Friday, December 17, 2010

Leaks open up world’s corrupt governments

Ralph Nader confronts neocon Gabriel Schoenfeld.  Thomas Blanton faces the camera. Photo by Jotman.

Lately, the American air waves have been filled with speculation about how the release of the WikiLeaks cables will damage vital American interests.  At the recent House Judiciary Committee hearing on WikiLeaks, Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, urged American lawmakers “not to get fixated on whether WikiLeaks causes harm.” He said, “All speech causes harm.” As an example of this principle, Stone noted that the publication of the Pentagon Papers had meant that some government systems had to be changed.

This obsession with harm is made worse when American leaders decry the impact of the release of the cables on various American institutions, rather than ask how the release will effect the ends towards which these institutions were established. This myopic perspective is magnified exponentially by the stenographic propensity of the mainstream American media. A Pew public opinion poll revealed that 60% of Americans believe that the WikiLeaks cables will likely “harm the public interest.” Back in August, in the wake of the Afghan war documents dump, only 47% thought WikiLeaks harmful.  (Interestingly, the two panelists at the hearing who pressed for legal action against WikiLeaks claimed that the Afghan war documents had been the more harmful.)

It's abundantly clear that the “impact” of the release of cables on American foreign policy cannot be measured on the basis of the efficiency of sixty thousand State Department employees over the next eighteen months.   The cables are already having a political impact on the national politics of various countries around the world -- Turkey, South Korea, France,  Brazil, the list goes on.  

“In the long run,” Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, told the House Judiciary Committee, “it is in the interest of US national security to have foreign governments more accountable.”

Ralph Nader elaborated on this point. “I think we also have to consider the positive effects the leaks have had internationally. People in places like Kenya, Iceland, and Saudi Arabia -- among other countries -- have benefited from discovery of rampant corruption.” Ralph Nader said that by way of WikiLeaks, people in Saudi Arabia are for the first time coming to know their king’s position on various issues.   Elsewhere, other secretive ruling elites have been exposed.

Given that openness and transparency have been shown to produce better governance, future historians are likely to view the leaks quite favorably.

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