Wik­iLeaks: lib­er­als grow up

Take the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, whose con­dem­na­tion of the July leak was leav­ened by the self-serv­ing ob­ser­va­tion that most of the doc­u­ments dated to the Bush years.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Bret Stephens

So Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange is guilty of "a reck­less ac­tion which jeop­ar­dizes lives." That's ac­cord­ing to John Kerry, on this week's unau­tho­rized re­lease of a huge tranche of State Depart­ment ca­bles. Con­fronted with a pre­vi­ous Wiki-avalanche, the sen­a­tor took a more san­guine view: "How­ever il­le­gally these doc­u­ments came to light," he in­toned in July, "they raise se­ri­ous ques­tions about the re­al­ity of Amer­ica's pol­icy to­ward Pak­istan and Afghanistan."

The lat­est WikiLeak may ul­ti­mately amount to no more than a colos­sal headache for U.S. di­plo­mats. By con­trast, the pre­vi­ous leak ex­posed U.S. sources and meth­ods on the bat­tle­field. Yet the sen­a­tor some­how finds the prospect of an em­bar­rassed State Depart­ment more trou­bling than the ex­po­sure, to the Tal­iban's venge­ful gaze, of Afghan in­form­ers-an­other in­stance, I sup­pose, of John Kerry re­port­ing for duty.

Still, ev­ery fi­asco must have its sil­ver lin­ing, and this one is no ex­cep­tion. For starters, it has be­lat­edly prompted at least some lib­er­als to grow up on the topic of govern­ment se­crecy and its con­nec­tion to na­tional se­cu­rity, in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity and, not least, hu­man rights.

Take the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, whose con­dem­na­tion of the July leak was leav­ened by the self­serv­ing ob­ser­va­tion that most of the doc­u­ments dated to the Bush years. The ad­min­is­tra­tion was also at pains to re­ject any com­par­i­son with the Pen­tagon Pa­pers, the pub­li­ca­tion of which re­mains a pil­lar of lib­eral self-re­gard.

Global View Colum­nist Bret Stephens ex­plains the world-wide im­pact of the lat­est doc­u­ment re­lease.

Yet if there's a salient dif­fer­ence be­tween the Pen­tagon Pa­pers and the Wik­iLeaks dis­clo­sures, it's that the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion went to court to pre­vent pub­li­ca­tion, whereas it was only yes­ter­day that Pres­i­dent Obama or­dered a re­view of se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures for han­dling con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments and his Jus­tice Depart­ment opened a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the leaks. Couldn't the ad­min­is­tra­tion have acted sooner, par­tic­u­larly since, as Mr. Kerry has be­lat­edly no­ticed, lives have been put at risk?

But bet­ter late than never. Last week, State Depart­ment le­gal ad­viser Harold Koh sent a stern let­ter to Mr. As­sange's lawyer warn­ing of the "grave con­se­quences" that would flow from pub­li­ca­tion. Alas, none of the con­se­quences had any­thing to do with Mr. As­sange, which might ex­plain why the let­ter had no ef­fect. But given that this is the same Mr. Koh who, as dean of Yale Law School, pompously lec­tured the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in 2008 about the evils of "ex­ces­sive govern­ment se­crecy," his let­ter still rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant change of heart.

Speak­ing of changes of heart, one also has to won­der what ef­fect the Wik­iLeaks dis­clo­sures might have on other ar­ti­cles of lib­eral pol­icy faith. Are Is­raeli Likud­niks and their neo­con friends (present com­pany in­cluded) the dark mat­ter push­ing the U.S. to­ward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likud­niks turn out to be even more vo­cal on that score. Can Syria be de­tached from Iran's or­bit? "I think not," says Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Zayed, who added that Syria "would con­tinue hedg­ing on key re­gional is­sues ( Iran, sup­port for Hezbol­lah, peace process) for the fore­see­able fu­ture."

Has the ad­min­is­tra­tion suc­ceeded in press­ing the re­set but­ton with Rus­sia? Hard to credit, given De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates's de­scrip­tion of the Putin- Medvedev regime as one from which "there has been lit­tle real change." Is the threat of an Ira­nian mis­sile strike-and there­fore of the need for mis­sile de­fense-ex­ag­ger­ated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped mis­siles to Tehran that can carry nu­clear war­heads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.

All this is enough to make me hope for a more grown-up for­eign pol­icy from the ad­min­is­tra­tio­nand nearly enough to tempt me into ap­plaud­ing Wik­iLeaks' dis­clo­sures. But not quite. We shouldn't need Wik­iLeaks to set­tle pol­icy dif­fer­ences. Nor should it have re­quired an­other round of Wik­iLeaks to make the ad­min­is­tra­tion take se­crecy se­ri­ously. What re­ally mat­ters for the suc­cess­ful con­duct of U.S. for­eign pol­icy is con­fi­dence, a word that si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­notes trust, se­crecy and also be­trayal (think of the word "con"). What Wik­iLeaks has done is use the be­trayal by the orig­i­nal leaker to ex­pose Amer­i­can se­crets and thus de­stroy trust in Amer­ica's re­li­a­bil­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.