Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wikileaks

Regarding Wikileaks - I find it curiously-revealing that one side of the debate is focused on denouncing the distasteful actions (or lack thereof, in the case of protecting detainees from torture at the hands of their Iraqi jailers) chronicled in the reports, whereas the "other side" is desperately denouncing the act of releasing the information itself.

I learned from the Armenian Shark that you can't 'unring' the bell - so might it not be more effective in a democratic and free-thinking society to ensure to the best of our abilities that, in the future, either the kind of damaging information revealed by Wikileaks isn't recorded so it can't be leaked in the first place (ignorance is bliss), or, more realistically, that our policy makers institute directives that compel the best possible behavior from our government representatives abroad, and that we actually hold ourselves accountable for following those directives and conducting ourselves according to the highest standards of enlightened liberalism? I mean, it's downright embarrassing to see former State Dept. advisers whining that Julian Assange should be declared an "enemy combatant." Apparently it's lost on them that this kind of extra-judicial, imperial hubris is what got us into this mess in the first place. Just compare:

"The government views the allegations very seriously," - Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen

vs.

"Here are some of the things the U.S. could do: Explore opportunities for the president to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them." - Christian Whiton

Seriously?

The USA does not need an Official Secrets Act. Our government just needs to do the best it can, at home and abroad, to implement policies that are in the long-term national interest, which don't jeopardize our international standing and the legitimacy we supposedly enjoy as a bastion of democracy, unique in the world thanks to our American exceptionalism.

As Stephen M. Walt writes in the respected journal Foreign Affairs: "Realist that I am, I believe that human beings are more likely to misbehave if they think they can shield what they are doing from public view. For that reason, I also believe that democratic societies are more likely to adopt better policies when information is plentiful and when government officials cannot determine which facts are available to the public and which are not. Because its primary function is to make more information available on issues that concern us all, I therefore conclude that what Wikileaks is doing is on balance a good thing."

3 comments:

  1. We're now in the age of Napster-like morals. The current state of technology requires a lot of self-control, and unfortunately, many people just do not have it. We give a 19-year old kid access to top secret databases containing material that could cause great damage to others, and you've essentially reduced our national security down to that lowest common denominator.

    I'm actually surprised that our intelligence community has not already put an end to the wikileak guy's life. Had this been the 1970's, we never would have heard of wikileaks by this point. The guy would have been dead already.

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  2. Very perceptive, Anon, and well-stated. Thanks.

    It IS very surprising that the US Army (or the intelligence community in general) thinks that what are effectively still kids have the ability to provide insightful or effective analysis of raw intelligence anyway.

    As someone who succeeded at progressing very deeply into the hiring process for what was then known as the Directorate of Operations - but who ultimately did not receive a viable offer - I have more than just a passing understanding of the knowledge, skills, temperament and other intangibles expected of those kind of officers. And it was the right decision not to utilize me at that particular point in time because I simply was not ready. I realize that and can admit it to myself without bitterness now.

    But, not without reason, at the time I considered myself to be exceptionally qualified, and was to some degree - but not completely. And that was after earning a social sciences degree summa cum laude, having won a graduate fellowship in public policy that accepted about 1.2% of its applicants, lived and traveled all over the world, represented my country in int'l competition and even mastered a foreign language - and I was still found wanting.

    And yet the US Army gives a then-22 year old kid unprecedented access to classified databases and continues to employ him in that position even after his obvious left-leaning anti-American political sympathies became known to his immediate superiors, his sexuality was questionable and his disillusionment and disciplinary issues obvious?

    What did they expect?

    I half-suspect that the vehemence of the right's condemnation of Wikileaks, Assange and Manning stems from their embarrassment over ever having exposed the country to this kind of liability in the first place. As I implied in the original post, if the gov't is going to engage in actions that could be compromising if exposed, then they should, at the least, reduce the risk of that very exposure - not increase it by giving access to an entire history of (equally) morally-questionable policies to the very type of disaffected, anti-establishment outcasts most likely to find justification in the Napster-like morals to whine about what the military is up to.

    How much do you want to bet that what Manning leaked, he did so not because he was motivated by great ideals and a social conscience, but out of anger, disillusionment, resentment and a desire to take revenge upon the "establishment" into which he could never fit?

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  3. the US is not a democracy...

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