Last week (12/12), on the Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Moises Naim (El Pais) nailed it when he said that the “WikiLeaks story is actually about WikiLeaks, the internet itself,” the ability of technology to offer every ordinary guy on the street access to the information shaping his life and future.
Great, but the deal is that I’m not so sure Everyman is, first, interested in the kind of raw data WikiLeaks is spewing out, or second, sufficiently schooled in international affairs to figure out how these facts, the policy blueprints, the test parts thrown out by the State Department’s Office of Research and Development, so to speak, drive the actual production of history–decisions to send US soldiers onto foreign battlefields, to force information out of alleged terrorists when terror may be minutes away, to impose hard economic sanctions to head-off conflict, to say no to the rapid and disproportionate buildup of arms or the acquisition of nuclear capability by self-avowed enemies of the US on an American continent, or to prevent the meltdown of our economy and the repetitive patterns of crime and corruption that continue to erode the nation’s economic security.
WikiLeaks, as many analysts have already noted, isn’t throwing grenades.
In fact, most of the information revealed in the cables is common knowledge in Washington, stories that have traveled news circuits in abbreviated or disconnected forms for years or months, their urgency or relevance disguised by half-hearted coverage or editorial choices that bury the items on back pages or inside the daily flood of indiscriminately ordered information on the web.
Without the ability to put these WikiLeaks into a larger context, to follow the ‘leads’ that punctuate this virtual information dump, what we’ve got (as Robert Dinero, playing Al Capone in “The Untouchables” put it) is “nuttin.”
WikiLeaks hole? Advice: stop digging
Indeed, the fact that government outrage continues to provide the international media with grist for its insatiable mill is one of the great ironies in this scenario: perturbed at the site’s revelation of embarrassing diplomatic discussions and fumblings–tales only mildly interesting to the average reader–government officials are now in the process of creating a better, and far more spectacular story over First Amendment rights and the ‘treasonable’ activities of a Dutch citizen accused of committing “sex by surprise” (in Sweden?).
Even worse, the official call from some quarters for draconian regulation of the internet has given Russia (which suggests nominating Assange for the Nobel Peace Prize) and China, a human-rights violator of mammoth proportion, opportunities to ‘prove’ to an already hostile world that when Washington suddenly finds itself looking out through wall-to-wall glass, this nation of stone-throwers is no better than anyplace else.
The WikiLeaks story as denoted by Moises Naim (Will Assange be indicted? By whom? For what? Will he go to jail? Will governments ‘cleanse’ the internet via raging bonfires of nationalist insularity?) will no doubt continue to fuel media coverage through the New Year, longer if DOJ manages to build a criminal case against the WikiLeaks mastermind.
But let’s face it: getting Assange for espionage and/or conspiracy and making the internet safe for democracy is a much better, and easier to follow story than Hillary Clinton’s permutated musings about what North Korea could possibly be planning to do with its nuclear arsenal or whether the US will ever be in a position to ‘get tough’ with China, a country Clinton intrepidly calls ‘America’s banker.’
The information Assange threw out into cyberspace, the ‘secret cables’ and such, will fade sooner than later from front pages around the world, reduced to the feeble stuff of obscure policy discussions editors know will not sell papers.
People want black and white, ‘gotcha’ news reports accompanied by photos of burned out bunkers.
Steak Not the Sizzle
Not me. It’s the steak, not the sizzle I’ve been savoring, especially those juicy WikiLeaks that seem to confirm tips I’ve posted on this site.
One of my favorites is the evidence WikiLeaks provides regarding the Iranian infiltration of Venezuela, its willingness with Russia to supply Hugo Chavez with billions in weapons (1900 surface-to-air missiles as of 2009) as well as financial support (from Putin) for the construction of a factory in Venezuela dedicated to the manufacture of Kalashnikov rifles and a second factory dedicated to the manufacture of ammunition for these weapons.
Then, of course, there’s also acknowledgment, deep within the US Department of State, that Venezuela is trading weapons for drugs supplied by the FARC, which are, in turn trafficked through cartel gangs in Mexico–the same gangs that have already killed roughly 30,000 civilians on the US-Mexico border and that continue to threaten US lives on our own side of the line.
What do we think the FARC wants to do with all those arms, and eventually, maybe, the nuclear materials Chavez will be doling out? Do we really need Assange to connect these dots for us?
Some of the WikiLeaks revelations even manage to generate humor–who says there’s no fun in foreign affairs?
“No Intervention” Calderon Urges US to Get Tough with (the rest of) Latin America
We have, for example, President Calderon’s concern about the growing connections between Venezuela, Iran and Russia and his consequent urgings to the US government (which is itself prohibited by a US-Mexico Treaty from ‘interfering’ in Mexico’s sovereign affairs via unilateral counter-drug investigations) to intervene (Urgent!) against the Venezuela, FARC, Bolivia, Cuba, Iran, Russia coalition Calderon cites as a looming threat.
