No Threat to Free Society
by Steven Greenhut: Firefighters
Fiddle While Roseville Burns
by pundits to the latest WikiLeaks classified-document dump has
reminded me of a preacher who decries pornography, but who also
insists on reading the dirty magazines page by page so that he can
better understand the depth of the world's depravity. If WikiLeaks'
actions were so wrong, why is there such widespread interest in
these cables, often by the same people vociferously criticizing
founder Julian Assange has done our nation a service by publishing
at-times embarrassing accounts of how the U.S. government conducts
its foreign policy. This is a government that claims to be of the
people, by the people and for the people, and which has grand pretenses
about projecting freedom worldwide, yet it wants to be able to keep
most of the details of its actions away from the prying eyes of
evidence that any information released will endanger anyone, and
the U.S. government reportedly refused Assange's request to work
with him to scrub any names that could be compromised. Officials
will always trot out the "endangering lives" or "protecting
security" argument so they don't have to reveal what they are
doing, how they are doing it, or any misconduct or mistakes they
have made while doing it. That's human nature. I'm surprised by
how readily most Americans, liberal and conservative, are content
with allowing so much of their government to operate in secrecy,
even though open government is the cornerstone of a free society.
Americans into two categories. There are those who agree with our
founders that government power is a corrupting force, so government
officials need to be closely monitored. And there are those who
have nearly blind trust in the public-spiritedness of those who
run the bureaucracies and rule us.
Put me in category
A, which is why I applaud WikiLeaks and its efforts to provide the
information necessary so Americans can govern themselves in this
supposedly self-governing society.
the American system be regarded as participatory if the most potentially
explosive government conduct is hidden?" writer Sheldon Richman
asked in a Christian Science Monitor column. "Are 'we
the people' really in charge or not?" That's the question of
I'm most astounded
that some journalists interviewed have been so half-hearted in their
defense of Assange. Journalists know that government officials fight
the release of virtually every piece of information, especially
that which casts them in a less-than-favorable light. I've received
police reports with nearly every word (other than "is,"
"are" and "by") redacted. I've had information
requests dismissed and ignored, even for information that is unquestionably
part of the public record.
and delay and then force the average citizen to go to court to get
files that are supposed to be ours, as citizens. They know that
few people can afford the legal fight, and there's little cost for
refusing to adhere to public records laws.
This is the
nature of government. If it weren't for anonymous sources and leaked
information, the journalism business would serve as a press-release
service for officialdom. We're all better off because courageous
people leak important documents to the media. That's true even when
leakers have a personal agenda in releasing the information.
York Times reports that the leaked diplomatic cables "contain
a fresh American intelligence assessment of Iran's missile program.
They reveal for the first time that the United States believes that
Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could
let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it
develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles." That
seems like useful information if we, the people, want to monitor
our political leaders' decisions about how to deal with those two
rogue nations. No wonder Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined
Republicans and Democrats in denouncing WikiLeaks.
that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted to collect personal
and financial information about foreign leaders, which gives the
public valuable insight into this presidential hopeful's view of
civil liberties and personal privacy.
writer Jonah Goldberg, who wondered why Assange hasn't been "garroted
in his hotel room" after the previous WikiLeaks release of
documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan described
U.S. forces shooting at a group that included civilians, found worthwhile
information in the latest documents: "And what these documents
confirm is that President Obama's foreign policy is a mess."
useful insight, Goldberg is still angry at Assange, who "is
convinced that he has revealed the hypocrisy and corruption of U.S.
foreign policy, when in reality all he has revealed is that pursuing
foreign-policy ideals is messier and more complicated in a world
where bad people pursue bad ends."
is better off that we can debate Goldberg's point, rather than remain
in the dark about these matters.
been as bad as conservatives in denouncing Assange as treasonous.
This is not surprising, given how committed they are to a massive
government that manages our lives.
Anderson, writing for the libertarian Web site Lewrockwell.com,
reminds readers that 19th century Americans largely embraced the
view that "politicians were corrupt, governments generally
wasted tax dollars and that elected officials could not be trusted."
The Progressive movement then came onto the scene to advance its
reforms, by which a gifted intelligentsia would rule for the public
good. Open government is anathema to such elite rule, as the public
gets to see that the elites are mere human beings with all the same
temptations and foibles as everybody else.
helped demystify the inner workings of our government, sparking
a much-needed debate over various U.S. policies across the world
and reminded Americans that free societies depend on an informed
citizenry. And the disclosures even provided some levity, as we
got to read some honest assessments of puffed-up world leaders.
We should thank Assange rather than malign him, and we should eagerly
await his next release.
with permission from the Orange
Greenhut (send him mail)
is editor-in-chief of CalWatchdog.com
and a widely published opinion writer. He is the author of the book,
of Power, and his latest, Plunder!.
© 2010 Steven Greenhut