The international debate engendered by WikiLeaks' ongoing publication of classified US diplomatic cables has sent most American liberals into hiding. Gone AWOL when it comes to the Obama administration's escalation of the federal government's war on civil liberties, mainstream liberal defenders of WikiLeaks are few and far between.
On the cable news circuit, Rachel Maddow, the supposed “foreign policy wonk,” devoted a brief segment to the issue, echoing the MSM's party line that There's Nothing New Here. (Earth to Rachel: Since only a small percentage of the cables have so far been published, isn't it a little premature for such a pronouncement? Just asking .) Her fellow MSNBCer, Chris Matthews, confined himself to a few snarling comments about Julian Assange – “a rapist” – with only Keith Olbermann (who can hardly be called “mainstream,” in any event) openly defending the last remaining symbol of what had once been a free society.
By far the most consistent and effective champion of WikiLeaks on what passes for the “left” these days has been the heroic Glenn Greenwald: not only in his widely-read columns for Salon.com, but in numerous media appearances in which he has taken on the worst of the very worst – and, yes, I do indeed mean John F. Burns, of the New York Times. Glenn has been everywhere, a libertarian gladiator up against the Empire's pundit warrior-slaves, and winning every time.
News programs which would normally interview only regimist “experts” and commentators have been forced, by the very nature of a contentious subject, to bring in someone who doesn't toe Washington's line, and Glenn – with his legal training and calm, reasoned demeanor – is almost singlehandedly taking on the Powers That Be in this important fight.
Now, however, a challenger has arisen from within the ranks of the Salon.com limousine liberal set to take on our Spartacus: Michael Lind, who has staked out a position as a “new nationalist” on the Obama-friendly left, has entered the arena, outlining the case against Assange and WikiLeaks that Eric Holder's Justice Department will make in court if US goons succeed in netting him from the Swedes, or perhaps even the Brits. (If only we could read those diplomatic cables going to and fro between Washington, Stockholm, and London!)
“This controversy,” avers Lind, “has nothing to do with views of current U.S. foreign policy.” It's time to reel out his lefty, antiwar credentials, and he does so:
“I denounced the Iraq War in advance in print, on the radio and on TV, and after it began in two books. I favor rapid disengagement from Afghanistan and a far more modest American military role in the world.”
Yes, but what has Lind done to advance the cause of downsizing America's overseas presence lately? These cables are a treasure trove for advocates of military modesty: we'll be poring over them for years extracting the lessons of the rampant immodesty that has so far dominated the minds of US policymakers.
For revealing the true face of America's overseas empire, Assange should be hailed as a hero by anti-interventionists of every stripe, much as opponents of the Vietnam war supported and continue to honor Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. So why is the allegedly anti-interventionist – or, perhaps, modestly interventionist – Lind coming out against WikiLeaks? “I agree with the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan that much, perhaps most, government secrecy is unnecessary and counterproductive,” he writes,
“But everyone other than anarchists who oppose government of any kind must acknowledge the need for diplomats and military officers, as well as civilian officials, to be able to engage in confidential communications among themselves and with foreign governments without fear of unauthorized publicity. Even the government of an isolationist America would insist on that prerogative.”
The government of a country that was “isolationist” (i.e. intent on minding its own business) and also authoritarian would undoubtedly prosecute WikiLeaks, and any American or foreign national on American soil who gave it aid and comfort. It would most certainly insist that PayPal, Bank of America, Amazon.com, and all “private” companies cease doing business with WikiLeaks. This could indeed happen in an “isolationist” America in which the Constitution never existed, or in which the anti-Federalists didn't succeed in inserting those essential Amendments to the final document – notably the first, which protects WikiLeaks and the media in general from government censorship and prosecution.
As to whether such a regime would do everything in its power to capture Assange, and drag him, in chains, into a US court, is highly doubtful. Not being an American citizen, the WikiLeaks founder is not subject to our various laws regulating the release of classified information, nor do we have the legal authority to prosecute him – unless one assumes the US government has legal sovereignty over the entire globe. This, however, is a doubtful legal premise for an “isolationist” administration, of any stripe, to uphold. Only the government of an isolationist America with Lind in the White House would make such a legal argument shortly before being laughed out of court.
In an isolationist America, the jury would certainly take a dim view of the government's claim to supra-national sovereignty, but most of all they'd wonder what all the fuss was about. After all, the content of the cables would be far different: details of peaceful, non-invasive, non-threatening cultural and educational activities, blow-by-blow accounts of cocktail party conversations, etc. We certainly wouldn't be hearing about secret bombing raids, how we're dragged into conflicts by reckless allies, and how our diplomats are directly intervening in the legal affairs of other nations. And I very much doubt we'd be reading about our “isolationist” secretary of state ordering US diplomats to collect credit card numbers and computer passwords of their foreign counterparts.
In any case, Lind, undeterred by the illogic of his position, is here merely echoing Obama administration spokesmen who claim WikiLeaks is an “anarchist” cabal. Discussing the various “legal” options open to the Obama administration, and their origin during the Wilson era, Lind again raises a point of personal privilege:
“I'm no defender of World War I-era paranoia, as my German-born great-grandfather was a victim of it. However, if the Espionage Act did not exist, I would favor passage of some sort of reasonable act to protect legitimate government secrets, because democratic republics have a right to protect themselves from genuine spies and real traitors, as well as vengeful employees. If the perennial presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, Eugene Debs, whom the Wilson administration imprisoned for opposing the draft, had been elected president, I doubt that America's socialist commander in chief and chief diplomat would have looked kindly on unauthorized publication of classified government secrets.'
President Debs would undoubtedly have released the secret unpublished protocols of the Versailles Treaty – although they leaked out anyway, and soured a whole generation of progressives on the idea of wars to “make the world safe for democracy.” And surely there would be no Espionage Act, and scant legal means to prosecute either WikiLeaks or Assange – although, with extensive control over the economy, government officials could simply order companies like Amazon.com to sever their links to WikiLeaks. And I find it difficult to reconcile Debs the person, who saw himself as a challenger to authority and not its enabler, ordering Assange's imprisonment.
December 28, 2010
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.
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