Posted in Rants on July 28th, 2010 by Ed

The titular quote is attributed to Louis XIV, although it is probably apocryphal. "I am the state." Regardless of who first said it, it's the shortest complete description of how a dictatorship works. Anything that undermines the dictator – revealing, for example, that he is incompetent or a philanderer or wets the bed or is barely literate – must be brutally suppressed. The interests of the individual and of the state are the same because there is no difference between the two.

When the entire apparatus of the state is geared toward exalting one person, there's no doubt about who is in control. While we can't say this about one individual in the United States, it is fair to ask if we treat our military this way. Certain segments of our population – I'll let you guess their ideological affiliation – appear to believe that a state secret is defined as anything that makes the military look stupid. Information revealing that they are serially full of shit must be classified as a matter of national security.

This appears to be the crux of the argument from those currently soiling themselves over the release of the Wikileaks information. Now, there is a legitimate argument to be made about revelations that limit the ability to wage war. But does revealing that the Pentagon is aggressively lying about the reliability of its allies and civilian casualties do that? Pakistan knows, and the DoD knows, that we can't trust it any farther than we can throw it. And fudging the civilian casualty numbers is a pure public relations move. Chances are excellent that the people of Afghanistan are already well aware of the excessive civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

The other casualty here is the credibility of American foreign policy more broadly, seeing as how we are giving Pakistan billions of dollars that it is funneling to the Taliban and our enemies. There's no reason to keep that information secret except to continue that policy – which is, to put it mildly, idiotic. Is a strategic alliance with Pakistan so valuable that the military and civilian leadership are willing to brush the whole let's-fund-the-Taliban thing under the rug to maintain it?

The answer might be much simpler: an updated version of the "Bomber Gap" myth from the 1950s. The military, like any bureaucracy, is self-interested and more than willing to perpetuate false or misleading information if doing so is to their benefit. In the Cold War this meant suppressing what we really knew about the Soviet military – namely that it was nowhere near as formidable as the DoD public statements claimed – to boost defense spending. There is a lot less intrigue today, with the military simply afraid that the public will lose patience with the war if exposed to the reality of how poorly it's going. That's it. There are no national secrets being betrayed here. The information merely kicks the legs out from under the carefully orchestrated effort to put a positive face on a military operation that is going nowhere and accomplishing nothing.

It is in our national interest to conduct successful military operations, not to make it look like we are conducting successful military operations. Until someone can show that the information release makes the former more difficult, I'm unimpressed with any and all appeals to the national interest.