Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wikileaks And Me

So the United States of America is waging war against a single individual. Not our useless, largely failing war against Osama bin Laden. Rather, the target of its latest militant response is Australian Julian Assange. I find it fascinating this is happening amidst the slow leak of classified diplomatic cables, rather than previously when military reports were leaked that had the potential for serious damage to US troops and their field allies. Apparently getting egg on the face of those higher-up the food chain - Hillary Clinton calling for espionage on UN diplomats! - was enough to prompt the on-going attempts to stop what, really, will not and cannot be stopped. As someone said in a report I heard on NPR yesterday, many individuals and groups are watching what is happening so they can learn how to be more flexible in similar circumstances in the future.

I am troubled by any attempt of disorganized groups and individuals to wage "cyber-war" against the US government, not because I think they are in the right on this issue. I am troubled because I think this is a war the US would win. Assange is in jail - admittedly voluntarily; he turned himself in to British authorities - awaiting extradition to Sweden on rape charges. I have no opinion on the legitimacy of the charges. Yes, the timing is curious. Beyond that, I leave it up to the Swedish courts. I think the attempt by some of Assange's defenders to smear his accusers is horrid, and will be counter-productive.

Finally, in a "meta" sense, I'm just not sure what this has to do with most of the rest of us. So far, it is playing out as a fight between the US government, whose tactics I find questionable; Assange, who is hardly a sympathetic figure not the least for me because he is quite public in his hope that he wants to screw the United States; and some of Assange's defenders who have not played the PR game well. One can find what the US has done to try to control and restrict him as awful, perhaps even illegal (read this on a comment thread on Crooked Timber) without succumbing to the rhetoric of authoritarianism. The US is acting precisely as any state actor would in these circumstances.

I think this is part of the reason I am frustrated by all the nonsense. The US isn't immune from the regular actions of any state. The French bombed a Greenpeace vessel that sought to disrupt nuclear testing in the South Pacific. The British were a bit overzealous in their reaction to the IRA in the 1970's and 1980's, including extrajudicial execution, torture, indefinite detention, and many other crimes. Pretending that the US has some dispensation, due to our rhetoric of freedom or the Constitution, is to engage in the practice of American exceptionalism by other means. We aren't exceptional, and the reaction - over-reaction is probably better - to the ongoing Wikileaks tempest reveals this quite clearly.

Virtual Tin Cup

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