Wikileaks Afghan war diary and mistrust of government 

Between reading the general discussion about the Wikileaks “Afghan War Diary” document leak and the New York Times article that was produced via the publication’s sneak peak at the leaked documents, one thing becomes reasonably clear: despite the 92,000 document leak’s status as the “largest intelligence leak in history,” relatively little new information surfaced as a result.

Rather, the monstrous intelligence breach serves primarily to confirm the suspicions that many Afghanistan skeptics already had further batter the beleaguered narrative about America’s prospects in the country.

In some senses, that fact makes the Obama Administration’s reaction to the leak even more disappointing.

I mean, obviously the administration wasn’t going to be happy about the leak. No administration is going to be approving of a massive security breach occurring on their watch, no matter their political persuasion. But the fact that the battle is really over grand narratives reveals more about the administration’s outlook than were it about startling new discoveries.

Effectively, the leak impacts the Administration’s ability to shape the narrative about Afghanistan in a way that simultaneously circumnavigates inconvenient facts and serves to reinforce its previous decision making. In short, the Administration is upset about a leak that hinders its ability to lie out in the open about a tremendously controversial decision it made at a time when most of the cards surrounding that decision were on the table. And it is trying to do so when more and more Americans are becoming skeptical about its efforts.

A recent Quinnipiac poll concluded:

“Support for the war in Afghanistan hit a new low with 48 percent saying it was the right thing to do and 43 percent saying America should not be involved. That's not much different from May's 49 - 42 percent support, but markedly down from 56 - 36 percent in April.”

The same poll noted that for the first time in over six months, more Americans disapprove than approve of the President’s handling of Afghanistan (46%:43%). Eroding support for military efforts in Afghanistan has been, as previously noted, an increasingly widespread sentiment. And yet, in spite of this growing concern, the Obama Administration has sought and is frustrated over impediments to its ability to push a contrary line of thinking about the now nine year old excursion.

Efforts to shape opinion in directions that contradict available facts is, perhaps, a common practice as old as politics itself. But it is worth juxtaposing those efforts against the administration’s statements and promises in regards to openness and transparency:

 

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

 

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

 

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperateamong themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.  Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.”

One struggles to see the spirit of these sentiments at play in the Administration’s approach to the war in Afghanistan and it’s response to the Wikileaks document release.

The worst part being that this incongruity doesn’t prove true our wild “black helicopter” theories about the relationship between people and their Government. Instead, the Wikileaks story acts as an exhibit about the true banality of our mistrust towards government, in spite of all this Administration’s rhetoric to the contrary.

As so many Americans have come to cynically expect, no matter its vaulted intentions nor the promise of its stewards, government seems destined to have an inherently dishonest and collusive tension with the subjects of its governance.

The more things change...

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Scott Payne

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