what wikileaks did

I suspect more people have read about the Wikileaks release of assorted secret documents than have read the actual documents, said documents being obscure in some cases because of the military jargon used and hard to figure in other cases because the context is not obvious.

That has allowed for a lot of mischief, which consists of the government and some people opposed to the leaks being able to make two simultaneous claims, that a.) there really was ‘nothing new’ in the documents and yet b.) either directly or indirectly, our secrets spilled and the other side is able to use the documents to kill Afghans who have cooperated with us and do other things to make U.S. forces less safe.

I have seen assertions that is going on, but unless I missed it, no proof. If the government has such proof, it should be out with it now. What it cannot do is say “Yes, these leaks are killing our soldiers. Take our word for it.”

We do not have to take anyone’s word about the depth of our problems in Afghanistan, thanks to Wikileaks. While the administration can claim ‘everybody knew’ about what’s going on, that knowing lacked the kind of depth and specificity the Wikileaks leaks spelled out.

You can find a particularly disturbing example that involved analysis by the 10th Mountain Division in last week’s New Yorker, linked here. It makes the point better than I can:

Almost immediately, a consensus emerged that little in the files was actually secret or new. There is something to that. We did know, in a general sense, much of what they document: that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is corrupt and unpopular, that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has ties to the Taliban, that too many civilians are dying. There had been reports, including some in this magazine, of targeted killings. And we knew that the Afghan security forces were a disaster, even after we had spent twenty-seven billion dollars to train them. But knowing specifically what happened to a sixteen-year-old girl and to the man who stood up to her alleged rapist—and knowing that her attacker may have been in a position to do what he did because he was backed by our troops and our money—is different.

That’s why facts are important: they give you enough concrete to go on, enough specific examples, to step outside your prejudices and confront the real world. You may believe the war in Afghanistan is necessary, but once you read the above you have to confront that a necessary war has some very, very bad things happening in it.

Some commentators object with, essentially, the ‘we already know this’ argument, which is a variation on ‘Man up. War is hell.’

Well, sure. But if you have the problems of war right square in your sights, it might just make you more cautious, more understanding, more of a lot of things.

That’s why Fox and talk radio are in a big hurry to turn Wikileaks into the enemy of this country – never mind that Wikileaks has, among other things, published secret documents from Iran and other countries we don’t like.

(In fairness, Wikileaks brought one problem on itself. Leader Julian Assange just looks like some kind of super-villain, all Andy Warhol/Nordic cool. They need a spokesman named Frank who wears golf shirts.)


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