Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, photo by New Media Days
The Wikileaks Cablegate drama is, on the face of it, interesting because of tidbits like “Qadhafi relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a “voluptuous blonde.” What is more interesting is this observation by Issandr El Amrani: “listening to US politicians on the radio says that Wikileaks “is not being patriotic” betrays a complete misunderstanding of what’s at stake here, and an assumption that foreigners should be patriotic to the US. They don’t: they’re not American. The disconnect here is between an American perception of the US as world leader and non-American rejection of this, probably in good part to a loss in moral authority in the last decade.”
The bigger story here is how much the US has fallen under George W. Bush and how long that damage will take to repair, if it can be repaired at all. Wikileaks is run by an Australian and based essentially nowhere. Appealing to their patriotism is probably besides the point. The leaker was America, and there may be a point there, but that doesn’t really put the cat back in the bag. The bigger issue is that America was able to seem, for a while, like a benevolent superpower with occasional tragic mistakes. They also had the money to back themselves up. Under George W. Bush, however, the country became positively malevolent internationally and, largely through bad policy, also (relatively) impoverished. The difficult issue for the US in fighting back these leaks is that – while the leak itself may be bad – America’s actions still look worse.
Their logic for dialing back these leaks works on a local level in the same way that the White Flag story works in Sri Lanka. These are our secrets and we keep them to protect our country. Which is fine, except other countries don’t care. Conspiratorial logic doesn’t work externally. These leaks are a global story and they mess with pretty much everybody, while not revealing to much that people didn’t already know. Yes, Arab leaders are two faced and like whiskey. Yes, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan is widely considered a douchebag. What these leaks do is put all of that out in the option.
It also remains, that while this information may cause diplomatic turbulence, it’s not like these diplomatic actions weren’t also covering up greater turbulence that deeply affective lives more than reputations. The last Wikileaks dump detailed cases of over 100,000 deaths in Iraq, far worse than the recently condemned fighting in Sri Lanka. For a while the US was able to maintain moral high ground through the ‘patriotism’ and inherent bias of their media, and through a measure of trust from the rest of the world. Trust that the US wasn’t led by torturing, warlike, irresponsible idiots, even though the policy sometimes came out that way. With the Internet, however, that hold on media was weakened and with George W. Bush, that perception that the head wasn’t rotten was dispelled.
So now the US is getting, effectively, the same moral scrutiny they want the rest of the world to be under, and it seems to hurt. While I have sympathy for the US and think that under Obama they really are making change, they still did a lot of bad things under Bush, and re-elected him, so if that stuff comes out, my opprobrium isn’t really on the leaker. Once you lose the moral high ground you will end up, inevitably, in the dirt.