Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Assange: Free speech or anarchy?

I am undecided on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Clearly, as he posted his bail, Michael Moore is not. I suppose from the perspective of a documentary film maker the jailing of a journalist on what may be trumped up charges, the issue of one of free speech and a free press. I, however, look at the issue through the much broader lens of the public interests. Through this lens, things get a little more cloudy.

At first, I was very supportive of Wikileaks, particularly after the opaque and highly secretive Bush administration routinely massaged and manipulated intelligence and information for partisan purposes with disastrous results. A few timely leaks might have averted war (or landed Assange in Gitmo). But the recent series of leaks has changed my view of Mr. Assange. At this point, he looks less and less like a populous folk hero and more and more like a mud slinger.

In one leaked cable, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned Embassy staff on the state of mind of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, asking if her state of stress/emotion effected her decision making. But other than embarrassing the US and Ms. Clinton, what public service was rendered in releasing this cable? Likewise, embarrassing assessments of foreign leaders (Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd is a "control freak", German chancellor Angela Merkel is “risk averse and rarely creative”, French president Nicolas Sarkozy is “brilliant, impatient, undiplomatic, hard to predict, charming, innovative, and summit-prone.”). Is it not part of the job of the State Dept. to make assessments of foreign leaders for the President and diplomatic corps? What public service is accomplished in releasing these cables?

Why these releases bother me is that diplomacy is a much preferred approach to international relations than more coercive tools, such as the near omnipotent US military. Diplomacy requires that leaders are able to communicate efficiently and securely with their diplomatic staff without worrying that everything they say or write might end up in the papers. Some secrets support peace and democracy. In my mind, releasing this type of information makes the world a much more dangerous place for democracy. I would much rather have the US Dept. of State getting and giving current, frank and honest intelligence to support diplomacy than having Dick Cheney setting up a war room in the Pentagon to twist and spin stale, inaccurate and misleading "intelligence" from questionable, self serving sources.