoD´s WTF task force is for, the CIA apparently has their own task force). That could very well backfire.

B. Actually follow through and be more transparent, rendering Wikileaks absolutely irrelevant.

C. Do nothing (or try to bury secrets deeper which would amount to the same thing), and let Wikielaks and the copycat and spinoff organizations popping up continue releasing information.

In my opinion A., is the most likely option, and one that is probably being pursued in one way or another. There are countless things in the diplomatic cables that could be labeled as deception, from manipulating Copenhagen climate talks, to spying on the UN, to lobbying foreing governments on behalf of multinational corporations. Whoever has told you Wikileaks has just exposed what you already knew or things that will just reinforce your trust in the government is either lying or completely ignorant of the content of the cables.

I’ll just say that the accusation that Pakistan supports the Taliban has been around for a while, it is just now released into the open.

And I think option C is totally what the government will pursue. They stood up task forces, but actually taking down the Wikileaks site will be ultimately impossible and back fire on them. So Option C will prevail, when Option B should.

@ Chris C – Part of it doesn’t matter if there were any whales or not, the public is treating the situation as if there was no relevant news. That’s why there will be a backlash. And I still don’t know what “revelation” came out. The US gov. lobbied on behalf of corps? No surprise there. Maybe I’m jaded. (Also has to do with “realist” fp that dominates the State dept/mil, do what is best for America, at all costs.)

To me, the fact that the most official—and lowest—civilian death count went up was the most important thing. But to say Americans don’t care about dead Iraqis would be an understatement.

Finally, the Sarah Palin thing is pretty cold. Where do you draw the line? At congress men? Cabinet members? generals? Climate scientists? If climate scientists get to have their emails shown to the world—to falsely deny global warming—then no one has privacy.

That is a legitimate issue, and if I was the publisher of Wikileaks I wouldn´t be publishing hacked emails, however that was his editorial decision not mine.

As far as which “revelation” came out, I think thats why they´re releasing the diplomatic cables at a slower pace. There are still thousands of incidents that weren´t publicly known about in the Iraq and Afghanistan papers that are worthy of press coverage in my opinion, but dumping them all at once with the press having access to it a few months beforehand meant that only a fraction of the themes and stories got any coverage.

What Wikileaks has revealed may be of no interest and no “revelation” to the jaded American public that expects its government to be dabbling in high level realpolitik and having its hand in almost every pie across the globe, but internationally it has shifted views towards the US in a way I don´t think a lot of Americans realize. Its also shifted the way a lot of people view their own governments to the point that its already had a hand in helping overthrow its first dictator.


Nice posts, from both Michael and Eric.

All in all the biggest takeaway for me from the Wikileaks documents/cables released so far is that the picture the public gets overall about American geopolitical activities is fairly complete. It might trickle out more slowly and piecemeal than in a huge trove of diplomatic cables and military intelligence, but all in all, we still get the important stuff, if you pay attention. One of the reason Wikileaks has gotten so much attention is that it has been an occasion for the media to highlight stories that have been around for a while but didn’t get the over-hyped attention of the media echo chamber. Just as an example, I believe the NYTimes, among others, has been publishing pieces that question Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan including ISI’s support of the Taliban for well over a year. They just didn’t have the overt military intelligence documents and were relying instead on anonymous Afghani, Pakistani, and US sources.

@ Chris – While the American image may have suffered abroad as a result of Wikileaks revelations, it’s pretty naive to think the US gave up covert geopolitical machinations in the wake of the Cold War. All countries on the world stage play at that game, even the European nations, not to mention the Israelis, Saudis, Syrians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Russians, etc etc etc. A lot of western Europeans may like to think their countries are much more restrained in their intelligence departments’ approach to geopolitics and while they may be to some extent, those governments certainly have their own agendas that they pursue with their own means. The United States still takes the lead in the Western world, and most of the Western nations are happy to let us do so. I don’t see any of that changing anytime soon.