Wikileaks and the conspiracist view of history

By Bob From Brockley, this piece on Contested Terrain.

26 Responses to “Wikileaks and the conspiracist view of history”

  1. Absolute Observer Says:

    And talking of all roads leading to Israel,

    “Shark attacks not linked to Mossad says Israel”
    (and, no it’s not a joke)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11937285

    You couldn’t make it up, but people do!!

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Now I know that I am entirely suspect in certain quarters (how’s that for paranoia?), but it does strike me that the Wikileaks crowd are either having a huge laugh at everyone else’s expense, or they really are complete innocents in the world of realpolitik, diplomacy and much else besides. It has _always_ been the role of the diplomat to “spy” on the politicos of the country in which they are based: why else send them there?

    After all, the original classic definition of a diplomat was of someone who “lies abroad for his (sic) country”, which, even allowing for “lying”in this context meaning “sleeping” – they don’t go home at night – tells us all we need to know.

    One has to be truly an innocent abroad to imagine that part of the the role of the ‘diplomat’ (who after all is a representative of their government not some independent, high-minded intellectual) _isn’t_ to “spy” on the other people, whether friends or foes.

    After all, can the Brits be trusted? Are the French flaky on this? How firm are the Germans? and what are the Russians _really_ thinking? And is the Un Secretariat as “civil-service” minded, really, as they want us to believe.

    And this is news?

    Someone should persuade the wikileaks personnel to get out more, stop believing in conspiracy theory, and take trusted and respectable courses in political science.

    • Yehuda Erdman Says:

      Brian
      No that is not the news but what is news is that some aspects of the dark world of “diplomacy” are revealed to the man in the street in the light of day. We, and millions or even billions of people have a glimpse of what is actually going on. Thanks to the power of international communication that reaches so many people previously disenfranchised, it becomes harder and harder for dictators to get away with launching their attacks on their fellow men and women

      • Jonathan Romer Says:

        Yehuda,

        I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it doesn’t seem to be the dictators that are having a hard time keeping their secrets or moving their programmes forward.

        • Yehuda Erdman Says:

          Jonathan Romer
          I have noticed but they do not live forever, and in some cases their reputations are reduced to tatters while they still live albeit in great comfort somewhere like paris.

        • Bill Says:

          “I have noticed but they do not live forever, and in some cases their reputations are reduced to tatters while they still live albeit in great comfort somewhere like paris.”

          If WL had the stones for it, they’d leak the “retired” dictators swiss bank account numbers. But once again, afflicting the homicidal isn’t part of WLs business model.

      • Lynne T Says:

        Yehuda: except, perhaps dictatorial self-appointed “whisle blowers” like Mr. Assange.

        • Yehuda Erdman Says:

          Lynne T
          I don’t see how a whistle blower is dictatorial. You may strongly disagree with their message or the method of delivery but surely all they have done is to release hidden information to a wider audience?

  3. modernityblog Says:

    Brian,

    A lot of the material seems to confirm, what many of us suspected concerning the Middle East, the fear of a nuclear Iran by Arabs states, etc etc

    And surely that is its benefit, confirmation and documentation.

    This material is a godsend to academics and students as it presents in a clear and unambiguous picture of the world, granted from one side.

    That’s aside from the fact that transparency on Government’s activities is probably a good idea, keeping them on their toes.

    • Bill Says:

      I have to agree here. Lots of it is filed under Duh. But I find it rather annoying (and admittedly as a yank) that the US is the primary source as if they carried out the state departments “Mean Girl” book with all the dish we expected them to be saying.

      Meanwhile WL has been saying that they also have juicy dish on Russia as well. But I suspect that this is rhetorical titillation, which is 90% of WL’s marketing strategy. Does Assange really want Putin to put polonium sugar in his gas tank? But then again is that why he turned himself in to western authorities?

  4. Marge Says:

    “Thanks to the power of international communication that reaches so many people previously disenfranchised, it becomes harder and harder for dictators to get away with launching their attacks on their fellow men and women.”

    Why? The thing about dictators is that they don’t care about what the “international community” thinks of them. Brute force trumps “international communication” any day. It’s just as easy for dictators to crush dissidents now as it ever was.

