Commentary Magazine


Topic: Julian Assange

Missed Opportunity in Assange Bail Request

As London’s Independent reports, Julian Assange was refused bail, despite this offer by some devoted fans:

Jemima Khan, the sister of Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, film director Ken Loach and veteran journalist John Pilger all offered to stand as surety for Assange.

We understand the judge’s concerns that if Assange were released on bail, he might disappear again. Still, the risk was far outweighed by the benefit of having Khan, Loach, and Pilger behind bars.

Clearly, a missed opportunity!

As London’s Independent reports, Julian Assange was refused bail, despite this offer by some devoted fans:

Jemima Khan, the sister of Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, film director Ken Loach and veteran journalist John Pilger all offered to stand as surety for Assange.

We understand the judge’s concerns that if Assange were released on bail, he might disappear again. Still, the risk was far outweighed by the benefit of having Khan, Loach, and Pilger behind bars.

Clearly, a missed opportunity!

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Assange Now Blackmailing the U.S. Government

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

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Who Decides What’s News in the Age of WikiLeaks?

Max Boot recently noted on CONTENTIONS that the New York Times’s decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents was a stark contrast to how newspapers handled leaks in the first half of the 20th century. “There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second,” he wrote. “There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press.”

But I wonder, in the age of WikiLeaks, if the media still have the ability to take such a noble stance. Leakers who wanted to wreak havoc on our national security used to need reporters to play along. And there were practicalities — like ethical ramifications and not wanting to anger sources or readers — that prompted journalists to be cautious about what they published.

Foreign, ideologically driven rogues like Julian Assange obviously have no such obstacles. Assange’s sources of information are anti-American criminals with minds as twisted as his own, and his readers’ sensibilities clearly have no sway over his editorial decisions. Unburdened by any ethical code, and endowed with the limitless platform of the Internet, WikiLeaks has practically taken the journalists out of the equation. It acts as both the leaker and the reporter.

Which is why, if major platforms like the New York Times had refused to write about WikiLeaks, the story probably wouldn’t have quieted down. Because of the enormous influence of online media outlets, there hasn’t been a single arbiter of what constitutes news in years. Thousands of blogs and online publications eagerly jumped to report on the military documents as soon as they were posted on WikiLeaks. Network anchors read the cables on the air, Twitter was inundated with “cablegate” hashtags, and State Department officials held televised press conferences to discuss the crisis.

WikiLeaks is the root of the problem here, not the news outlets that covered its data dump. Even if the media refused to report the story, it wouldn’t have made a difference. All the wrong people would still be reading the unadulterated cables directly from Assange’s website.

Max Boot recently noted on CONTENTIONS that the New York Times’s decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents was a stark contrast to how newspapers handled leaks in the first half of the 20th century. “There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second,” he wrote. “There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press.”

But I wonder, in the age of WikiLeaks, if the media still have the ability to take such a noble stance. Leakers who wanted to wreak havoc on our national security used to need reporters to play along. And there were practicalities — like ethical ramifications and not wanting to anger sources or readers — that prompted journalists to be cautious about what they published.

Foreign, ideologically driven rogues like Julian Assange obviously have no such obstacles. Assange’s sources of information are anti-American criminals with minds as twisted as his own, and his readers’ sensibilities clearly have no sway over his editorial decisions. Unburdened by any ethical code, and endowed with the limitless platform of the Internet, WikiLeaks has practically taken the journalists out of the equation. It acts as both the leaker and the reporter.

Which is why, if major platforms like the New York Times had refused to write about WikiLeaks, the story probably wouldn’t have quieted down. Because of the enormous influence of online media outlets, there hasn’t been a single arbiter of what constitutes news in years. Thousands of blogs and online publications eagerly jumped to report on the military documents as soon as they were posted on WikiLeaks. Network anchors read the cables on the air, Twitter was inundated with “cablegate” hashtags, and State Department officials held televised press conferences to discuss the crisis.

WikiLeaks is the root of the problem here, not the news outlets that covered its data dump. Even if the media refused to report the story, it wouldn’t have made a difference. All the wrong people would still be reading the unadulterated cables directly from Assange’s website.

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More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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WikiLeaks: Nihilism in the Guise of Transparency

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

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David Brooks’s Unconvincing Defense of His Employer

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.

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When Will Liberals Acknowledge What the Arab World Already Knows?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

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The New York Times Hearts WikiLeaks, Again

Once again the New York Times and other mainstream-media organs are lending their credibility and circulation — what they have left of it, anyway — to the massively irresponsible publication of secret U.S. military documents by an organization run by Julian Assange — an accused rapist, convicted hacker, and (by the Times‘s own account) all-around creep.

As with the previous data dump relating to the Afghan War, the documents about the Iraq War don’t tell us much that we didn’t already know in broad outline. While they may well compromise “sources and methods,” to use the intelligence terminology, they are hardly a revelation to anyone who has been paying attention.

