From Eccentric Flower
I admired WikiLeaks for exposing how stupid and misguided the US's Afghanistan policy is, and how stupid and misguided our Iraq policy was ... but now they have lost me. Any sympathy I had for their cause is now gone. Because they have leaked what is mathematically known as a "shitload" of US diplomatic cables, most of which were intended to be at least somewhat confidential, and now they need to be destroyed.
No, I don't mean the cables need to be destroyed; too late for that. I mean WikiLeaks needs to be destroyed. It is clear now that this is not the work of someone who has a legitimate cause or any sort of good motivation. As long as I could reasonably assume this was the work of someone who had a genuine sunshine policy, who felt that full disclosure was always the preferable alternative, it was fine. Even if it did have faint hints of hydrophobia, I could overlook those. But now it seems clear that there are only two possible explanations for Julian Assange's behavior:
1) He is an honest-to-god zealot who believes the military and political establishment should not be allowed to have any secrets, ever;
2) He just wants to stir up the shit.
I ferociously disapprove of either position.
In general I am in favor of a sunlight policy. I believe that disclosure, to a point, helps reduce corruption and shady-if-legal backroom horse-trading, neither of which we need more of in politics. I think disclosure helps the people who are a little slow on the uptake realize when the Emperor has no clothes. (It's always nice to have documents to back you up when you need to explain to people yet again exactly why our current involvement in Afghanistan is such a tragic, doomed, ill-conceived idea.)
But you cannot conduct diplomacy without secrets. And you can't have civilization without diplomacy. If you wanted to make America look bad (and god knows I have endorsed that goal from time to time), this was a fine way to do it; but, you know, there's such a thing as broader consequences. Did Assange really want to set American diplomatic relations back 5-10 years in some areas, and jeopardize a fragile peace in a number of locations? If he didn't intend to do that, then he's dangerously naive. If he did intend to do that, then he's just dangerous*.
* Especially so since we are, right this minute, on the brink of confronting one of the real tough nuts of the world diplomatic situation, one which may have no acceptable solution and which we've been putting off for far too long because of that. Afghanistan is bullshit; North Korea is the real deal, and if it turns nasty, it will turn very nasty very quickly. How nasty? Picture this scenario: China decides that preventing South Korea from taking control of a reunified Korea is not in their interests, because if anyone is going to control Pyongyang, it's them; we don't realize this is the way they are going to jump until we have already committed (remember we have an existing military commitment to support South Korea); and suddenly we are in a land war in Asia (remember what Vizzini said about those) against what is currently, I believe, the largest standing army in the world. Sound like fun? No one really wants North Korea; the South Koreans and the Chinese don't want the headache of reincorporating it, but they also each don't want the other to have it. Meanwhile, the Kims keep starving their population (except the army), rattling the sabre until it's dented, and using nuclear technology as blackmail so the Fearless Leader can keep himself stocked with Courvoisier. If you're not keeping an extremely nervous eye on North Korea at all times, especially right now, you are watching the wrong channel.
I realize that most of the big "bombshells" in this crop are not surprises (or at least shouldn't be). I also realize that most of the big revelations are absolutely true. For example, the US thinks Berlusconi is incompetent and a crook. Well, he's both. No duh. This is the kind of thing where I want to say, "If you're surprised by that, you're not reading the right publications," until I remember that 88 out of every 100 Americans have no idea who Berlusconi is. (I made that statistic up.)
But the thing is, in diplomacy it does not profit you to say that Leader X is a moron or a crook or a thug or what-have-you, even if you think he is, even if most of the world thinks he is. What does it accomplish? Try to strike some mutually acceptable terms with him, try to establish some kind of mutual basis, try to work around his faults, or, worst case, labor quietly for his ouster - but don't call him out in public; that will just make it harder to accomplish any of those goals.
The only reason I can think of why someone might want to call out one country because of what they secretly think about another country is to deliberately start a fight. Like the kid in the schoolyard who says to Y, "Hey, did you hear what X said about you?"
(I should note, though, that Berlusconi is reported to have basically laughed off the report. At this point he has very little relationship with the US to jeopardize. Besides, he's too busy worrying about how he can safely fit Gianfranco Fini for a pair of cement overshoes.)
Perhaps a more subtle non-surprise, one where you might have a legitimate basis to be surprised but I wasn't, is learning that Saudi Arabia is just as scared of Iran having nukes as, say, Israel is. Well, yeah. Everyone is scared of Iran having nukes because Iran is under the thumb of a batshit insane theocracy. It's not a condemnation of the Iranian people or mindset, it's a condemnation of the leadership they have had forced upon them. But now that this fact has come out, it's going to give the theocrats a method of trying to invoke solidarity from their subjects which may actually work. It gives them more ammunition for the "Look, the whole world is against us" mentality they have carefully cultured for thirty years. This exposure, in other words, helps no one's cause except Iran's. Even though it is no shocker whatsoever, its revelation is still dangerous.
Of course there will be - in fact already are, if you are brave enough to read some comments on some of the links below - people who are so eager to find fault with anything the American government does that they are willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Hey, who cares if we destroy diplomatic relations? At least we made the US look stupid again! I am coming to suspect that Assange may be one of those people.
This is not only short-sighted, but it is disingenuous. Look into the private diplomatic communications of any government and you will find just as many skeletons in their respective closets. Just as clergymen are seldom witnesses in criminal trials, very few diplomats are saints. If they were, they wouldn't be effective diplomats.
I'm waiting eagerly for Assange to render the same service for the Australian government (I gather that is his home nation of record). Then at least I will know he is an equal-opportunity shit-stirrer. Of course, that is unlikely to happen because the Australian government would then try him for treason, an option which is sadly unavailable to us in the United States in his case.
Der Spiegel has itself a good and badly needed laugh (can't begrudge it; German politics are falling apart at the seams right now)
... but Peter Beinart's column is good (and not just because I agree with it)
Opposing point of view from Digby at Hullabaloo, which, given that I got it from Patrick Nielsen Hayden's sidebar, seems to imply that once again I disagree with PNH.
The funny thing is, that I would agree with virtually everything Digby said if it were applied to other secret-holding situations - for example I endorse the Moynihan comment that "the problem with secrets is that the secrets are usually wrong" as it pertains to virtually all intelligence gathered by the US military and the CIA in the last twenty years. But everything I've heard about the State Department's secret opinions tells me that their "secrets" seem to mostly be right (eg. Turkey is going to go Islamist; Erdogan's a smart guy with bad advisors; Merkel is an unoriginal bureaucratrobot; Kenya is so corrupt that it essentially has no working government; et cetera).