If the good patriots keeping the world safe for democracy feel they need to keep certain things secret, then they need to keep certain things secret. To splash those secrets all over the internet is simply to interfere with America’s attempt to carry its noble burden, to perform its urgent and necessary task, to make the world a little less safe for democracy. What kind of person would do that?
The more plausible that line of thought sounds to you, the more WikiLeaks will strike you as something akin to a terrorist enterprise. But the more you see a hegemonic America as a problem and not a solution, the more WikiLeaks will strike you as a welcome check on a dangerous, out-of-control hyperpower drunk on its own good intentions [bold mine-DL]. In that case, it may seem that the American political establishment and the collaborating media has grown blind to the hypocrisy so clearly apparent to others in its approach to WikiLeaks because it has forgotten that freedom and democracy have meaning apart from their role in justifying the operations of the far-flung secret-shrouded state. ~Will Wilkinson
I have seen different forms of this argument in the last few weeks. This is the second of them from Wilkinson. Each time I see it, I find it more annoying than the last. For one thing, it assumes that American critics of U.S. hegemony should welcome active subversion of their government’s legitimate functioning as a means of holding it accountable for its abuses and illegalities. This is as politically tone-deaf as can be, and it will almost certainly backfire to make the government less accountable and less transparent. I find the idea that all good anti-imperialists have to stand up for an organization that seems dedicated to harming American interests to be perverse, and it just the sort of argument that militarists here in the U.S. are only too happy to see libertarians, antiwar conservatives, and progressives take up. American opposition to U.S. hegemony as I understand it is rooted in the conviction that hegemony is unsustainable and damaging to real American interests in the meantime. It takes for granted that there are legitimate American interests that can and should be pursued, and that U.S. hegemony badly distorts our understanding of what our real interests are, conflates them with the interests of other nations, and wastes national resources on a project of global power projection that America can’t afford and doesn’t need. Enthusiasm for Assange distracts from all of this and substitutes the cheap thrill of airing some dirty laundry for the difficult task of changing the foreign policy consensus.
Wikileaks doesn’t interfere with “America’s attempt to carry its noble burden, to perform its urgent and necessary task, to make the world a little less safe for democracy.” All of that is risible nonsense. So is much of the anti-Wikileaks hysteria. If it is true that the information provided by Wikileaks hasn’t caused all that much damage, which its defenders argue by way of exonerating it from more serious charges, it is even more of an ineffectual bit of posturing than it seemed at first. It seems to me that would-be defenders of Wikileaks have made the easy mistake of imputing virtues to Wikileaks that it doesn’t have out of frustration with government abuses and disastrous policies. This comes from the tempting, mistaken belief that if these people oppose government abuses, it must make what they’re doing all right. All of this is an exercise in cheering on someone who has poked the hegemon in the eye without considering the counterproductive nature of such a protest.
The first an most obvious rejoinder to this is that even non-exceptional countries require diplomatic secrecy! So if you embrace the notion that confidentiality is a sine qua non for the ability to conduct effective diplomacy then you would certainly believe that Wikileaks’ modus operandi is dangerous and counter-productive.
Anyone who thinks we can disentangle the U.S. from our many commitments around the world without substantial international goodwill, cooperation, and trust is kidding himself. Undermining the confidence that other nations’ diplomats have in dealing with our diplomats reduces the options available to U.S. policymakers, and it makes it harder for Washington to employ tools other than the blunt instruments of force and coercion that Wikileaks admirers find so objectionable.