The Unintended Humor in Wikileaks Criticism

Sheldon Richman, in the Christian Science Monitor (“Bradley Manning isn’t a Criminal; He’s a Hero,” Nov. 29),  raises the issue of the American public’s right to know about government operations overseas for which they “could suffer retaliation.” Excellent point.

Glenn Greenwald notes (Salon, Nov. 29) that the same people who casually dismiss innocent casualties like Afghan wedding parties as “unfortunate and unavoidable collateral damage” are also the first to shriek that Manning and Assange have “blood on their hands” (you know, like what they so presciently warned would result from previous leaks), and call for treating them as terrorists if even one person dies as an indirect result of their leaks.

I suppose for such people the number of Americans who get killed as a result of blowback from peace-loving American foreign policy is also unavoidable collateral damage. But oddly enough, they’re not as tolerant when it comes to the lives allegedly endangered as collateral damage from letting the American people know what “their” government is doing. And oddly enough, Congressman Peter King isn’t demanding the U.S. government be classified as a terrorist organization for launching a war that will (to borrow a phrase) “put countless innocent lives at risk.”

Apparently the goals and interests of the allegedly sovereign people aren’t worth as much collateral damage as those of their “public servants.”

Former Clinton Administration official Jamie Rubin, a certified Serious, Responsible Thinker, has hit the talking head circuit arguing that Wikileaks has no principled standard for determining what to leak. The stuff in the latest release, he says, isn’t like the Pentagon Papers — involving the wisdom of the highest levels of policy — but rather interferes with government’s ability to maintain the secrecy needed for carrying out the operational details of any policy. The cable leaks impede the government’s ability to “promote the security interests of the American people.”

I think, rather, that Rubin lacks any coherent standard for distinguishing the “important” stuff from the “operational” stuff. That the U.S. government is using the government of Yemen as an imperial proxy, to provide political cover for conducting drone strikes that are wildly unpopular with the people of a region in which the U.S. is supposedly trying to promote “democracy,” goes to the fundamental character of policy. Not only the American people but the people of states like Saudi Arabia have a right to know when “their” governments are egging each other on to launch a war that could result in regional chaos and $500/barrel oil.

Here’s my nomination for this year’s Orwell Award, from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

“… [S]uch disclosures put at ris k… people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who … live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies.”

So by informing the people of oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Yemen about the dirty things their governments do in collusion with the U.S., Wikileaks undermines efforts by the U.S. government to — ahem! — promote democracy, open government, and open and free societies in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Rubin’s real mistake, as a certified Serious Thinker (what sociologist C. Wright Mills called a “crackpot realist”) is believing the U.S. government is a force for good, pursuing something that can legitimately be called the “security interests of the American people.”

The truth is, governments are evil. A government’s foreign policy serves the primary purpose of promoting, not some disinterested “security interests of the people,” but a domestic system of power. American foreign policy serves the coalition of corporate interests that controls the state. Saudi foreign policy serves the interests of the House of Saud, the oil industry and other economic interests attached to it. Yemeni foreign policy is governed by similar considerations of class.  Relations between governments are relations between so many crime families that have divided up the world.

In arguing that Wikileaks should not impede the ability of government to “promote the interests of the American people,” what Rubin really means is that the American government should be free to promote the interests of the corporate ruling class, to act in collusion with similarly criminal governments around the world in promoting their joint interests at the expense of the ruled, without any interference from the “sovereign” peoples they allegedly represent. The sovereign peoples’ role is to participate in a spectator election every few years to choose between competing wings of the same establishment with almost identical agendas, then sit down, shut up and supply blood and treasure to the Serious Thinkers who rule by the grace of God.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory