Exposing culture as well as secrets

Sam Smith

While Wikileaks has begun to reveal some important state secrets, that’s not the only thing that is making the establishment extremely nervous. Another huge problem is that the documents are providing a chain of evidence illustrating that the people running our government are not only frequently stupid, corrupt, and/or dishonest, but that in certain fields such as foreign policy, this is dominant rather than deviant behavior. Thus it is not just secrecy that is under attack but a whole culture of impunity.

While this is already a widely held view among many ordinary folk, from the perspective of the ruling class, documentation is much more dangerous than mere opinion. Paper work is truly scary.

If this all sounds slightly familiar, a description of an old movie may help:

“Upon their triumphant return to the Emerald City, Toto exposes the Wizard as a fraud, opening a curtain and revealing a non-magical man operating a giant console of wheels and levers.”

Not a bad description of the way Washington works these days.

To be sure, Wikileaks also reveals some honest people trying to do honest things.

But the rules of the game are that power and honesty are generally mutually exclusive, a point gently made by the Independent describing Britain’s former drug czar’s conversion to legalization: “Mr Ainsworth said his departure from the frontbenches now gave him the freedom to express his view that the ‘war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster.'”

In other words, while holding public office he was not allowed to reveal that the war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster. It is hard to fit such a rule into a definition of functioning democracy.

To make such a prohibition truly work, however, you need to have only a relatively few people in on the secret and not, say, two million military personnel with the proper Internet passwords.

This is the further damage that Wikileaks has done. It turns out that a private in Iraq can know more state secrets than most members of the club known as the Washington establishment.All those years in the Ivy League, all those lunches at the Metropolitan Club, all those boring lectures at think tanks undone by a few CDs and USB drives.

Washington’s culture has long been premised on a small number of people sharing power, lunch and secrets, projecting – with the aid of the sycophantic scribes of the media – an aura of competence and wisdom.

This is a culture which causes the thoroughly embedded Daily Beast to lead a story with the line, “As the world mourns Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. . .”

To imagine that “the world” mourning Richard Holbrooke requires a global perspective that borders on the microscopic, but that is how America’s ruling class thinks.

The idea that a mere private in the military and some Australian nut could so thoroughly blow their comfortable cover is, to it, truly shaking.

Wikileaks has thus not only exposed state secrets but also the Wizards of Washington, and it’s probably the latter revelation that these wizards hate the most.

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