#WarLogs: the beginning of the end for nation-state secrecy?

Well, now I understand why I was seeing Julian Assange and Wikileaks everywhere last week. Unless you’ve been under our oft-referred-to yet hypothetical news-proof rock for the last 48 hours, you’ll be aware that The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel are busily publishing the contents of a massive batch of classified documents about the conflict in Afghanistan, which were apparently released to them by Wikileaks about a month back. It’s decidedly unpretty and embarrassing reading for the US government and other members of the “coalition of the willing”, but I think the saddest thing is how little of what’s being reported surprises me in the least. I think we all suspected it was happening that way, deep down; the only difference now is that denial and spin are weak options. The collective bluff has been called, and rather spectacularly.

As usual, I’m less interested in the leak itself than the larger implications. The next few months will be crucial in determining the shape of the political world to come, because Wikileaks have suddenly brought radical and deep transparency to the geopolitical process, and that cloak and dagger world has always thrived on the comparative ease with which it could obscure distant truths from the sight of its electorates. If Wikileaks and similar organisations cannot be squelched, and squelched quickly, dirty wars with hidden agendas are going to become much more politically risky… and it’s those wars and agendas that are the mainstay of the nation-state as power unit. I’m rather intrigued to see a pro-interventionist commentator like Thomas P M Barnett cautiously welcoming this new and uninvited transparency, even if not entirely approving of its source; either I’ve spectacularly misread his political stance – which is more than possible, I’ll grant you – or he’s seeing the same writing on the wall that I am. Other commentators seem to have been concluding that interventionism is all over bar the shouting, and that was before the leak; it’ll be interesting to watch the public approval ratings for overseas operations over the next few months.

I read somewhere (though I’ve lost the link) that Julian Assange is making a point of never sleeping in the same place two nights in a row; I suspect he’ll be spending as much time being publicly visible as possible, too, because he’s now the figurehead of something that is scaring the shit out of people whose long-term modus operandi has been the disappearing (or unvarnished assassination) of obstacles to their agendas. If they can bump him off and not get caught, the warning will have been sent: don’t lift the curtain, or the puppetmaster will rap your knuckles. If he stays free and alive, the warning goes in the other direction: we’re watching, and you can’t reliably stop us from doing so any more.That’s one hell of a responsibility to be walking around with – whatever you may think of Assange’s personal politics and motives, I think it’s safe to say the guy has solid brass balls.

It’s worth noting the language of the White House statement in response to the leak, with its talk of “threatening national security”. “National security” isn’t about the security of the nation’s population, it’s about the security of the nation-state as a political entity… and that is profoundly threatened by Wikileaks and the radical transparency it represents. This isn’t the end of the road for the nation-state, but it could well be the beginning of the end.

I can’t say I’m too sad about that, either.

5 thoughts on “#WarLogs: the beginning of the end for nation-state secrecy?”

  1. I think I’d agree with your larger point, but in this particular Wikileaks case (Afghan War Diary), the 90,000 documents reveal little that wasn’t already known. The ISI’s ties to the Taliban, the fact that civilians have been killed in operations, etc… These have all been discussed, and the most puzzling thing about this is how much attention the Diary is receiving.

    The Pentagon Papers, these ain’t.

  2. I have to agree with Graham J. here. This supposed “leak” is nothing but the nasty stuff of civilians getting gunned down, road side bombs, and other elements of casualties of war that have occurred regularly in Afghanistan. How any of this “leak” will threaten US soldiers and their NATO armed partners in Afghanistan is pretty laughable as in reality – us folks here in the comfy West don’t know that for example: 12 civilians were gunned down by a patrol by mistake…but the family members of those civilians sure as Hell do! Think the leaking of that news is going to make things more dangerous for the foreign troops over there? No. The word of mouth from those family members in and among Afghanistan will surely do the job of making it just a little harder to “win” this fight.

    The only reason why this is getting so much attention and stink by the US government is because they haven’t been happy enough to tell us folks back here in the West what is going on day to day…after all it wouldn’t be a “good war” of good versus evil if it ends up that we find out that every other day some innocent folks driving down a road are getting gunned down by the good guys, would it?

  3. I think both Ali and Graham are missing the point. When the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, the origins of the war in Vietnam were pretty well known. Most importantly, that we had been essentially lied into the war.

    These Afghan reports, particularly their proximity in time and geography to the daily realities of the occupation of Afghanistan, are extremely valuable from a PR perspective. This is the reason that the mainstream press is hooking on to them. ISI support of extremists in Afghanistan is also pretty well known and accepted in spite of US and Pakistan governments protests to the contrary. Seeing the reality of this treachery brings home the underlying fallacies of this latest misadventure.

    It’s important to note that the Pentagon Papers were one of the most important factors in the US public’s growing distaste for the Vietnam War.

    Obama is in much the same position as LBJ in the 60’s. Early in his term he probably felt massive pressure from the military and political pressure from the Republicans and the right wing Democrats to up the ante in Afghanistan. One can only hope that he learns more quickly and is able to act more decisively than Johnson.

    A further note. For many years Steven Fowle, the fifth or sixth generation editor of the New Hampshire Gazette has maintained a Chickenhawk database. Fowle coined the term chickenhawk to describe those who constantly push for war who never themselves wore a military uniform. A vastly disproportionate share of these warmongering jackasses are Republicans (are you surprised). Dick Cheney is a classic example.

    If you’re interested here’s the chickenhawk website:


    I always found it fascinating that the only member if the Bush administration who, at least initially, opposed the Iraq war was Colin Powell, the only one of that criminal clique who had actually served in war. Bush wore a uniform but managed never to leave the US. Powell destroyed his reputation by not resigning but, at least he provided a voice in the wilderness.

    I apologize for the length of this but, I lived through the Vietnam era and was in uniform. It has been sickening to me to see the country once again embark on these imperial misadventures. I can close with this; Charlie Rangel hit the nail on the head when he said that if there were a real draft, neither of these wars would have happened.

    Thanks for your patience.

  4. Rick, I wouldn’t disagree with you on, well, pretty much anything you said, except for what we knew when the Pentagon Papers were published. They revealed that – contrary to the official line and now without any doubt – the military and the government had been actively, intentionally, and directly lying about major aspects of the war in Vietnam. It shattered confidence in government and authority for decades. And it revealed how bankrupt the very origins of that war were.

    The difference here is that the Wikileaks documents only reinforce facts that we already knew. War is hell. The ISI is corrupt. We’re bad at not killing civilians. I don’t think this changes anyone’s mind either way, except for the fact that (as Andrew Exum at Abu Muquwamama keeps writing) the ISI can serve as even more of a boogeyman than before.

  5. I agree with you Rick York in some aspects, yes, what you say is true. But, of course, as Graham has succinctly put it – we already know the details but not the gory details. And I’m sure Rick that as you have said that once as a serving member of the Armed Forces during Vietnam the things you saw had to be pretty bad…I guess what I would like to see is less of the lies and less of the violence and more truth and reality of what is going on over there in Afghanistan. After all…it’s pretty much a given that civilians on either side would love to have this conflict ease up…but unfortunately the way things are at the moment I can’t really see that happening anytime soon. 🙁

    Good discussion all around. Nice to have a good debate/discussion without someone flaming the other. 😛

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