    • Yehuda Erdman Says:

      Marge
      You are incorrect because even the Chinese Government are very sensitive to criticisms of e.g. the subjugation of Tibet and treatment of dissidents. Robert Mugabe is wary of World public opinion and was desperate to launder his many misdeeds while he still could.
      How do you explain the Burmese junta releasing the leader of the opposition from house arrest?

  5. modernityblog Says:

    oh, both of them are downloadable as MP3s, http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/heartsoul

    Just do a save as…

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    This has to one of those “up to a point” moments. David Aaronovitch has an excellent column in today’s Times (unfortunately, I don’t have a link, as it’s now behind a pay wall: mine is a hard copy). Naturally, as one might expect from the author of “Voodoo Histories”, he is less than enthralled by the leaks. His major point is that, in general, diplomats _have_ to be able to report in confidence (and in the knowledge that the confidence will be maintained) else relations between governments will become impossible: diplomats will only dare report what can be published without embarrassing their goverbments.

    Further, assuming that we believe in defence of our freedoms, how can this be mainatined if all is to be published. I assume that the likes of Yehuda Erdman would hardly like to see Israel’s military contingency plans open for all to see.

    There is a reason why there is a 30 year rule for government and other sensitive documents: usually, bu the time therse are revealed, the major actors are well retired, most often, deceased, so they are not going to be called to account in any serious manner.

    Just imagine, as, say, an academic, not daring to speak one’s mind in confidence as to the merits of particular students, especially if suspected of being weak or even plagiarists, for fear of public revelation of these discussions? How could one do one’s job?

    Wikileaks goes too far: much further than “freedom of information” can allow, if we are to retain functioning government. As for the “revelation” that many other Moslem (and Arab) states fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions, I would argue that this is far less the hot news that wikileaks would have us believe. Of course mad dogs are feared, even by those of the same breed of dog (no insult intended to anyone). The Saudis find it easier to live with the idea of a secure Israel (because, broadly, it is a sane regime) than with a nuclear Iran.

    Why should anyone find this astonishing?

    • modernityblog Says:

      Brian,

      You make some excellent points, and I would naturally be tempted to argue that secrecy has been the linchpin of dictators and despots, equally, that people need to know more than they are told, which often misleading, false or incomplete, further, that we can only base our views correctly on evidence and as much as we might have supposed many of these points the documentation is good confirmation, I would like to make those points, but I don’t think Engage is the appropriate place.

      So I’ll leave you with this to ponder.

      If, as you say, “diplomats _have_ to be able to report in confidence (and in the knowledge that the confidence will be maintained) else relations between governments will become impossible: “ then we would naturally want to consider the situation **prior** to Wikileaks disclosures. Were those halcyon days of governmental and diplomatic competence? Or did they seem to make numerous cock-ups, blunders and almost unforgivable mistakes? The evidence suggests that they did, but naturally they don’t want it to come out.

      For another time and place…

    • Phillip Says:

      No one finds it astonishing. There are, though, some who would find it astonishing that you think your supercillious tone evidence of either intelligence or insight.

      The substantial point is that the more Governments know that their electorates know about what they and their allies are doing, saying, hoping/planning to do the more constrained they feel, which is a good thing. And by the way, if academics and, frankly everybody else are held accountable for what they say and do, well that just sounds like heaven!

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        “No one finds it astonishing. There are, though, some who would find it astonishing that you think your supercillious tone evidence of either intelligence or insight.” Oh for Philip’s overwhelming confidence that he knows better than anyone else what everyone else thinks. And he claims that I’m rude to him.

        I note that he offers absolutely no evidence of my (or anyone else’s) supercilious tone, and I shall treat his comments with the contempt that they deserve (until he manages to mount an argument instead of snide comments): silence.

