WIKILEAKS, PART II: L'ETAT C'EST MOI

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.

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22 Responses to “WIKILEAKS, PART II: L'ETAT C'EST MOI”

  1. Oxus Says:

    Okay, but names and meeting details of informants and collaborators were also released. This is information that Assange could have and should have redacted. Believe it or not, many local Taliban operatives do have access to computers and will utilize this information. I fully expect that people will die as a result of his decision not to redact these details, and collaborators will be that much harder to find in the future.

  2. Ike Says:

    Ah, but the military operation does have a purpose. Military careers are propelled by war. Medals and awards and deployments are what it's all about. So of course the generals want more of everything. And when they retire, they get fat jobs with contractors and multinationals and such. Follow the money and everything makes sense.

  3. Jude Says:

    I got in the same argument with someone the other day. He was complaining that the released documents showed the Taliban how effective their tactics were. He pointed to the datum about the shoulder-fired rocket taking down a chopper, as an example. I couldn't believe anyone would be this fucking stupid. I mean, do you really think that the Taliban troops engage in battles, then go home and wait 5 years for reports to be leaked about whether or not they had any success? The only people that didn't know about that were Americans who actually believed the Pentagon's bullshit about every helo crash being due to mechanical difficulties. Although, to be fair, having a pound of HE destroy one of your engines will lead to some serious mechanical difficulties.

    Regarding the informants: First of all, the enemy in an occupied country will always, always, ALWAYS have better intel than the occupiers. They're locals. The Taliban are like the VC; they fight where they live. When someone collaborates with the occupiers, THEY KNOW.

    None of the documents I looked at would compromise any missions or security at all. The only way you can do that is to publish details of upcoming operations, and, clearly, as the latest document in this bunch was from late 2009, that didn't (and probably couldn't ever) happen.

    Nothing in this info dump was really surprising. It's good to have the information out there, though.

  4. HoosierPoli Says:

    Wouldn't be the first time an American president was played like a three-string fiddle by military brass eager to fight no matter the cost.

  5. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    I'm quite looking forward to Andrew Bacevich's new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War" that will be released on August 3rd. His previous books about the military and U.S. Foreign Policy were quite good, particularly Limits of Power.

    Something I'm concerned about is this disconnect from America and the military. Everyone knows 1% of the population carries these wars for us, to me its bizarre how the 99% treats them, if the military people call Sean Hannity's show he always says, "thank you for your service." What Hannity means to say is: "Thank you for doing something so I can sit on my ass getting fat, eating cheese doodles, and watching the ongoing circus on the television."

    I may have actually supported parts of the Bush Administration if he had just said the magic word… sacrifice. If we are truly at war then tell us the truth: our access to cheap and plentiful oil is the root cause of our "war on terror" (*a preposterous statement* we can't go to war with a tactic such as terror). If we want to win this war we are going to have to give a little up of the black gold.

    The fact Obama hasn't significantly changed either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars is making my hair go gray!

  6. Seth Says:

    I was just starting to think what Hoosier says when I read Hoosier's comment. While I doubt this whole episode (the release of the docs) is coming from the Pentagon itself, I can easily imagine elements within DoD being quite excited about it. Why? Because: (1) they're already winning the rhetorical battle to make this about the *release* of the docs, not the content; and (2) they can reasonably expect that the anger, in Congress and the administration, over the release of the docs will translate into more warrior mentality, not less.

    Unless I missed it (which is possible over the last day or so), John Kerry is still the only Senator who has made the point that the docs themselves aren't the problem.

  7. oxus Says:

    @Jude:
    "Regarding the informants: First of all, the enemy in an occupied country will always, always, ALWAYS have better intel than the occupiers. They're locals. The Taliban are like the VC; they fight where they live. When someone collaborates with the occupiers, THEY KNOW."

    Yes and no. Obviously, we do not have great intel. We still have few Pashto and Dari speakers and are far too reliant on translators. And yes, the Taliban(s) have better intel. But "better" information is not the same thing as "perfect" information. No insurgent information in war can ever have perfect information across a large space. And this is why it is essential that certain information (including names) should have been redacted. In some locations (e.g. Helmand province) the Taliban are local and have deep ties. In other locations, it does not. In some villages, the Taliban is aware of who speaks with the ISAF; but in other villages, the information is dripping in rumor and not directly actionable. It is far less costly for Taliban operatives to generate a list of names from these documents and act on it than for it to punish an entire village collectively on the basis of faulty information.

    Regardless of what you feel about the leaks, why release these names (and times of meetings)? What good comes of it- other than a hit list?
    So here is what we have with this leak, 92,000 documents that provide:
    1) no new information for anyone who followed the war at even a low level of interest
    2) information that can lead to direct targeting of individuals.
    3) a hell of a lot of hype for Assange.

  8. John Says:

    As grim as it is to say this, America needs to suffer more losses before the people truly understand what's happening.

    The greatest success of Bush's presidency was to create a war that the American people are completely divorced from. In Vietnam and other horrifyingly misguided attempts at throwing our national peen about abroad, there was at least a tangible American bodycount. Fighting in Vietnam cost us lives, the lives of sons and brothers and fathers and husbands, and the people eventually began to feel that cost — and when they realized exactly what that retarded experiment in nationbuilding was costing them, they revolted, and forced the government to abandon the venture.

    With the "War on Terror™" (which I still hold as a patently farcicle notion in the first place, making war on an idea), Bush and the DoD managed to create a war that could be waged while slashing taxes (thus killing the surplus Clinton gave them and turning it into a massive deficit, but that's beside the point) and with a relative minimum of American losses thanks to all our newfangled remote-controlled killing machines. Now we can wage war at little cost to the American public, which keeps them from taking any interest in curtailing the immense waste of life going on in another country far, far away. War, to the modern American, is just one more of the reality shows on TV. It's a game, a sport.

    And as horrible as it is to say, the people will never wake up until this ridiculous unlimited war starts costing them something tangible.

    I would like to say that the release of these documents might help, but unfortunately they won't. The part of America that gives a damn already knows what's in those documents, and the other part is either too illiterate to read it, or is too busy watching/listening to the right-wing propaganda machine to pay any attention to what the documents reveal. Down with the Gub'Mint, all hail the perfect infallible Military that you should never dare question because WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA?!

  9. Matt L Says:

    Two great posts in a row Ed, thanks.

    Ultimately, this information points out that the Military was full of it, has been full of it, and will continue to be full of it. Not just in terms of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in the larger issue of defense spending and US strategic goals.

    The question is, in this glorious age of accountability in Primary and Secondary education, will the Pentagon and the politicians who support it be called to task. After all, there is no way to keep spinning this. The war will end in a defeat. It might be called something else, but the United States cannot meet the strategic goals it set for itself. Some of the responsibility lies with political leaders, namely Bush and Obama for pursuing political goals that could never have been met by military means, as explained by yesterday's post.

    But there is a second issue. The US Military is the best funded in the world. It has, in practical terms, an unlimited budget. The budget has grown from 7-10 % a year in the last decade. It grew in the Clinton years too. So, with unlimited money, and the best human capital of any modern army, why is the US Military loosing to the Taliban in Afghanistan? Is this an effective use of taxpayer money? Will the Civilian and Military leaders in the Pentagon held accountable? (i.e. be fired)?

    Or is accountability only for "the little people?" the school teacher, the mail carrier, the policeman, and other local civil servants whose positions disappeared because of city and state budget cuts.

  10. acer Says:

    Uhh, John? I'm pretty sure $300 MILLION a day counts as "something tangible." We're all sacrificing plenty; we just don't seem to realize it, particularly the military-worshiping "budget hawks" among us.

  11. John Says:

    That's my point, acer. National budgets and deficits are, as concepts, too abstract for this purpose. It's all well and good for the average American to say "Good heavens, the national deficit is absurdly large!" But they don't actually know what that means. It doesn't carry any meaning for them, because for the most part it only impacts their lives indirectly.

    Now, if there were to be, say, gas or food rationing, or increased taxation like there was in the time of the World Wars, the average person would be impacted much more directly by it. And they'd be hopping mad that they're suffering such impacts for, in the end, no good reason. The way things are now, the average person is completely, 100% unaffected by the war unless they have a relative directly involved in the fighting.

    And, as we have seen so many times before, those whose family members are actually dying in this pointless conflict have much less glowing praise of the military than the armchair generals in the radio booths.

  12. unrepentant fenian Says:

    Pentagon Papers Redux.

  13. mothra Says:

    To add to John's comment: we need the draft back, too. That'll make an impact, but fast.

  14. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    Agree. the "state-secret" bedwetters are missing the point: that the doctrine is not used just to protect legitimate items of national security, but more often then not to conceal the truth about government actions from the American people–who are apparently considered not to have the "right to know," never mind that it's THEIR money and THEIR blood which is at stake.

    Yep, it's 'Nam all over again.

  15. bb in GA Says:

    As of May 2009 here is our breakdown:

    Army 548K
    Marines 203K
    Navy 332K
    USAF 323K
    USCG 41K

    Active 1.4 million

    Army NG 403K
    Army Res 205K
    Marine Res 40K
    Navy Res 67K
    Air Guard 107K
    Air F Res 67K
    CG Res 11K

    Reserves 900K

    The Army’s active enlisted ranks are 456K.

    Very few draftees in the modern era have gone into any branch except the Army and with the exception of Medical Docs (Alan Alda’s resisting Capt. Pierce) only enlisted men have been the subject of the Draft. A few Marine draftees existed in WW2, Korea, and VN, but the Marines Brass hated it.

