The fear and trembling in government circles and the self-justification heard from the complicit press brought on by the latest leak and publication of official and classified documents are exaggerated. Nevertheless, America’s relations with the rest of the world will be adversely affected, at least in the short term. Our representatives abroad and at the United Nations, and officials in Washington who regularly do business – i.e., negotiate – with foreign embassies and visitors, will be treated warily for some time while their interlocutors reconsider the possible effects on their own security of candidly sharing information and views that they intend for our ears but not those of the general public.
WikiLeaks and its infamous founder deserve no special mention here, other than to say that if they were active parties in securing their treasure trove rather than mere recipients, they may be legitimately pursued on charges of espionage. Apparently, pursuit is under way. As for the U.S. Army patriot-cum-traitor who allegedly furnished the documents, if found guilty he will presumably, and justifiably, be put away for the rest of his miserable life. To my way of thinking, however, the leading villains of the piece are the leading newspapers and journals that have cashed in on this sordid affair. And I find the most despicable and disappointing of them to be the revered The New York Times, which I’ve read loyally since childhood and more recently come somewhat closer to understanding, while in no way excusing, its slavish and unquestioning support of the invasion of Iraq.
Much has been made of the redactions aimed at protecting individuals, as if that removed the only real impediment to laying bare our diplomatic laundry and leaving our international relations out to dry for the world to see. Nor is the fact that WikiLeaks runs the stolen material on its own website any excuse for major world news outlets to magnify the damage a million-fold. There could not be a more transparent, self-serving and absurd argument than that offered by the Times in its editorial of November 29 by way of justification: “The documents are valuable because they illuminate American policy in a way that Americans and others deserve to see.” A truly nauseating sentiment that recalls the flawed first of Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points, the one that would reduce diplomacy to public relations: “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at (emphasis added), after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in public view.”
The relationship between this tragic-comic farce, diplomacy and national security is clear enough, and the Times leads the way with its hypocritical and pitiful defense of its policies and actions which, one assumes, have been profitable. The expressed views of Wilson and the Times notwithstanding, openness and privacy can peacefully co-exist. In a game of poker, showing one’s cards at the outset is not a winning strategy and refusing to show them at the end if claiming victory assures defeat, but a decision to drop out carries no requirement to reveal anything. A diplomat’s ability to gather and report information in private is a key ingredient in the mix of factors that together contribute to peace and understanding among nations. Supercilious rejoinders from publishers, editors and reporters claiming to be the essential defenders of freedom of expression do not serve that goal.