As I write this, much of the international media is consumed with WikiLeaks’ gradual publication of a quarter-million US diplomatic reports. Why? Well first off, everyone likes to be let in on a secret, and if that secret involves acronyms like CIA, RAW, MI6, or ISI, the sexiness quotient skyrockets. That’s more or less just human nature. But the reports also provide grist for media publications—especially European ones—always eager to spread some dirt about the Americans. London’s Guardian, Madrid’s El Pais and Paris’s Le Monde were fairly salivating as the documents’ release date approached, and wrote with near-orgasmic prose once publication began. Their behaviour, too, was more or less predictable.
But the whirlwind around this batch of WikiLeaks leaks seems to point to a deeper concern among the public, one that stems from the increasing distance between the international reality they see and what their leaders describe to them. In recent years, the US public has had to hear its leaders repeatedly tell Americans that black was white: President Clinton said he didn’t know Monica (in the biblical sense) or who attacked the USS Cole in Yemen; President George W. Bush said Saddam was a WMD threat and then that there was no insurgency in Iraq; and President Barack Obama has said we are winning in Afghanistan, jihad is self-improvement (like stopping alcohol consumption) and that Indonesia is a model of sectarian tolerance. The latter is a particularly remarkable black-is-white moment—there have been times in Indonesia in recent years when you probably could have turned off your car lights and driven safely at night by the illumination provided by burning Christian churches.
This sort of regular and routine deceit has increased the suspicion of Americans—and I’d bet the suspicion of other nations’ publics, too—that they are being lied to about the conduct of governmental affairs. As a result, Americans seem to have become ever more eager to examine illegally acquired and disclosed ‘secret’ information in the hope of finding out what’s really going on.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Obama’s recent diplomatic trip through Asia—and especially his visit to India—is a very good example of an exercise so counterintuitive to the average observer, and so counterproductive to US interests, that one can only assume the real goal of the sojourn has intentionally been buried deep in highly classified messages not meant to be seen by the average citizen.
Preparing to leave Washington as the US-led war effort in Afghanistan is verging on collapse, Obama made clear that he wouldn’t visit Pakistan. Whatever one thinks of Pakistan’s track record as an ally, the truth is that the logistical viability of the US-NATO Afghan war effort depends on Pakistan keeping open overland supply routes from Karachi and Peshawar into Afghanistan. It also depends on Pakistan’s military doing something to hurt al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the border area, or at least not doing much to help them. These two facts alone, one would think, would have merited a day’s visit to Islamabad to protect vital US interests. So why didn’t they? I can’t think of a reason.