While Calderon wants the US to stay out of Mexico’s involvement in the drug trade, the storm he sees gathering to the south has him playing Winston Churchill to a US administration happily non-interventionist and definitely not ready to extend a sympathetic ear–no Harry Hopkins in this picture. One savors the image of Obama advising Calderon to move any resources he thinks may be threatened to a safer port–maybe Canada, the site to which Roosevelt suggested Britain might want to move its naval fleet. Oh well.
The question is: Do we really need Calderon or Assange to paint a portrait of an ever cozier relationship between Venezuela, Cuba, Boliva, Nicaragua, the FARC, Iran and Russia?
The Latin American nations referenced above openly share an anti-US animus and a common enterprise: to launder criminal funds, traffic in drugs and illegal weapons, achieve nuclear capability, and establish a robust Marxist base (like the one the US faced down in Cuba) to support destabilization and revolution in the Americas. Their old-line communist sponsors openly vow to assist and support them.
WikiLeaks also leads us to another story, reported already, about the US government sending ‘special US advisors’ (paid via funds from Merida Intiative, aka “Plan Mexico”) to work with the Mexican military and ‘vetted units’ (theoretically, individuals with no connection to the bad guys, in this case, the Zetas and other rogue cartel figures) to end the siege of violence that has given the Mexican drug trade such a bad name in recent years.
The best thing we can say about this arrangement is that at least a few US government employees are reclaiming, via contractor salaries, some of the billions we’re sending to Mexico in the wild hope those dollars may work against and not in support of the national drug industry.
Unfortunately, the notion that US operatives will work only with stand-up individuals within the Mexican military or the Federal Judicial Police Force, people who represent absolutely clean links in an untainted chain, is hard to swallow. Everyone reports to someone, and, as they say, it only takes one rotten apple.
US and Russia: Enemy of My Enemy My Friend
The US is also involved in joint counter-drug operations with Russia in Afghanistan: the Russians are giving us supply lines, and at this point, with troop withdrawals scheduled for July 2010, we’re only too happy to take them.
Expect US-Russia cooperation on counter-terrorism as well.
Winning elections means ending unpopular wars, and that means foreign threats to the US which remain unresolved must be addressed covertly (joint operations) or through proxy interventions–think Russia against Afghanistan; India (shhh!) leaning on Pakistan; and, believe it or not, the notion, hatched somewhere in the State Department, that the Saudis, amply supplied with cutting-edge weaponry from the US, might want to take on Iran.
Think again, Pilgrim.
The Saudis, WikiLeaks reveals, don’t want more weapons–they really want the United States to stay and stand tall (Gary Cooper, High Noon) even while they sympathize with other middle eastern states about American imperialism and jawbone with NATO about US exceptionalism.
And then, of course, there’s Pakistan, another real bad boy of narco-nuclear states. Leslie Gelb (Council on Foreign Relations) says Pakistan is the “greatest threat to world peace, highly unstable, haven for countless extremist groups, with 100 nuclear weapons–a country with 180 million people that can’t govern itself…”
“We can’t fix it [Pakistan],” finishes Gelb. “What are we going to do?”
It’s a rhetorical question, of course, and Gelb races to answer it: “Ask THEM what we can do…”
Palistan, John Kerry, and Osama bin Laden
WikiLeaks suggests another scenario, reporting that US Officials believe Pakistan’s ISI has been aiding the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan for years, cooperating in suicide attacks, and maintaining bonds with Taliban leaders Pakistan knows will take back power when the US and NATO pulls out.
The US, however, has assured Pakistan that we won’t be pulling our money out with our troops, so the current plan might well be code named “Keep Showing Them the Money”–tens of billions per year.
What will that buy? No one in the US government really seems to know, and Senator John Kerry suggests it’s time to review our policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Good thinking.
Pakistan has already let us know that our money can’t buy their love, only maybe, if we’re on time and looking good, a place on the dance card. Given that Pakistan is as fickle as it is dangerous, that may not be enough, but it is all the US has.
According to WikiLeaks, Hillary Clinton believes Osama bin Laden in hiding in Pakistan’s tribal regions–again, not new news, but an important clue to understanding what Pakistan is really all about. If bin Laden is still alive and still well in Pakistan, it’s because he knows it’s the safest place in the world for him to be.
You don’t need a WikiLeak to know the way this wind blows.
The revelations flowing from Assange’s organization offer us more than repackaged facts, however. They tell us what we already feared–that foreign policy is as much luck as it is knowledge and skill, and that US negotiators, lacking clear direction, are opting for slow moves, small moves, and sometimes no moves at all.
It’s our job, I guess, to figure out whether this is the good news or the bad news.
Yes, WikiLeaks may have damaged our confidence in our government leaders, shown them with their pants down and thinking caps off, but the next time they tell us “We’re just like you,” we will at least know that much is true.