On the his­tor­i­cal ne­ces­sity of Wik­iLeaks

Here is how the pres­i­dent put it while ad­dress­ing Congress on Jan. 8,1918. "The pro­gram of the world's peace...is our pro­gram" and among the 14 pre­req­ui­sites to peace is "1.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Lawewnce Davidson

Given the his­tor­i­cal na­ture of the pub­lic mind, few peo­ple will re­call that as the United States pre­pared to en­ter World War I, Amer­i­can cit­i­zens were quite ex­er­cised over the is­sue of "open diplo­macy."

In­deed, at the time, Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son made it the No. 1 is­sue of his 14 points - the points that con­sti­tuted US war aims, and so the ones for which some 320, 518 Amer­i­can sol­diers were killed or wounded in the sub­se­quent year. Here is how the pres­i­dent put it while ad­dress­ing Congress on Jan. 8,1918. "The pro­gram of the world's peace...is our pro­gram" and among the 14 pre­req­ui­sites to peace is "1. Open covenants of peace must be ar­rived at, af­ter which there will surely be no pri­vate in­ter­na­tional ac­tion or rul­ings of any kind, but diplo­macy shall pro­ceed al­ways frankly and in the pub­lic view."

So what would Wil­son, or for that mat­ter the ed­u­cated and aware Amer­i­can cit­i­zen sup­port­ing him in 1918, say about Sec­re­tary of State Hi­lary Clin­ton and other US of­fi­cials and "pun­dits" run­ning about and in­sist­ing on the ab­so­lute need for se­cret diplo­macy, while call­ing those who defy that stan­dard crim­i­nals? What in­deed? The truth is that there has al­ways been a gap be­tween the in­ter­ests of the gen­eral cit­i­zenry and in­ter­ests as they take shape at the level of state pol­icy. It is within that gap that se­cret diplo­macy thrives.

One can see this most clearly in the case of dic­ta­tor­ships. But what about democ­ra­cies? Well, the truth is that they too are run by po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic elites whose in­ter­ests are rarely the same as the gen­eral pub­lic. That is why, when the govern­ment uses the term "na­tional in­ter­est," one should al­ways be sus­pi­cious. When it comes to for­eign pol­icy this can be most clearly seen in the poli­cies long adopted to­ward places like Cuba and Is­rael. A very good ar­gu­ment can be made that the poli­cies pur­sued for decades by the US govern­ment to­ward these two na­tions is no more than prod­uct of spe­cial in­ter­est ma­nip­u­la­tion with no ref­er­ence to ac­tual na­tional in­ter­est or well be­ing. In­deed, in the for­mer case it led to an il­le­gal in­va­sion of Cuba by US backed forces in 1961 and no doubt en­cour­aged the Cubans to al­low Soviet mis­siles on their ter­ri­tory in 1962. The lat­ter has con­trib­uted to nu­mer­ous dis­as­trous ac­tions on the part of the US in the Mid­dle East out of which came the at­tack on Sept. 11, 2001. None of this is in the in­ter­est of any­one other than the elites whose semise­cret machi­na­tions lead to the poli­cies pur­sued.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween dic­ta­tor­ships and democ­ra­cies are ones of style and, in a democ­racy, the op­tion to shift em­pha­sis in terms of elite in­ter­ests served, each time there is an elec­tion. Demo­cratic elites have learned that they do not need to rely on the brute force char­ac­ter­is­tic of dic­ta­tor­ships as long as they can suf­fi­ciently con­trol the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion en­vi­ron­ment. You re­strict mean­ing­ful free speech to the fringes of the me­dia, to the "out­liers" along the in­for­ma­tion bell curve. You rely on the so­ci­o­log­i­cal fact that the vast ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens will ei­ther pay no at­ten­tion to that which they find ir­rel­e­vant to their im­me­di­ate lives, or they will be­lieve the of­fi­cial story line about places and hap­pen­ings of which they are oth­er­wise ig­no­rant. Once you have iden­ti­fied the of­fi­cial story line with the of­fi­cial pol­icy be­ing pur­sued, loy­alty to the pol­icy comes to equate to pa­tri­o­tism. It is a shock­ingly sim­ple for­mula and it usu­ally works. Given this sce­nario, Woodrow Wil­son and his no­tion of open diplo­macy rep­re­sents an his­tor­i­cal anom­aly. When, in 1919, he ar­rived at Ver­sailles for the peace con­fer­ence, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Bri­tain, France and Italy thought him a hope­less ide­al­ist. And per­haps he re­ally was. Whether Wil­son was or was not an ide­al­ist can­not af­fect the fact that se­cret diplo­macy al­most never rep­re­sents the pub­lic in­ter­est.

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