Today’s headlines, for example, are about the deaths of Iraqi civilians caused mainly by other Iraqis but also, in some instances, by U.S. forces. Civilians dying in war: hardly a shocker. One of the few things that made me raise an eyebrow while reading the voluminous accounts this morning was this off-hand observation offered by Times reporters Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Lehren in their first-page story:

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

How many bogus premises can you pack into a sentence? Start with the claim that killings of civilians were “a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country.” What evidence do Tavernise and Lehren have for this assertion, I wonder? My analysis, as someone who has been traveling to Iraq since 2003 and has followed the war closely, is that Iraqis turned against the American presence — to the extent that they did — primarily because U.S. troops did not do a better job of imposing law and order. The mainly accidental deaths caused by U.S. forces were, at most, a small contributing factor both to the tide of violence enveloping Iraq and to the disenchantment of the Iraqi people with the state of their country after Saddam Hussein’s downfall. The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths were caused by Sunni and Shiite terrorists, as most Iraqis know perfectly well. The U.S. failure to check their excesses led to a souring of Iraqi opinion regarding the American troop presence but as soon as the U.S. reestablished order during the 2007-2008 “surge,” confidence in the U.S. military has soared. Ordinary Iraqis now trust U.S. forces more than their own — and for good reason, given some of the gruesome behavior attributed to Iraqi forces in the leaked documents.

Now we come to the second part of that sentence: the claim that this situation (which, as I pointed out, didn’t actually exist in Iraq) “is now being repeated in Afghanistan.” Have Tavernise and Lehren missed entirely the past year and a half of reporting out of Afghanistan by their own newspaper and many others? If they had been paying attention, they would know that Gen. Stanley McChrystal put a high priority on limiting civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces — even at the cost of sometimes exposing U.S. troops to greater risk. He succeeded in reducing civilian deaths precisely in order to not alienate the population. His directives on the careful use of force have largely been continued by Gen. Petraeus, who has been able to ramp up kinetic operations without causing a big spike in civilian casualties.

It’s rather ironic that in chronicling documents that are supposed to expand our knowledge about the Iraq War, Tavernise and Lehren actually detract from any public understanding of this vital subject.

Once again the New York Times and other mainstream-media organs are lending their credibility and circulation — what they have left of it, anyway — to the massively irresponsible publication of secret U.S. military documents by an organization run by Julian Assange — an accused rapist, convicted hacker, and (by the Times‘s own account) all-around creep.

As with the previous data dump relating to the Afghan War, the documents about the Iraq War don’t tell us much that we didn’t already know in broad outline. While they may well compromise “sources and methods,” to use the intelligence terminology, they are hardly a revelation to anyone who has been paying attention.

Today’s headlines, for example, are about the deaths of Iraqi civilians caused mainly by other Iraqis but also, in some instances, by U.S. forces. Civilians dying in war: hardly a shocker. One of the few things that made me raise an eyebrow while reading the voluminous accounts this morning was this off-hand observation offered by Times reporters Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Lehren in their first-page story:

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

How many bogus premises can you pack into a sentence? Start with the claim that killings of civilians were “a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country.” What evidence do Tavernise and Lehren have for this assertion, I wonder? My analysis, as someone who has been traveling to Iraq since 2003 and has followed the war closely, is that Iraqis turned against the American presence — to the extent that they did — primarily because U.S. troops did not do a better job of imposing law and order. The mainly accidental deaths caused by U.S. forces were, at most, a small contributing factor both to the tide of violence enveloping Iraq and to the disenchantment of the Iraqi people with the state of their country after Saddam Hussein’s downfall. The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths were caused by Sunni and Shiite terrorists, as most Iraqis know perfectly well. The U.S. failure to check their excesses led to a souring of Iraqi opinion regarding the American troop presence but as soon as the U.S. reestablished order during the 2007-2008 “surge,” confidence in the U.S. military has soared. Ordinary Iraqis now trust U.S. forces more than their own — and for good reason, given some of the gruesome behavior attributed to Iraqi forces in the leaked documents.

Now we come to the second part of that sentence: the claim that this situation (which, as I pointed out, didn’t actually exist in Iraq) “is now being repeated in Afghanistan.” Have Tavernise and Lehren missed entirely the past year and a half of reporting out of Afghanistan by their own newspaper and many others? If they had been paying attention, they would know that Gen. Stanley McChrystal put a high priority on limiting civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces — even at the cost of sometimes exposing U.S. troops to greater risk. He succeeded in reducing civilian deaths precisely in order to not alienate the population. His directives on the careful use of force have largely been continued by Gen. Petraeus, who has been able to ramp up kinetic operations without causing a big spike in civilian casualties.

It’s rather ironic that in chronicling documents that are supposed to expand our knowledge about the Iraq War, Tavernise and Lehren actually detract from any public understanding of this vital subject.

Read Less




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