November 30, 2010
November 30, 2010
This weekend we got another fat load of WikiLeaks, based on purloined diplomatic cables to and from the U.S. State Department. As happened when Julian Assange’s muckraking endeavor leaked U.S. military data from Iraq earlier this year, conservatives are outraged, and some call, as before, for the expeditious arrest of Assange, or fantasize about his assassination.
Rightbloggers generally take a two-pronged approach to the leaks: They believe the new document dump is an unpardonable breach of U.S. security — except to the extent that it may be used to denigrate the Obama Administration, it which case they feel it deserves wider dissemination.
It’s not as if rightbloggers have been alone in denouncing Wikileaks, as mainstream media outlets from the New York Times on down have attacked Assange from all directions — while sopping up his revelations on the basis of their newsworthiness.
But that is an old, time-honored form of journalistic hypocrisy: Using hot news to draw readers with one hand, and tut-tutting its shameful provenance with the other. Rightbloggers have added a few new wrinkles to the game.
Back when Assange leaked the Iraq War data, for example, they dismissed the revelations of bad behavior by our Iraqi allies (“they appear to illustrate the inherent — and forseeable — problems with the nation-building strategy we pursued in Iraq and are still pursuing in Afghanistan,” soothed The American Spectator), and cheerfully plucked the bits that supported their own interests.
The documents suggested to them that a previous, speculative accounting by The Lancethad overestimated real Iraqi casualties of the war, and that the discovery of some old chemical weapons proved that Saddam had WMDs after all. Counter-arguments could be made that The Lancet was measuring different kinds of casualties than the leaked documents addressed, and that the discovered chemical weapons did not constitute a real threat to the United States (“Later investigation revealed those contents to be vitamins“). But for rightbloggers the message was clear: “… the two biggest scoops from the latest document dump are that the infamous Lancet study was bogus, and that WMDs were found in Iraq in quantity.”
They apparently thought Assange had made these revelations by accident or out of self-sabotage, as he was of the “Left” and thus was leaking on his own cause. “I delight in the unintended consequence Assange’s revelations has produced,” said Melanie Morgan. “It seems to be the Left contradicting itself in the propaganda arena,” said Right Pundits. “The WikiLeaksters seem to have inadvertently done history a bit of a favor in the their obsession,” said NewsBusters, in dispelling “leftist folklore.”
None of this altered their feeling that by leaking this info Assange was aiding the enemy, and possible guilty of murder.
“Gosh, isn’t it nice that the enemy will be able to identify Iraqis who died by name and whose side they were fighting on, so they can go after their families, either to kill them or recruit them, depending on the circumstances?” said BizzyBlog. “What a guy this Mr. Assange is.” “Julian Assange: Jerkoff troop killer,” wrote The North Star National.
National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg asked, “Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?” Goldberg asserted that the leaks were “going to get people killed, including brave Iraqis and Afghans who’ve risked their lives and the lives of their families to help us.” Nonetheless, he lamented, “Even if the CIA wanted to take him out, they couldn’t without massive controversy. That’s because assassinating a hipster Australian Web guru as opposed to a Muslim terrorist is the kind of controversy no official dares invite.”
(Goldberg tried to hop out of his own overheated logic train at the end — “Ultimately, I don’t expect the U.S. government to kill Assange, but I do expect them to try to stop him” — and complained, when called out on his homicidal fantasy, that “there’s nothing in the quote at Balloon Juice to justify the claim I call for [Assange's] murder.” To shore up his position, he challenged a writer at Gawker to a fistfight.)
Last weekend the diplomatic leaks was released, and with them came the usual calls for Assange’s death and/or detention. “Julian Assange, Why is He Still Breathing?” asked Paladin’s Page. “Assange should be looking at the inside of a container on a ship doing lazy racetracks around the Indian Ocean,” said Blackfive. “I won’t think twice if Julian Assange meets the cold blade of an assassin,” said Donald Douglas. Etc.
The Obama Administration denounced the leaks but, having not the stones to send a cold-bladed assassin to preempt Assange, failed to prevent them, which rightbloggers declared proof of the Kenyan Pretender’s malfeasance or worse…
November 30, 2010
For the millions of Americans who opposed the war in Iraq, including Barack Obama, Afghanistan was the good war—“The War We Need to Win,” as candidate Obama titled a key foreign-policy speech he gave in August 2007. Iraq, Obama said, was a sickeningly misguided gift to Osama bin Laden: “a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Iraq posed no threat to American national security; Afghanistan and Pakistan did. Obama vowed to wind down the war we didn’t need to win in order to ramp up the one we did. He was elected president for many reasons, but that pledge was among the most important.
