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article imageOp-Ed: Julian Assange and Wikileaks — What is lost, what is gained

By Frank Kaufmann     Dec 4, 2010 in World
New York - On November 28, 2010, Julian Assange, editor in chief of Wikileaks (founded 2006) released 251,287 US diplomatic cables including many labeled classified or secret.
This is an important matter with serious ramifications, not to be ignored nor taken lightly. There is much at stake.
Who is affected?
The primary players whose actions now stand trial as a result of the document dump are the United States, whose diplomats suddenly find themselves as naked as passengers at a US airport, and the established media, who surely soon will drag us into their next angst-ridden ceremony of self-examination, trying yet again to find their own rights and wrongs.
In an important sense, the third community on trial will be all countries, both major powers and small countries, who dodged the bullet this time. By grace they were spared for now from the likes of a Mr. Assange, and were not exposed. How they behave vis a vis the US and their diplomatic counterparts will be important.
US diplomats stand trial for their foibles, their faux pas, their candor, and their arrogance. But to revel and delight in this, and to wag a soiled finger in 'there-theres' during America's embarrassing moment is short-sighted, ill-advised, and plain wrong.
Is there a soul alive who could withstand having all our most private utterances exposed? Who among us would pass muster if everything we've ever uttered, even about family and friends were exposed to enemies, those jealous of us and wish us ill, and a gang of just plain lascivious, prurient gossips?
Yes, allies, and even opponents and naysayers are hurt by the inevitable revelations of disrespect and suspicion coming to light from Mr. Assange's dump. But now is not the time to pile on, to moralize, lecture, and berate the US. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.
What is learned?
There is nothing new or to be learned that such communications are the fabric of international, political relations dominated as they are by unvarnished, national self interest? Are there people around who actually believe that global, political affairs are characterized by pure, innocent, upright and forthright, open, sincere relations? Everyone already knows national self interest and the surreptitious behavior of governments looks ugly. No one should pretend otherwise. All nations, including Putin's Russia should exercise restraint, stay quiet, sympathetic, and thank the good lord above that for the time being, their own diplomatic secrets have not been put on display by sneaky children like Mr. Assange and his accomplices.
The real sin and the real crime of the US is not the embarrassing and at times geopolitically harmful content of the leaks. It is rather the ineptitude and outright failure to secure sensitive material. If friends and foes are in the mood to lecture the United States, it need not be in the shallow pretense of shock that diplomacy is as everyone already knows it is, but rather it should be for what should evoke genuine anger, namely that the US has proven so lax, disordered, and inept in its capacity to protect sensitive materials. For those who can't resist the chance to beat a man while down, and can't resist the chance to gloat, beat and gloat at least not in a chimera of bogus righteousness. The lecture at his hour is over security, not over the fact that diplomats act like diplomats, and that international relations extend the ugliness of national self-interest. On the matter of security, Paul Kennedy of the Times of London recommends:
The best way to head off this damage would be to instruct all ambassadors to send confidential reports to the State Department by the sealed “diplomatic bag”, and handwritten at that, so that there can be only a single copy. Let’s get back to scribbling. Electronic stuff is unsafe. It has been since about 1940.
Is Assange a hero?
And what of Assange? Is he a hero? A messiah? A harbinger of a new world of openness, honesty, and freedom? Of course not. The sure and guaranteed outcome of his behavior will be just the opposite. Will this dump help a single everyman who is affected and oppressed by the closedness of systems and structures in which we try to carry out our daily lives? No, not in the least. In fact Assange has just made matters worse in this regard.
We all know our very own Assanges. We meet him everywhere all the time. He is in the office, the health club, and even at the Thanksgiving table. There he sits, plainly not to be trusted, obviously up to something, clever, bright, smug, and dissatisfied. He hates dad, or the boss, or the company. He brings out the best in no one. Mr. Assange has been around us all our life. While the world has always been full of its clever sneaks, in this age of Google (3 billion searches a day), Twitter (50 million accounts), and Facebook (500 million members), Assanges will look like the one we see now. Whispers, sneakiness, cleverness and self-imagined heroism of discontent, in our time looks like Wikileaks. While Mr. Assange hides and speaks through British lawyers, the individual who actually got the information presently sits in jail facing a 52 year prison term.
What is the impact of the dump?
It is a gift to journalists who will have "news" stories for a while without the bother of having to go out and look for them. It is a temporary embarrassment to the United States. It is an important wake up call about security and sensitive materials. Perhaps the US government will re-orient itself toward genuine and meaningful security and away from scanning naked images of grandma and Amy from the Iowa children's choir.
We might see a faint and fleeting spike in integrity, care, respect, and humility from the US diplomatic corps, but this will be short lived. Nothing substantive has been done to help redefine the quality of international relations. We will see far less effort toward more elevated international relations, and even greater intensity in the already astronomic habit of diplomats to protect careers and act and speak with plausible deniability.
The negatively inspired exposure and pointless embarrassment of US diplomats has drained from our world another drop of the single most needed quality in all constructive relationships, trust. In dragging us more deeply into fear, doubt, suspicion, and silence, Mr. Assange has not done a single soul any good at all.
We need more trust. Not less.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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