Monday, 29 November 2010

Hail shining morn (except for the Yanks)

Well, it's damn cold, but the light of exposure is shining on the US diplomatic service: Wikileaks has published 250,000 documents exposing opinions, activities and gossip about the US's relations with other countries. Here's a Guardian video explaining why it's significant.

The US and its allies are, of course, condemning the release as loudly as possible. Unflattering things have been said about US allies, the UN has been spied on by the US (surprise surprise) and awkaward truths are emerging. On the other side, Wikileaks and their friends are proclaiming that we're living in a new world of information freedom and dispersed networks of wisdom.

Both sides are wrong and right. Diplomats need to express themselves frankly, and we shouldn't be surprised that the US's self-interest is more important to it than the interests of its friends. Countries don't have friends, they have interests. However, it's important to the publics of all these countries that we have some insight into the real world of international relations. We are at war, yet our political leaders never, ever, admit that they disagree sometimes, that they have concerns about our allies (I particularly hate it when they claim to be 'good friends' with people they've met once or twice), that they don't trust each other - we're kept in the dark an awful lot of the time, and needlessly in a lot of cases.

I don't buy the Wikileaks argument wholesale either. I don't think they have blood on their hands, as some Republicans are claiming (rather cheekily), but I don't think that many citizens will read those 250,000 documents. We still need a professional old media to use their powerful resources to analyse them, contextualise them and interpret them for us. I don't know what Julian Assange's motives are. Is he a weird libertarian out to smash states in principle, or is he a good socialist? Our governments are elected - who made Wikileaks the arbiter of the public sphere?

On balance, I'm pleased these documents are available, because I'm largely opposed to US and British foreign policy as it's currently practiced. Would I feel differently if I supported the government being exposed so publicly? I don't know. Maybe.

The ever-reliable Paul Mason has a Captain Renault take on it all. Shocked, shocked, I tell you!


Ewarwoowar said...

I assume you've seen this already but if not:

I appreciated it.

The Plashing Vole said...

I hadn't. That's utterly brilliant.