There have been many comparisons of Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, focused on the economy. But the continuing leak of documents by Wikileaks has become for Obama what the Iranian hostage crisis was to Carter.
The Wikileaks folks trot the globe with impunity and funnel documents to the press at will, for the purpose of damaging U.S. relations with other countries, our war efforts, and our intelligence capability. And we do almost nothing about it.
Whether or not someone gets killed as a direct result of a Wikileaks disclosure, the damage to our country is deep, as allies and sources among enemies will stop cooperating with us for fear of exposure, our diplomats will be hesitant to speak frankly with headquarters, and our intelligence on al-Qaeda and others will be compromised.
We are the laughingstock of the world, an impotent superpower whose response to those who aid our enemies is to write a letter asking them not to do it. Yes, Harold Koh the State Department's chief lawyer, sent a demand freakin' letter to Wikileaks. It went something like this (my paraphrase):
Dear Wikileaks,Here is the letter which should have been delivered months ago:
Please give us our stuff back because it was really mean of you to take it and give it to all your friends.
Dear Wikileaks,Want to get a clue how clueless is the White House? Get this paragraph from the White House statement on the leak (emphasis mine):
If you publish any more material we will hunt you down no matter the cost, and you either will be killed while resisting arrest or you will spend the rest of your lives in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison, where the highlight of your day will be 1 hour spent in a cage instead of your cell. Don't look up, that sound of propellers in the air is not a Predator drone.
President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal. By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.Oh yes, let's be sure to get in a pitch for "responsible, accountable, and open government."
Have we lost our minds? Wikileaks is about hurting us, bringing us down, damaging our relations with others, rendering us impotent. This is not about open government policy, as if Wikileaks went a bit too far on its class project.
Julian Assange should have been indicted by now, and if the law did not allow more punitive measures in this circumstance, then the law should have been changed after the first document dump. Assange is an enemy of our country and should be treated as such.
Instead, we're writing letters and lecturing on accountable and open government.
Stick a fork in Obama, he's Jimmy Carter.
Update 11-29-2010: Ben Smith gets it mostly right with this observation:
The first victims of the leaked cables released Sunday are anyone who shared secrets with American diplomats, especially Arab leaders who saw their private security deals - and their insistence that those deals be kept from their people - published online with undiplomatic bluntness.Smith also invokes the hostage analogy, with the twist that these hostage takers have no interest in negotiation:
But the main effect of the many details of American diplomacy revealed in the thousands of documents obtained and released by WikiLeaks was to deepen the damage to their intended targets: U.S. foreign policy, prestige, and power.
"The impression is of the world's superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden," wrote Sir Simon Jenkins in the left-leaning Guardian, one of the publications that were given the documents.
Still, the leaks catapulted the Obama administration into a new decade that resembles, in its outlines, the science fiction of the 1980s: Rogue hackers, led by a disembodied Australian with a vague resemblance to Max Headroom have - with the help of a single disgruntled soldier - daringly beaten the giant defense establishment.It is interesting that some commenters, stoked perhaps by Dave Weigel, see this post as a call for "extra-judicial killing." But that is not the case; I find it hard to believe that the resources of the U.S. government, from the NSA on down, could not have been used to locate the Wikileaks people for capture and prosecution, if the administration had the will to do so. And if the laws were inadequate to prosecute these people, those laws could have and should have been changed long ago to cover this situation, as well as to provide a basis for the disruption of the networks handling and distributing the information.
They have generated the same kind of centripetal force as a hostage crisis, impossible to ignore, manage, or control. But this is a hostage crisis in reverse: The online anarchists who have possession of 251,287 American diplomatic cables have little interest in negotiations, and instead evidently plan to release the documents "in stages over the next few months."
Instead, we have an impotent government which writes demand letters, as if this were a civil litigation over a copyright infringement, and tempers its conduct with a politically correct homage to "responsible, accountable, and open government."
And, Powerline notes the hypocrisy at The New York Times, which refused to publish the climategate e-mails because they were stolen, but has no problem publishing stolen diplomatic cables.
And, The Hill reports that there is building Congressional pressure for the Justice Department to take legal action against Wikileaks, and also to have Hillary Clinton declare Wikileaks a terrorist organization, which would give the government sweeping power to shut it down:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should review whether WikiLeaks can be declared a terrorist organization, according to a senior Republican.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for U.S. officials to get aggressive against WikiLeaks after the website published highly sensitive, classified diplomatic cables that reveal frank assessments of foreign leaders and the war on terror.
"I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute WikiLeaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I'm also calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization," King said on WNIS radio on Sunday evening.
"By doing that, we will be able to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them help or contributions or assistance whatsoever," he said. "To me, they are a clear and present danger to America."Instead, we are sending demand letters and waxing poetic about open government.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube