Thursday, December 2, 2010

WikiLeaks for You & Me

I don’t know if we truly need to know everything WikiLeaks thinks we need to know to be good Americans.

Do we really need to know that Hilary Clinton called Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi “odd”? Apparently he is odd. Eccentric at best. Creepily so. Is it a threat to national security that Mr. Gaddafi now knows she called him odd?

So what if the Turkish Foreign Minister now knows his peers in the Middle East consider him “extremely dangerous”? Does anyone suppose he’s surprised by the revelation? Has he been left alone in the henhouse up to now? Or haven’t we been watching him pretty closely? He must have noticed folks taking the eggs with them when they left the room.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now knows other world leaders think of him as a little Hitler. He’s probably proud.

No one in the world arena is truly surprised by these revelations. Nor should any of us be surprised. Caring parents say things about their children that their children should never hear. Teachers vent about students, and go on to serve them well and faithfully. Bosses kvetch about their employees…you see.

We might be surprised if we knew the exact language used by diplomats around the world to describe Mrs. Clinton, or Condi Rice before her. Or George W. Bush. We might feign shock if we heard the descriptors applied to Barak Obama or the United States Congress. But the shock would be only a response to a particular word choice, not that others speak frankly, vent frustrations, or express concerns about the behaviors of those with whom they must put on the good face and deal.

It’s closed-room stuff that is not for public consumption, but now we know. There is no Santa Claus and our parents probably wanted to leave us at the campground at least once when we thought we knew everything.

I certainly don’t envy Hilary having to face those who’ve now heard the blunt references to their personalities and private lives. Part of what’s on in their minds though, has to be, “if she only knew what I said about her!”

This stuff is covering a big portion of the media plate, but it is not the meat of the meal.

We truly need to be concerned that a sad, bullied, and now vindictive private in the US Army could so easily access and share a trove of confidential and secret documents as his gotcha for the State Department. He needs consequences, and likely will get them as a first level scapegoat for the embarrassment much bigger wigs are suffering thanks to him. Clearly, folks in security and defense have some explaining to do, as well.

I don’t like that Julian Assange at WikiLeaks feels free and justified in publishing information that might put even one United States citizen in real jeopardy. Of course, the New York Times and other more traditional outlets published the documents too. Somebody close to the top needs to review the definition of “need to know” and even treason, and decide how bright a line to draw and how swift and clear a response to make.

I don’t like it, but I see the point about an informed citizenry when it comes to our government turning a blind eye to human rights abuse here (where we stand to gain), but condemning it there (where we have little to lose). At some point, we’ve got to stop kidding ourselves about ourselves and our government.

I don’t like it that the United States and its citizens (you and I) look two-faced, but I guess we are. We’re human. We want to believe we’re better than we are. We do believe it until someone like Assange comes to our party with a great big mirror and a klieg light. The release of some of this information might serve to get us off our tall white stallions and our penchant for preaching to those who may know us better than we know ourselves.

But does all this muck make us a bad country, a bad citizenry? No. I don’t think so. The United States is good, and we are good Americans. We just need to be more sober in our self-assessments, and more generous in assessing our colleagues at the world table. We’re not so different. We all have a lot to forgive, and a lot to learn.