Today, with the twelve-month review of Obama’s strategy scheduled for the coming weeks, the war in Afghanistan is his—and it doesn’t feel very good. What it feels like, increasingly, is Vietnam, especially to people who formed their views of American military power, and indeed of America itself, in opposition to the Vietnam War. Obama has poured in 50,000 more troops, at a cost of about $100 billion a year. Half of the 1,400 American combat deaths in Afghanistan have occurred since Obama became president. American lives and treasure seem to be disappearing into the quicksand of a country governed by a corrupt regime whose indifference to the public good fuels the insurgency the U.S. is seeking to repress. Bulletins from an optimistic commanding general about enemy body counts and liberated villages fill us with hope for a moment—until we read the dismal news accounts from the front. The loudest voice in favor of pushing on, mocking the advocates of phased withdrawal, belongs to John McCain, the gung ho Vietnam vet.
The comparison is so painfully obvious and has been made so persistently, at least on the left, that we owe it to ourselves to think hard about the stakes in Afghanistan. The central lesson many Americans took away from Vietnam, and from the proxy wars the U.S. fought all over the world during the Cold War, was that our political leaders exaggerated, or even fabricated, the stakes. LBJ said that if Vietnam fell, the rest of Asia would fall with it. President Reagan said that if we didn’t stand up to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Central America would go Communist. They were wrong; the domino theory was a red herring. But what about Afghanistan? In the West Point speech in December 2009 in which he announced his plans to send 30,000 more troops, Obama asserted that the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan “is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda,” and thus the threat to American national security “will only grow if the region slides backward and Al Qaeda can operate with impunity.” White House officials say that the upcoming review will not lead to any change of course. U.S. and NATO officials have agreed that troops will fully hand off combat duties to Afghan forces only by the end of 2014, and even that is not a hard date. If Obama is right about the stakes, then he may be right about the strategy. Or is he hyping the danger, the way LBJ and Reagan—and George W. Bush—once did? And even if the fight really does matter, is victory, or however we choose to define success, even possible?
Let’s back off for a moment to consider how liberals in America have come to think about war. Woodrow Wilson was the first American president faced with the challenge of persuading the American people to fight a war against an enemy that did not directly menace our territory. At the time, pacifism was virtually the default position of American liberals. Blood-and-thunder Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt were eager to fight the Hun; Wilson’s “base,” as we would say today, was not. Before a joint session of Congress on April 2, 1917—in one of the great speeches of American history—Wilson argued that German submarine warfare had thrown down a challenge “to all mankind,” and that the U.S. must respond not out of “revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right.” Wilson appealed to idealism as well as to an idealistic conception of America’s national security: German autocracy and bellicosity, he said, undermined the world order America was seeking to build. Thus Wilson’s ringing declaration: “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
It took another generation for U.S. interests to become so global, and for advances in technology to bring the world so close together, that another war halfway across the world could be seen as an immediate and dire threat to American national security. After Pearl Harbor, FDR didn’t have to reissue Wilson’s appeal to high-mindedness; Americans left and right united behind a threat to their way of life…
Why was Germany being so intractable? Dan Fried even traveled to Berlin to hand deliver proposals from Washington — and was snubbed. Every attempt by the US special envoy to coerce Germany into taking Guantanamo detainees seemed predestined to fail. German Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was “very skeptical,” US Ambassador Philip Murphy cabled back home in frustration.
The Americans had similar problems with several countries. In September 2009, US President Barack Obama was keen to finally fulfill his promise to close the Guantanamo detention center on Cuba and send all the remaining prisoners to destinations around the globe. But nobody wanted them — neither his countrymen nor his allies. And least of all the Germans.
Fried’s position was not unlike a merchant in a bazaar, forced to haggle over the conditions under which countries would take prisoners initially considered extremely dangerous but now deemed harmless. He promised a range of attractive enticements: Money, development aid and even political capital like a visit by Obama himself — or at least an invitation to the White House.
