Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on the Latest Wikileaks Documents

I haven't had anything to say about the latest Wikileaks document release because the material that has gotten the most attention is the least interesting. A huge amount of information was released, so I'm sure there are plenty of things to note. But the big stories are no great surprise to anyone who has paid attention and knows anything of war and military history.

First up is the Iraqi torture story. Is anyone surprised at all the the Iraqis have been abusing prisoners? How many countries in the region don't abuse prisoners? The only reason this story has been pushed is to create some anti-American propaganda, and to pretend that the U.S. is somehow responsible. The U.S. is damned if we do and damned if we don't. If we kept tighter control over the Iraqis it would be used as evidence that we were running a puppet government, imperialism and all the other things enemies of America at home and abroad already accuse us of.   Given the scale of the problem, there'd probably still have been abuses. And even nation-building proponents tend to recognize some limits on nation-building. Once you grant a new government sovereign rights, you have to let them exercise them.

Then there are the civilian casualties. Civilians die in wars. When it's an irregular war where identification of enemies is difficult, people switch sides, terrorists deliberately target civilians and the war itself is primarily fought in heavily-populated areas, many civilians are going to die. Because of the nature of the war there are going to be all sorts of accidents and incidents where the wrong people are killed. Focusing on the civilian deaths and various incidents is used by anti-American propagandists to obscure the fact that the U.S. military has bent over backward to minimize civilian casualties -- to the point of putting it's own forces at far greater risk. But there's only so much you can do given the nature of this sort of warfare.

Some on the right have also seized on the Wikileaks documents to pretend that since we found some WMD in Iraq, this justified the prewar intelligence assessments and the Bush administration's assessment of the potential threat. Let it go people. The Wikileaks revelations are nothing new in this area. We already knew that there were some WMD found in Iraq. But left-over, aging chemical artillery shells were definitely NOT what U.S. intelligence and the Bush administration expected. The U.S. military went into Iraq fully expecting to face a significant chemical weapons arsenal. What we actually found did not in any way match the prewar intelligence estimates. The estimates were so far off that it is unreasonable to pretend that what we did find in any way validates them.

One final point... Control of information and propaganda are important components of warfare, particularly irregular wars in which the U.S. is not employing its full military might. I've seen people actually arguing that we shouldn't classify things just because they might be embarrassing to the U.S. That's exactly why they should be classified. When we are fighting a war, we want our spin on events to prevail as much as possible. The same people who think secrets should be revealed would be happy to admit that the Abu Ghraib scandal seriously hurt the U.S. war effort. They'd talk about how it was a recruitment tool for the enemy, and so forth. It wouldn't have been, had we been able to keep it secret. Ugly incidents and even justifiable actions that can be spun a certain way to attack the U.S. are going to happen in warfare, especially over a years-long irregular conflict. Having secrets dumped into the open is a massive propaganda coup for the enemy.Those doing the dumping are directly aiding our enemies, regardless of whatever their particular motives might be.

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