Sometimes, I have my own embarrassing leaks
US diplomacy has always been at odds with its stated values. This was always an unknown known, but with WikiLeaks it’s become a known known. So what? The argument is that countries will not have (internally) candid diplomacy anymore. To Julian Assange, this is OK because a nation that communicates less can do less, thus essentially starving the beast. To people from that country (or supporters of) who do want to further that country’s interests, this is somewhat unacceptable. The question is something broader, I think. Without hypocrisy, will there be chaos? Will it all become a naked lunch?
In his review of a book on diplomacy and duality, Stuart Reid says “the endangered status of the international lie represents a victory for American values like democratic representation, open government, and free speech. But for American interests, it may count as a loss.”
Indeed, any life – of man or nation – is full of little lies that keep the social fabric going. I know about some peoples affairs, and yet I don’t post about them on Facebook. I have had my own dalliances and I would appreciate the discretion of all those who knew. I have done things at odds with the moral stands I take here or in public, and I suppose I am a bit of a hypocrite. Yet, I am a person stumbling to try and do the right thing and a little bit of hypocritical leeway gives me the ability to both improve myself and to sustain a social projection of morality and order that may support and encourage others.
On an international level, the US is obviously not going around encouraging democracies willy nilly, but the idea that they are at least gives some hope, and it’s a noble thing to aspire to. They did not begin with freedom for all as written in their Constitution, but if they’d simply written, ‘freedom for all rich white people’ they might not have gotten up that hill in due time. Hypocrisy in this sense, is thinking and saying better than you do, which is essentially the human condition and how we improve ourselves.
When it comes out that the US is in fact furthering its own interests (more than anything else) it sorta takes the moral fabric out of the universe and makes it just another rug. While being true, this is not necessarily good. In a social context, the two are not synonymous.
However, the argument Assange makes is that foreign policy – coming under the purview of the President – has enabled a dictatorial and dickish side to the US that the relative openness and checks and balances of its domestic politics does not allow. That is, the Commander In Chief can declare and prosecute wars, fund black departments in the defense sector and generally dress up in flight suits and get people killed without too much transparency or interference. To one level, the US judiciary, legislature and media simply don’t go abroad that much and they all support the US against other countries when the shit hits the fan.
Stuart cites an analogy of two games, one domestic and one international. “The game becomes much easier if foreign policy decisions are obscured from the domestic audience.” This is also possible because the domestic audience is not the one getting bombed, they don’t know who is getting bombed, and they don’t much care. To the degree they do care, it is fun and politically positive. This duplicity is possible because of information asymmetries. Or was.
“Leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to send one message to foreign powers while telling their own people something else. Advances in communications technology and democratic representation have steadily accelerated the free flow of information and tied the hands of governments hoping to dam it.”
Which is where WikiLeaks comes in. One of the common arguments against WikiLeaks is that it is treasonous, or that it goes against the greater good that the people in the State Department are trying to do, or that reality of liberal democracy that the US is. Which is, like, yeah, if Assange or WikiLeaks was an American organization that would be a somewhat socially dickish thing to do. Which is why organizations like even the New York Times don’t actually push their government that hard on foreign policy. Because they are American. But WikiLeaks isn’t American.
They aren’t anything really, if they have a creed it’s probably more the 2600 hacker ethic than anything. They basically say that they open governments. The argument is that WikiLeaks will kill the power of governments to deliberate or conduct diplomacy, but that is kinda happening anyways. I mean, Facebook is doing that to the lives of ordinary people. We want the benefits of technology but with the social constraints that came with old media, but it doesn’t happen that way.
For a while the US had the luxury of conducting a foreign policy where the constituency was domestic, and largely ignorant, and generally not caring. Now, however, in this increasingly globalized space, the people that the US Embassy messes with (benevolent or not) are sorta happy that they have a say, and a say that they don’t have to get through the western media (though that media is robust enough that it seems to work out that way anyways). Which is why WikiLeaks comes of as heroic to many across the world. Is what they’re doing good for any government’s interests? Not really. But it is good for the interested. That is, for people that are affected by the machinations of nation states and who really have no other power but their ability to know.
Domestic constituencies simply don’t have that much power over foreign affairs, and yet they affect a lot of our lives. They are sold to us based on values, but values which we know our governments don’t really possess. In the case of the US, the argument is that it’s OK to subvert these values for the greater good and, essentially, trust us to decide when that is. But the thing is, I would actually like to live in a world where those values are real and not just a wink and a nod around the corner. So, the idea of getting the duplicity of diplomacy out into the open is, for someone young and not too invested in any nation state, not a bad thing.