The release of hundreds of thousands of State Department documents by WikiLeaks, many of which were reported this weekend by the New York Times and other newspapers around the world, is a humiliation for the United States. But it need not be a catastrophe.
While the leaked documents reveal some highly undiplomatic lip-flapping on the part of U.S. emissaries, I don’t think it will harm our relations with other nations as much as some people fear, for two reasons. First, other nations’ leaders will probably see this as a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I moment; their diplomatic corps most likely make assessments of one another — including ours — that are at least as frank as the ones now being aired publicly. (Although they will surely instruct their ambassadors and staff not to put such thoughts in electronic documents — something one would have hoped had been common practice before now for our own State Department.)
The second reason, related to the first, is that there was no apparent reason for the leaks besides our sheer humiliation, and no reason for our allies, at least, to believe they will remain immune from similar treatment in the future. As our State Department and the Obama administration work to limit the damage from the leaks, this is a point they will probably try to make.
There will of course be some bitterness among some parties. But as heads and tempers cool, I suspect the real perceived enemy here will not be us but the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
Assange has been described as a neo-anarchist and an enemy of the United States, and both are true on the evidence. His false moral crusade is not an effort to replace American might with something else, just to tear it down. In a just world, it is Assange, not Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner, who would provide inspiration for a James Bond villain.
Those who tut-tut approvingly about a “democracy [that] purports to be ‘world policeman’ “ being brought down a peg ignore the fact that we have fallen into this role in large part due to the abdication by numerous other Western nations of their own security responsibilities. If our capacity is weakened, the result will be a vacuum of responsibility, not a shift. That is well understood in other capitals, which is another reason I suspect the fallout from this episode will be more muted than one might expect.
That’s not to say there shouldn’t be consequences.
The leak itself is the embarrassment here, and the Obama administration should re-double, re-triple, re-quadruple its efforts to tighten up this obviously gaping hole in our national security. Some people, including Assange himself, seem intent on casting this as being particularly embarrassing and hypocritical for President Obama, who promised “smart power” and a return to respect for America abroad. To be sure, it isn’t very smart to produce and store hackable documents with such unflattering commentary, but neither that practice nor our apparent electronic vulnerability began Jan. 20, 2009 — or Jan. 20, 2001, for that matter.
Along those lines, one useful result of Assange’s idiocy is that it shoots a very large hole through the notion, popular on the left here and abroad, that anti-Americanism was novel or exclusive to the Bush era. People who hate America hate us no matter who the president is. To think otherwise is naive or willfully ignorant.
Beyond that, the leaker(s) of these documents — an American soldier, Bradley Manning, is again suspected as the source — should be prosecuted for treason and, if found guilty, executed. Assange and his cohorts should be charged as co-conspirators, and our allies urged in the strongest way possible to cooperate with their arrest. They, too, should face the most severe punishments that our justice system affords for their crimes.
See, that’s the problem for these dirtbags’ efforts to expose the U.S. government as a bunch of hypocrites. What now is Washington’s motivation for not proving them right — by pursuing them mercilessly until the end?