The negotiations were correspondingly lively. Potential recipient countries feigned doubt and provided detailed descriptions of the potential dangers they could face by accepting Islamists. The primary aim, it becomes clear from the US dispatches, was that of driving the price up as high as possible.
‘Negative Reaction of the Chinese Government’
Even the Germans joined in the haggling, though Berlin had been particularly strident in calling for the closure of Guantanamo. Wolfgang Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the country’s interior minister until late October 2009, repeatedly rejected American overtures.
Berlin was particularly reluctant to take 17 Uighurs, originally from China, despite the fact that 500 of their ethnic brethren already lived in Munich, the largest such community in Europe. The Uighur community in Munich expressed a willingness to accept them into its midst. But Germany wouldn’t allow it. Islamists from Guantanamo are too dangerous, Schäuble insisted. In fact, Washington suspected there was another reason: Germany’s fear of China, which wanted the men back itself so it could pursue terrorism charges against them. One US dispatch contains the analysis that Germany’s “reluctance about Uighurs is due to the expected negative reaction of the Chinese government.”
Chinese diplomats told the US State Department in no uncertain terms that Beijing would consider the sending of Uighurs to Germany “a slap in the face.” The balance of power had shifted so markedly that the German government would rather risk snubbing its long-established ally in Washington than suffer the wrath of the Communist regime in Beijing.
In December 2009 Fried, expressed his sympathy for Berlin’s plight and proposed a different deal: What about a humanitarian case? Could Germany at least take one mentally disturbed Uighur and his care-taker brother?
Fried hoped for a breakthrough — and hoped it could be provided by Germany’s new interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, likewise of the CDU, who took office following German general elections in September 2009. “In contrast to former Interior Minister Schäuble,” a dispatch from last December reads, “current Interior Minister de Maizière has not (and is unlikely to) flouted security concerns about cases in the press.” So encouraged was Fried by the new minister that he proposed even more candidates in addition to the Uighur brothers. The new candidates including a Syrian and a Palestinian, the only two Guantanamo detainees ultimately accepted by Berlin, more than six months later.
Even so, Fried’s visit to the German Interior Ministry was initially disappointing. Although de Maizière briefly dropped in on Fried’s negotiations with an undersecretary, no progress was made on the Uighur brothers. Instead, the report says the Germans merely stressed the importance of “keeping the current discussions and review of the detainees confidential.”
Officially, Berlin still had security concerns.
The envoy President Obama sent to the German Chancellery had even less success at his meeting with Christoph Heusgen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s security advisor. “Heusgen was not optimistic that China would demonstrate any understanding for the two humanitarian cases,” the relevant dispatch reads. Germany was not eager to “irritate” China by being the only country that takes Uighurs.
‘Productive Internal Meetings’
Fried returned home empty-handed. Two months later the Americans made another attempt. On February 8, 2010, Ambassador Murphy asked the German Interior Ministry whether any progress had been made on the matter. “The US request is still being reviewed,” de Maizière wrote back formally. “The ministry is having productive internal meetings on the issue.” The decision would take a couple more weeks.
Luckily for the sick Uighur, his brother and the US, not all of Washington’s allies were pursuing the same obstructionist strategy. Despite being in the midst of trade negotiations with China, tiny Switzerland expressed its willingness to take the two brothers in March. Still, Switzerland has a good reason to be friendly toward Washington: The US was unhappy about the fact that major Swiss banks had helped rich Americans evade taxes.
Other countries were also cooperative — sometimes even just offering suggestions. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for example, related a brainstorm of his to John Brennan, Obama’s chief counter-terrorism advisor. One could implant chips into the former detainees containing information about them and allowing them to be tracked. The system worked with horses and falcons, the king was quoted as saying in a dispatch. Brennan indicated that such a procedure would likely encounter legal difficulties in the US. “Horses don’t have good lawyers,” Brennan told him.
US envoy Fried openly reported back to his government about which countries were willing to take former Guantanamo detainees — and, more importantly, at what price.
Bulgaria, for example: The Interior Ministry in Sofia expressed willingness to accept two men, albeit on condition that the US got rid of visa requirements for Bulgarian tourists and businessmen and helped with relocation expenses. Fried proposed “a symbolic amount in the neighborhood of $50,000 – $80,000 per detainee…”