Uncle Sam, by Moriza
Clay Shirky has a very interesting take on what America’s reaction to WikiLeaks says about America. Money quote: “The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.” America has set a lot bad examples after 9/11. This is another one of them.
One of the saddest things about America’s downfall as an empire is that they actually were a nice empire, as empires went. You could say that America doesn’t torture, has a free press, has a healthy democracy, and does better for it economically. After George W. Bush, this all changed. First he was elected by a random Supreme Court decision while losing the popular vote by almost a million. Effectively, 500 votes in Florida changed the fate of the world. Then 9/11 happened on his watch and he both cultivated and rode an unhealthy reaction that has ripped America apart, especially its reputation. Now when you think of American foreign policy you think of torture, war, and now hypocrisy. Worst of all, they seem to have sold their soul and gotten nothing but debt. Obama is admittedly a bit of fresh air, but George W. Bush effectively was the ugly American for eight years. That may have tipped the balance.
One can only imagine what would have happened if Al Gore had won. With institutional health and a top-brass not obsessed with Iraq, 9/11 might not have happened. The economy would probably not have been so short-sightedly deregulated, precipitating the crash, and the environment and alternate energy research would certainly be better off. But that moment has passed. Instead, it seems more and more that Bin Laden knocked the US over. He symbolically hit their economic center, and ten years later the economy has fallen and the military is bogged down in Afghanistan. This is America’s doing more than Bin Laden’s, but it’s still a lucky bit of jujitsu. Bin Laden is still alive, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are out of power and probably nearly as globally reviled as him.
But I digress. Since WikiLeaks.org has been effectively shut down by US politicians directly threatening Amazon and all manner of high and mighties indirectly threatening web hosts and payment portals, they are going around their laws to stamp out stuff they don’t like. This type of behavior is amply documented in the cables themselves, including instances in Spain and Germany where they try to prevent justice for people that the US abducted and tortured under false and illegal circumstance. The defense even from the US media has been that revealing these secrets hurts America without looking at how the actual behavior hurts America, and how their response perpetuates it. It may work for a national audience that cares about treason more than reason, but it doesn’t work in terms of foreign relations. Like in 9/11, the US is betrayed by its own reactions. I don’t think that this is the nature of America, but this shows more than anything weakness as an empire, which is precisely what they can’t afford to show.
The issue is not even that they torture, ban and kill. It’s that they do this to their own detriment. It’s one thing to be an evil empire. That’s actually sustainable. It’s another thing to be good hearted and dumb.