When WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified documents involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in October, the Obama administration condemned Julian Assange’s rogue organization for putting the lives of the military personnel and important informants at risk. While the alleged source of the leak, Pfc. Bradley Manning, was taken into custody, there was no push for punitive action against WikiLeaks itself. Now Assange has stepped over the line: he’s embarrassed the diplomatic corps and the politicians behind it. Sunday’s release of over 250,000 State Department documents sent the administration and politicians on both sides of the aisle into a frenzy.
“This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity,” Secretary of State Clinton said. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called the release “a crime,” and Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department had launched “an active, ongoing, criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks activities.
Assange’s willingness to disclose state secrets is reprehensible in any form. But, should a peek into the misty backrooms of international diplomacy cause more outrage than putting the lives of Americans serving in uniform, and the brave Iraqis and Afghans who help them, at risk? Such is the world we live in and perhaps we should be grateful, if the administration is finally serious about going after WikiLeaks in some meaningful way. Representative Peter King suggested that WikiLeaks should be designated a terror organization and, under the old rules, it would be hard to argue against King’s point. The Bush Doctrine said that anyone who knowingly harbors or aids terrorists would be treated as an enemy. “You’re either with us or against us,” Bush said, and viewed through that simple lens, there’s no doubt which side WikiLeaks comes out on. Unfortunately, the Obama administration, parroting the progressive point of view, cannot abide such a clear line of demarcation. The president has effectively added a third category: you’re with us, you’re against us, or you’re a misguided soul engaged in criminal mischief that might seem a little like terrorism but really shouldn’t be handled that way.
Yet, labeling this latest document dump a crime is at least a step in the right direction for this administration, although hoping to drag Assange and his cronies into court falls far short of the kind of aggressive action needed to end the national security threat that WikiLeaks represents. It is perhaps more interesting to consider what about this particular round of disclosures caused the administration to up the ante. Could it be that many of the documents reveal that the Obama administration is inept and disingenuous when it comes to managing foreign affairs?
We now know, for example, that the Obama administration put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop arms shipments to Hezbollah. Assad promised action, but delivered none, and Hezbollah continues to grow in power as a result. We also know that Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, who is very worried about what would happen in the region if Iran gets the bomb, urged the president to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. On the other hand, the documents confirm what has long been an open-secret: that wealthy Saudis remain the chief financiers of Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaeda.
America’s tenuous, troubling relationship with China is also revealed in the documents. In late December 2009, Internet powerhouse Google was the target of a massive and sophisticated cyber-attack. Google said that the purpose of the attack was to gather information about Chinese dissidents and their supporters. Neither Google nor the United States government was inclined to identify the source of the attack. The identity of the perpetrator seemed rather obvious, for who else but the Chinese government would be motivated to take the time to develop malware that went after such a narrow, particular target? Independent web security firms like VeriSign’s iDefense definitively concluded that China was to blame, but the administration dithered and the press largely ignored the story. We now know that the Obama administration was fully aware that China went after Google and that the administration deliberately chose to ignore the attack, presumably out of fear of offending our huge trading partner.
It also appears, according to some Internet experts, that the United States narrowly averted disaster this summer when a targeted, Stuxnet-like virus originating in China was caught and disabled before it could do damage to our nation’s industrial infrastructure. This was yet another story that quietly disappeared within the haze of diplomacy, even though the consequences of the virus’s success would have been truly catastrophic.
WikiLeaks thus remains a most dangerous enemy. Julian Assange’s determination to publish every bit of classified information he can lay his hands on endangers both the West’s ability to combat terror and America’s efforts to use the subtleties of diplomacy to coax erstwhile enemies into action. Which agenda is more important is a matter of opinion. But, there can be little doubt that WikiLeaks, if left unchecked, will continue to upset the global order in a world dominated by a single superpower. How America deals with WikiLeaks, or doesn’t deal with it, may well define the Obama administration’s legacy when it comes to the continuing war on terror.