    If that tradition is followed then we have a need for just over 1 million men (Army enlisted, NG, and Reserve) who could be draftees. Again traditionally in the modern era the Draftee/Total ratio has been under 50% (except WW2, Vietnam was 24% – Let's use 40%)

    I have seen no big blow recently on the Services missing their enlistment quotas.

    Since we don’t “need” the draftees right now, what would you propose? Can you, in good conscience, draft someone who bumps a volunteer?

    How about qualifications? Right now the education level of the EM corps is higher than their civilian peer group per the DOD. I don’t think you want to expand the army (in all in its phases) by 400K essentially doubling the enlisted ranks do you?

    So, in a country 300+ million people do you believe that a two year draft of a high-side estimate of 400,000 men per year (after the first two year round) will have a significant effect on the “conversation.”??

    How we get there is another issue. If you start replacing existing personnel by attrition, how long will it take for the draftee contingent to fully populate (40%) the ranks?

    //bb

  16. Jimcat Says:

    bb, while I have to admit that you have a point in saying that we don't have a real need for a draft right now, I question where you get your data saying that "the education level of the EM corps is higher than their civilian peer group per the DOD".

    Here's an article saying that the Army is accepting fewer recruits with high school diplomas(!) than ever:
    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2008/01/23/army_recruits_with_diplomas_hit_25_year_low/

    Here's another one showing how hard it's been for the Army to find high quality recruits:
    http://www.nationalpriorities.org/militaryrecruiting2008

    I've shown my sources, now you show me yours. Otherwise I will conclude that, to put it politely, your words are not to be taken seriously.

  17. bb in GA Says:

    Jimcat:

    I will work on my source for that remark. But say I'm wrong (which I have been before.) Does that invalidate everything I've written in this item on this subject? Aren't you using the gotcha journalism that is usually decried here?

    This is a side show to the main point. If my estimates are correct, do you think that 400K people per year being drafted is going to be a game changer?

    This is really not an issue of Left or Right, but just an interesting (to me) question.

    //bb

  18. Barbed Wire Says:

    It seems to me that the major point of all of this is found in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph: we are giving Pakistan billions of dollars which it is funneling to the Taliban and our enemies….

    That sounds to me like we're paying just to have someone to fight, even if I doubt that were we not paying anything, the "probllems" would go away but certainly they'd be less well-funded.

    Now if I can just figure out how to work this scam here at home? Perhaps… use economic development tax money to hire arsonists to burn unsightly – unoccupied of course – buildings to keep my fellow firefighters and I gainfully employed, well-trained and happily experienced and justify our existence. Seems like a better use of those funds… than spending them on foolish and failing programs that continually need the clawbacks rewritten.

    Yeah, sorry I'm late to the discussion… busy day at work.

  19. bb in GA Says:

    Jcat:

    My big sin is that I have a pretty good memory, but like a lot of old farts, I'm just not keeping up.

    For that, I apologize. I thought my reference was DOD but in the short short I had to flip through the search I guess it's that godawful Heritage Foundation.

    Here is what my memory was working off of, but I don't know if I actually read this:

    "In summary, we found that, on average, 1999 recruits were more highly educated than the equiv­alent general population, more rural and less urban in origin, and of similar income status.

    We did not find evidence of minority racial exploitation (by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). We did find evidence of a Southern military tradition in that some states, notably in the South and West, provide a much higher proportion of enlisted troops by population."

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2005/11/Who-Bears-the-Burden-Demographic-Characteristics-of-US-Military-Recruits-Before-and-After-9-11

    So I guess I have probably made it worse. My data is old and the only cite I can come up with in the short run is from the Devil himself (from your perspective.)

    But again, the received Wisdom here is "We need to re-institute the draft."
    All I did was try to flesh that proposal out with some real world number estimates and ask "Do you think that would make a difference?"

    And you're pissing all over me cause I didn't have the latest data on what is really a side issue in this conversation.

    Oh well…

    //bb

  20. Jimcat Says:

    I did say in my original post that "you have a point in saying that we don't have a real need for a draft right now". In other words, I agree with you there.

    But you of all people have to be held to a high standard of truth, since you're on record here as saying "My interpretation of what's happened in my life may be incorrect, in an absolute sense, but it is mine." So any time you post an alleged fact, I want to know if it's a real fact or just your interpretation.

  21. bb in GA Says:

    Jimcat:

    Can I make a case for my sovreign right to use my powers of interpretation about what has happened to ME in my direct experience in my work life? That is the context of your "pull quote"

    I am not invoking that about "data" or factoids out in the cloud.

    But, I accept the burden of proof that you have layed on me since I am the "other" here. Just about everything I write will have to be a damn term paper…hmm

    But still, the central question of my little exercise is that the wise heads here are calling for the Draft to come back. Will it make any difference in raising the consciousness in the general populace about our Foreign War Adventures since more of their children will be involved? I submitted some possible numbers relating to that. It ain't friggin' ideological…

    //bb

  22. informatica Says:

    I like reading through a post that will make men and women think.
    Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!