WikiLeaks: Public Enemy Number One?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange looks on during a press conference at the Geneva Press Club in 2010.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer ShowGideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine and the author of How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle, talks about how he believes journalists should handle government leaks and how the latest WikiLeaks may affect US foreign policy.

Following the release of hundreds of thousands of cables and communiques between diplomats and governments around the world, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has called for the resignation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He charges that leaked documents may show that Clinton directed American diplomats to spy on the United Nations. Gideon Rose says that the embattled leaker is going a bit too far.

One of the things diplomats do is gather information and report back to headquarters. It's not entirely clear exactly what they were asked to do in this case, there's no reason to believe it violated any laws, or is entirely inappropriate. Frankly, Assange's thoughts about foreign policy and responsible professional behavior are about in the same category as the Unabomber's thoughts on technology: interesting for obsessives in the case, but not something other people should really care about.

Rose didn't stop there. 

The idea that anything we found out in the WikiLeaks exposures are telling us dramatic new things or revealing any kinds of crimes or conspiracies just isn't the case...This is like the Stieg Larsson novels except the main protagonists aren't good guys exposing real conspiracies and crimes, but a bunch of irresponsible and malevolent children getting in the way of the mature adults trying to actually deal with important problems.

Assange clearly believes that he is doing the world a favor, even if it means doing the governments of the world's superpowers (and the U.S. in particular) a disservice. Rose, and several callers, disagreed vehemently. One named Ed could not believe that Assange is looked upon with anything but contempt. 

Assange himself has said that he is in effect an enemy of the U.S. His intent, which is important, is to weaken the U.S. on the battleground, in foreign countries, and to weaken us domestically. Democracy is not a suicide pact. I find it extremely disturbing that some people think this is an example of a civil libertarian who wants to do something good for the world.

So how much can these kinds of leaks hurt the U.S.? If the information released is not that big a deal, as Rose says, what's the potential harm? According to him, the information contained in these cables is less destructive than the implication that confidential communication among government agencies and between nations is no longer possible. Our government's first priority—protecting its citizens from harm—will be more difficult to execute now, he says.

One of the problems with 9/11 was that we supposedly didn't connect the dots. Well things like this, making it more problematic to share information that’s classified internally, is going to make it less easy to connect the dots next time.

If Rose is correct, Assange would be responsible for a lot more than just leaked documents. At the close of the interview, he called out Assange for creating more chaos instead of offering constructive solutions to real world problems.

Bottom line, I think quite separate from the question of whether they should be leaked or what we can do to prevent future leaks, people should look at the things they're reading and ask themselves, "Okay Mr. Bright Guy, what would you do differently about Iran than what's being done? What is your great idea that is better than what the Obama administration is doing right now? And if you don't have a particularly better policy on Iran that would satisfy all the interests involved, maybe you should defer to the professionals."

» Listen to the entire conversation on The Brian Lehrer Show.