A member, and hoping to stay that way, of the reality-based community

02 December 2010

Again with David Brooks...

...and apologies for being so late to the party.

David Brooks really knows how to miss the point. After psychoanalyzing Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, he decides to use the occasion to obliquely criticize his employer for not respecting "the World Order" in deciding what to publish, or not. He decrees that the pinnacle of civilization is "order" in opposition to "chaos", that the leaked documents pose a threat to said order, and uses the particular case of the cables purporting to describe the reaction of American and Arab diplomats to the problem of Iran.

Fundamentally, Brooks praises said diplomats for reactions that are neither novel nor brave: American and Arab diplomats alike wisely express concern that Iran is as powerful as it is, and seek council or seek to provide it regarding how Iran can be deflected or opposed. For reasons that are completely left unspoken, Brooks imagines that 1) Iran is not aware of this set of reactions, 2) that American (and thus in his eyes by extension world) security is threatened by this exposure, not least because the relationships on which American and Arab security depend are threatened.

This is absurd. There is nothing new here. These are opinions that have been publicly and openly expressed by many people in all of these governments for literally years. So, to pretend that the public revelation that these same opinions have been expressed by functionaries of more than a few governments is somehow going to threaten the "order" on which our civilization depends is to imagine things that are not true and that cannot be true. Worse, the idea that order is dependent on secrecy and political chicanery is disturbing and wrong.

People (in democratic societies at least) are best served by diplomacy that is open and honest about the goals of the society and about the methods used to attain those goals. To wit: in the 1950s and 1960s, the United States government, under administrations of both major stripes, used assassination and support for insurgencies to overthrow more than a few governments (Chile, Iran, and Congo come immediately to mind, but one suspects I've listed only a few out of many). The governments that we supported in the aftermath of these "successes" killed many more of their citizens in the name of "order" than the governments they replaced. In fact, with the exception of Chile, very few of these countries have recovered from the disorder we sowed.

Secrecy in diplomacy (and in diplomatic skulduggery) did not serve "order" in these cases, or their close relatives. It undermined it. Perhaps not in the US. No doubt there were a few American "interests"-- read: businesses-- that benefited, in the short term, from Iran's government being beholden to the US government for being in power. I doubt, thought, that any amount of money would make a difference to the many families who lost their loved ones to the Shah's secret police. And it's difficult not to believe that the attitudes that allowed our government to think it was OK to overthrow the democratically elected governments of Chile or Iran is the same attitude that allowed it to lie to us about the situation in Vietnam or Iraq, so we'd end up bankrupting our treasury and throwing away tens of thousands of American lives (not even counting the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese or Iraqi lives throw away).

The sooner we recognize these things, and demand openness and treaties (voted into place by the Senate) as the way to conduct diplomacy, the sooner we'll begin to live in peace with the rest of the world. No, it won't end the war in Afghanistan immediately. But it might keep us out the next "Afghanistan", or "Vietnam", or "Iraq".