  7. Yehuda Erdman Says:

    Brian
    Your remark “the likes of Yehuda Erdman” is a bit patronising and dismissive. I was not referring to the Israeli army or the intelligence services of Israel, but on that subject we may note that even they deserve to be scrutinised objectively because mistakes have been made in the past and if the lessons are not learnt from them, may result in perpetuation of the errors.
    To give an example which you may agree with was the conduct of the second Lebanon War, when Israel totally underestimated the capability of Hitzballa and there was a resultant EXTRA loss of life which could have been avoided. Fortunately the appointment of Commander in Chief Ashkenazi resulted in a complete re-organisation so that lessons were learnt and the Gaza War (generally speaking) was militarily a success.
    An even bigger mistake was at the time of the Yom Kippur War when the warnings of Israeli Military Intelligence that Egypt and Syria were conspiring to launch an attack, were ignored both by the army top brass and the political leadership of Israel. That error resulted in thousands of deaths, and Moshe Dayan offered his resignation to Golda Meyer. She did not lose her nerve and phoned Nixon, which then led to round the clock resupply of lost materiel to Israel. The counterattacks in the Golan and Sinai were successful, but if the Syrians for example has pressed home their early gains on the Golan they could have poured tanks in to Upper Galilee and cut off the north of Israel from the south. It seems they were afraid of a trap and held back, which allowed israeli armour and IAF tank busters to totally defeat them.
    You also comment that :-
    “There is a reason why there is a 30 year rule for government and other sensitive documents: usually, bu the time therse are revealed, the major actors are well retired, most often, deceased, so they are not going to be called to account in any serious manner.”
    I agree with you broadly because it is also unfair to judge historical figures with the benefit of hindsight. Also the British have a 75 year rule for extremely sensitive matters. A good example was the decision in 1917 to partition Ireland. The real reason according to top secret documents was that then Chief of the General staff warned the prime Minister that some army units would mutiny if the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland were handed over to Eire. In the context that many of the most famous army families in Northern Ireland were Protestants this was taken seriously, apart from the fact that british forces were already overstretched in Europe fighting the Axis powers.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      My unreserved apologies for any inadverdent disissive and/or patronising comments. I was using you as an example, but assumed that you are (a) an Israeli and (b) a Zionist. It followed from those assumptions that…

      None of this should have been taken for granted.

      Any comment on the substantive issues you raise will be posted later.

  8. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Yehuda, I think that we are broadly in agreement here. It is desirable that more information should be available to the citizenry, always providing that it is clearly and plainly the truth. The better informed “we” are, the better the decisions “we” should be able to take. Always, of course, allowing for the fact that pre-existing values, philosophies and ideologies will get in the way.

    Two problems remain (only two?!): one is that the latest wikileaks is a data dump of massive proportions, which means that sorting the wheat from the chaff will take an awfully long time and a great deal of effort. By which time, no-one will care which is which, because wikileaks will be on to the next thing.

    The other is (leaving aside any egotisical notion of wikileaks doing it because they can) the assumption that we all really want to know everything. I suspect that many of us may _say_ we do, but actually we don’t. Life’s too short for all of us to sift through this data dump; we have better things to do. We rely on those we trust (certain commentators in the various media) to do that for us.

    A third point occurs to me belatedly (or rather a reiteration in other words of a previous point): diplomats are hardly “spying” on the governments they observe. They are providing views on the strengths and weaknesses of government members and officials, and thoughts on their biases (probably exactly what companies do with regard to their competitors).

    Of course, information from impeccable sources can and will be ignored for all sorts of reasons, and no amount of wikileaking will make any difference, if only because it is, inevitably, ex-post facto.

    Funnily enough, on one of your examples of the suppression of information, Irish independence, I recall this being part of the comments provided in my “modern” history ‘O’ level course, back in 1960. The 75 year rule didn’t do much good here, except to suppress the names involved!

    • Yehuda Erdman Says:

      Brian
      We are substantially in agreement, and your comments on the Wikileaks are very true, it is after all human nature to love a bit of scandal but old news is no news.

  9. Bill Says:

    This is a few days stale but I just caught it:

    The first WikiLeak Llibel – a forged wikileak that is too good to be checked… this time between long time enemies Pakistan and India

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11967664

    How soon before we start seeing Israel being the object of some juicy lurid forged WLs? (And to be honest, I’m surprised that the Pakistan/India feud was the target of this particular first rather than you-know-who!)


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