The actions of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are reckless, amoral, and dangerous. But Assange’s bad actions do not invalidate the information contained in his leaks. If the publics of the Western democracies absorb this information, the world will become a better and safer place.
Start, for example, with what we can learn about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Western governments have invested enormous time and money to negotiate an end to that conflict. They have tried to muscle Israel into greater concessions to the Palestinians, and tried to coax the Palestinians to accept those concessions. The peace process has failed because the Palestinians hope that if only they hold out a little longer, they will be offered even more.
We engage in these wearisome and elaborate proceedings because we assume that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute holds the key to regional peace. But now the whole world can see: It’s not true. Governments in the region do not in fact care very much about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They are transfixed by Iran. They are terrorized by the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Which raises the question: If the Palestinian issue is so unimportant to the Middle East, why is it so important to us?
WikiLeaks raises the question: Why not say instead to the Palestinians, “You were offered a great deal in 2000 and 2001. You tried to get a better deal by going to war. You lost. So now it’s your problem. Here’s the telephone. You punch these little buttons when you are ready to talk. You negotiate the best deal you can. If you need a little cash to sweeten the terms, we’ll contribute. Otherwise, we’re focused on Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. Bye”?
That’s the other side of WikiLeaks: Not only are we way over-invested in the Palestinian problem, but we are way under-invested in the problems of these three major countries.
WikiLeaks confirms and underscores the intransigence and belligerence of Iran. Iran has, for example, annexed the Islamic Red Crescent as an arm of Iranian foreign policy.
But you knew that. Here are two things maybe you didn’t know: While the U.S. government describes Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally (a legal status that allows Pakistan to purchase sophisticated U.S. weapons), U.S. diplomats worry that Pakistan’s nuclear arms are not secure — and that Pakistan will not co-operate with U.S. efforts to enhance nuclear security.
Meanwhile, Turkey — a NATO ally, a country that Canada is, by treaty, obliged to go to war to defend — is allowing Iran to smuggle nuclear components across Turkish territory. This is the same Turkey that closed its bases to the United States during the Iraq war and that enables armed agitators to stage confrontations with the Israeli navy. What exactly does a country have to do to get itself kicked out of the club of Western allies? Has Turkey omitted any of those things? And has anybody noticed that Turkey no longer borders Russia, and so has ceased even to be of much use containing NATO’s former adversary?
Meanwhile, of the countries in the Caucasus area that do actually border Russia, one (Georgia) is suffering Russian occupation of big chunks of its national territory, while another (Armenia) has supplied Iran with arms later used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The organizers of Wikileaks say they wanted to blow the whistle on government fictions and expose the ugly realities. In a way they probably never intended, they have done just that. They have revealed that Iran is even more dangerous, Turkey even more hostile, Pakistan even more precarious and the Palestinians even more irrelevant than generally understood.
Originally published in the National Post.