Along with the Ground Zero mosque and Glenn Beck’s righteous march on Washington, Wikileaks offers fantasists a fresh chance to unfurl their gaudiest ideas about America.
On the right, Charles Krauthammer, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich are irresistible; it’s like watching a train of high explosives heading for no-man’s land. The US administration, they complain, is playing things down. Hell, they haven’t even hinted that they’d like to kill someone. Espionage and treason have consequences. “This is a country where a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich,” Krauthammer boasts. With a wistful reference to the tactics of the KGB, he concluded, “. . . it would be nice if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the rain.”
He made no reference to the US army private who has been arrested and who actually leaked the documents. Also, he didn’t bother to explain what should be done about the distinguished newspapers that published the stuff. It appears that neo-cons believe that the Johns should go free.
Knowing that Obama is a bit vain about the rule of law, his critics know they have a stationary target. They’ll cast him as Jimmy Carter and prey that he dawns Carter’s sad severe mantle in the 2012 campaign. It is of no concern to them that America’s critics feast on their violent rhetoric. Hard power is the only power that seems to arouse them.
The more pervasive and disappointing response, however, comes from the left. Two century-old liberal institutions—The Globe and Mail in Canada and the Guardian in London—ran columns of unctuous contempt for the United States. The leaks read like a sick diary of a deranged, flailing bully.
Judith Timson in The Globe assumes a bored air in complaining about the seeming triviality of much of what was reported. That a few of the leaders who were exposed might react brutally, whether the sources were witty or not, doesn’t seem to prick her concern as a reporter who once had sources to protect. More significantly, she appropriates Hannah Arendt’s haunting description of the Holocaust, with the complaint—“talk about the banality of evil.” Diplomacy isn’t for saints or those who need their own by-lines. The diplomats and soldiers outed by Wikileaks, however, are not doing the work of the devil. (It was an heir to the British Crown, not an American diplomat, who wore an SS uniform for fun.)
Seumas Milne in the Guardian wholeheartedly upholds the motives of Wikileaks: shrink the American empire’s influence, reputation, friendships, and ability to act globally. America is not merely the most influential liberal market economy in the world. It operates an “overstretched imperial system” that has arrogated onto itself the role of world leader and police officer. The leaks reveal that the “empire” is beginning to flounder as “independent regional powers” such as China start to make their global presence felt. Click on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-embassy-cables-us-global-power
Milne skips over the heart of the American machine: an unruly, largely amateurish electoral democracy that settles in church basements and town halls, as well as in boardrooms—exactly who will make the big and the smallest decisions in Washington. (Within the week, the Guardian will run another story about an American leviathan that can’t govern itself, let alone its puniest allies.)
On good days, the US is a force for stability and organized progress—an ancient liberal Anglo-American dream. Assange, however, is an anarchist. And for a well-fed anarchist, weakening and shrinking the US internationally is the biggest prize of all. But surely that cannot be the biggest prize of all for a liberal of any stripe. Certainly not in a world in which at least three of the rising “independent regional powers” are aggrieved authoritarian machines that see the machinery of state as their clique’s trough or God’s handmaiden.