How dare they reveal these vital, yet completely trivial documents?

There's a special place in hell reserved for people who pretend that the Wikileaks cablegate-situation is somehow uninteresting, that there's nothing new in it, that everybody who follows the news knows these things. This is often paradoxically coupled to the idea that Julian Assange should be killed and that Wikileaks should be shut down, have their assets frozen, put on the terrorist watch list or bombed, possibly all at the same time. (An attitude excellently summed up in this cartoon.)

While a lot of the Wikileaks info has been conjectured already, the fact is that Wikileaks gives us hard evidence of many of these things for the first time. A large number of speculative suggestions have moved into the domain of fact. That's simply incontrovertible. The three last Wikileaks give us a systematic understanding of the workings, actions and sensory apparatus of American empire.

But more to the point, there's tons of new and interesting information. If you really think that there's nothing interesting about this, you're quite simply not understanding what just happened. Or, more likely, being unusually and purposefully obtuse. There's a great comment in The Economist's Democracy in America-blog which is worth reading in its entirety. Here's a quote:

Greg Mitchell's catalogue of reactions to the leaked cables is a trove of substantive information. For example, drawing on the documents made available by WikiLeaks, the ACLU reports that the Bush administration "pressured Germany not to prosecute CIA officers responsible for the kidnapping, extraordinary rendition and torture of German national Khaled El-Masri", a terrorism suspect dumped in Albania once the CIA determined it had nabbed a nobody. I consider kidnapping and torture serious crimes, and I think it's interesting indeed if the United States government applied pressure to foreign governments to ensure complicity in the cover-up of it agents' abuses. In any case, I don't consider this gossip.

But that's really just the beginning. Spying on the UN leadership and Ban Ki-Moon? Funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to transparently corrupt Afghan leaders? Projecting imperial power through Pakistan in the most volatile and nuclear-enabled region in the world? Secretly bombing non-combatants in Yemen? These things are not okay. Has the world become so desensitised to American unilateralism that these completely flagrant violations of international law and standards of good international relations that these things can just breeze on through with a shrug and an oh-whatever?

I'm hoping that the Wikileaks revelations will eventually prove to change our relationship to the US. There's been an unbelievable naivety about Euro-US relations for decades, also here in Norway. Hopefully this will mean that we can finally have some realism about what the United States are and what they do when they act in the world.

Update: Two other interesting comments I've seen on this. The first is a short blog post by The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, who writes about the weirdness of the focus on Assange:

(...) but would arresting Assange really put an end to Wikileaks or something like it? The point, surely, is that Assange is to Wikileaks as bin Laden is to al Qaeda or Mark Zuckerberg is to Facebook.

The "culprit" is the Internet, and how it facilitates asymmetrical power and transparency and removes any individual's responsibility for that transparency and asymmetry. No single editor or newspaper editor had to take the hit for this. No one could stop it. Even if every MSM outlet refused to publish these, the blogosphere would soon swarm over downloads which could be shifted from server to server.
Sullivan is spot on. The ability to keep massive secrets is starting to have higher and higher transaction costs. And massive secrets will necessarily become more and more expensive and short-lived.

The second thing is something buried in this short comment by Matt Yglesias of ThinkProgress:
For the third time in a row, a WikiLeaks document dump has conclusively demonstrated that an awful lot of US government confidentiality is basically about nothing. There’s no scandal here and there’s no legitimate state secret. It’s just routine for the work done by public servants and public expense in the name of the public to be kept semi-hidden from the public for decades.
Obviously I completely disagree about this not being a scandal. But I think Yglesias is absolutely right about the hollowness of the secret parts of the state. The revelations, when they come, are always less threatening or immediate than we think. Outside threats are still a means of dousing political opposition across the industrialised world.

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Blogger Mikkel said...

I'm interested to know how you feel these revelations (and the way the US have dealt with the leaks) reflect on the presidency of Barack Obama? I seem to remember you endorsing his candidacy here on this blog.

December 14, 2010 10:25 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

You keep saying that like it means something. As I think I've told you repeatedly, I said I preferred Obama over all other candidates, not that he was my preferred top choice for US president of everyone in the world. But he was without a doubt the best the USA could do at the time. That just turned out to be worse than I thought it could be. He's turned out to be a much less liberal, much less radical and much less effective president, refusing to attempt to push through the policy agenda he was advocating in his campaign. So yes, his presidency grows increasingly disappointing, despite improvements in a number of policy areas over Bush.

December 16, 2010 4:54 pm  

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