Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Leaks & Liabilities

     I'm fascinated by the huge brouhaha over the WikiLeaks revelations and the issues they raise. I'm not at all surprised at the embarrassment that has been generated for the US government, but I'm taken aback at the extent of the anger and treats being directed at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

     I suspect that there is some damage to US foreign relations that will result from these and future leaks. And it is also unfortunately likely that some lives have been put at risk. But overall, I stand in support of Assange and his actions. I have no doubt that there is a legitimate value to secrecy, to the ages old and authentically human tendency to couch our truths in relativistic terms depending on our audience. And manipulation - that is, trying to get others to do what's good for us by convincing them it's good for them - is not only a staple of politics and diplomacy, but of friendships and marriages and of every other level of interpersonal relationship.

     So, as many have pointed out, the details of the manipulations perpetrated by the US government - one of my governments, by the way - are not really much of a surprise. Which doesn't mean that they aren't an embarrassment. But how should one react to embarrassment?

     My own support of the revelations is mostly based on my desire that the US government move in the direction of becoming a more just and even-handed government. It doesn't surprise, but it continues to disappoint me, that the most powerful government on earth feels the need to support repressive regimes, to suppress democratic movements, and to otherwise act in ways that betray the values on which our democracy is based. So when revelations expose these positions, they reveal a short-sightedness and a moral blindness that I'd like to see abolished from American foreign policy. To my mind, my homeland has been passing up an historic opportunity over the last decades. that is the opportunity, as the unchallenged Strongman of world politics, to create a different political culture, to produce a shift in the rules by which politics is carried out.

     In the late 1970's, Jimmy Carter attempted to bring about a moral American foreign policy. His attempt ended not only in failure, but in ridicule. When he insisted that the US would ally itself only with regimes that were democratic and that met certain standards of humanitarian conduct, he was seen as a leader who didn't understand the realities. And given that the realities of the time included the Cold War with the Soviet Bloc, and a global struggle to win over the non-aligned nations, there is some truth to the critique.

     But in these very different times, with tremendous advances in technology, such as those behind WikiLeaks, a powerful new weapon in the arsenals of democratic movements, shouldn't Carter's standards be up for reconsideration? I approve of the actions of Assange because they serve to tear away the veils of hypocrisy behind which the US government too often hides. I understand the embarrassment. Corrections, apologies, personnel changes and other adjustments will be in order following these leaks and the ones that are sure to follow. But if there's a problem, is it really Assange? All he has done is reveal some unpleasant truths, some indefensable double-speak, some corrupt alliances, and some frank and honest statements that have been whispered behind closed doors. If there is fault in the availability of these documents, then the US government has work to do in improving some of its security protocols. The answer does not lie is persecuting or prosecuting Assange.

     I hope that the administration of President Obama - a leader of whom I do hold some expectations of integrity - will take a broader view of the issues raised by the WikiLeaks affair. I hope that he will use this opportunity to bring more transparency into the conduct of foreign policy. And, to go even further, I hope that he will take the opportunity to raise our foreign policy to a place of integrity and principle, so that the US can truly become what it has always proclaimed itself to be - not just a regime that caters to the appetites and the securities of Americans, but a champion of liberty for the peoples of the entire world.

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