The publication by Wikileaks of 91.000 ducuments on the Afghanwar has attracted a large amount of attention. Of course, the US national security establishment did’nt like the leaking and publishing of intelligence reports. On the other hand, some people consider the publication as verrrry, verrry important in exposing the horrors of this war that is endlessly and destructively dragging on. The first reaction can be understood, from their enemy perspective. The second reaction is a bit strange.
First, the official reaction. “The US government criticized the publication of the material and said it could threaten national security.” Well, of course! Governments do not like the publishing of their cherished state secrets. They prefer to plan and execute their criminal wars in secret. Otherwise, people might start asking questions and raising objections. The government’s fear is our hope: long live the leaking of state secrets!
And what about national security? The more secure ther national state, the less secure the people living under the mighty arms of that state, whether they be Afghan people or American people or anyone else. If state security is harmed by the leaking of documents, I am all in favor of that. The fact that military or intelligence personnel may be at risk by publication of intelligence reports is, well, bad luck. It is part of the professional risk of complicity in criminal wars. If Obama is truly concerned with the safety of these people, he should withdraw US military and intelligence forces from Afghanistan and stop the US war there.
But what of the docuements itself? From what I see in reports – a useful summary of which can be found in The Guardian – it basically says what anybody following this war already kne, only a bit more so. The war is not being won by the West, the Taliban gets stronger, Western forces killing civilians and covering up the killing only adds to popular resentment and to Taliban support, Pakistan intelligence helps the Taliban, unmanned drones kill people by the score. Things like that are hardly news. The Wikileak reports show that all this has been going on, somewhat more so than we already knew. Any qualitative news here? Not really. Chris Floyd makes that point in his usual excellent way on his blog Empire Burlesque, and I agree.
Floyd makes another point: some of the content of the leaked reports can be quite useful for the US military and national security establishent. That is especially true for reports blaming Iran for supporting the Taliban. The whole thing is, als Floyd sarcastically explains, not very logical. The Shia regime in Iran is not exactly good friends with the Sunni Taliban, whicht makes the idea of close cooperation somewhat weird. Then again, Taliban and Iran have an opponent in common: the US empire waging war in Afghanistan and pushiong for war against Iran. Some tactical cooperation betweet Taliban or related factions in Afghanistan and forces within the Iran regime cannnot be entirely excluded.
But there is another problem here that Floyd also points to. Journalists and others tend to treat the Wikileak reports as hard, factual evidence of what is happening there. It is not. Soldiers or intelligence officers reporting to superiors of colleagues, how reliable is that? Sometimes, such people will tell what they have seen. Sometimes they will tell what they think superiors want to hear. How can we know which is the case in this report, or that? Even less convincing are reports on conferences between functionaries. They may show what these functionaries think is going on, and what they would like to be done and so on. But there is, for the readers, no clear way of telling what is truth, what is deception, what is self-deception, and what is sheer illusion. We know how ‘intelligence’ reporting worked in the running-up to the Iraq war. Floyd’s suggestion that the leaks may have something to do with preparing a similar war of aggression against Iran should be taken seriously.
What of the Pakistan connection to the Taliban? That has not been exactly the biggest secret in recent months and years. But here, also, caution is in order. Juan Cole gives space on his weblog to Brian Cloughly, who thinks substantial Pakistani support to the Taliban unlikely. His reasoning goes like this: if the US supports Pakistan, which supports Taliban fighters killing US and Pakistan soldiers, this would amount to treason. Than t cannot be, so Pakistan does not support the Taliban in a substantioal way. This reasoning is not very convincing: sometimes these kind of ‘treasonous’ things do sometimes happen, however distasteful it may be in Cloughley’s eyes.
Be that as it may, the highlighting of the Pakistan-Taliban-link can also be useful for parts of the national security elite, the war planners in Washington. Just as with the Iran link, it strenghens the idea that resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan is not homegrown, but mostly a product of outside agitators, foreignd meddling – against the biggest foreign meddler of all, the US itself. If only the outside interference would stop, the US could manage its Afghan troubles without too much trouble.
This is an illusion: resistance in Afghanistan has local roots and reasons. It is not, in essence, a product of Pakistan and Iran. It is most of all a reaction to what the US itself is doing there: occupying a country and oppressing its inhabitants. But it is a useful illusion for the powers-that-be desperately seeking a way to, wel not to winning the war, but at least not openly losing it. Arm-twisting Pakistan and intimidating, possibly attacking, Iran, just might do – so some folks in high places perobably hope – what 150.000 Western soldiers in Afghanistan are manifestly failing to do: crushing an Afghan insurgency growing stronger and stronger.
The Wikileaks documents may show something of the horrors of this endless war. But parts of its contents can also contribute in the preparation of even bigger wars. We should applaud the fact of the leaking: there can never be enough openness, there is no such thing as a legitimate state secret. But we should not take a single word in it at face value. There are lies, there are big lies – and then there is intelligence reporting.