Let me get this straight. Robert Gates, the Secretary-Of-Defense-For-Life, is touring the TV news shows and major newspapers pleading with great angst lines in his forehead that WikiLeaks is "guilty" and "morally culpable" for releasing 75,000 field reports from Afghanistan to the American public because they endanger Afghans allied with US forces.
But he and the US militarists who initiated the war in Iraq and who have continued the war in Afghanistan for nine years, the people who keep everything about these wars secret except what is useful to sustain them, the people who finance these wars on credit without raising taxes, dumping the costs on future generations these people are not "morally culpable," "guilty" or endangering anyone?
Do I have that right?
In other words, to reveal information about the war makes one morally guilty of endangering people, while being responsible for the war itself does not.
You have to give a man like Gates credit. He has a pleasant, nice guy manner and earns his salary by being able to lie like a dog with a straight face and if it's necessary, even show a modicum of passion on cue.
The playwright Arthur Miller wrote a great little book called On Politics and the Art of Acting, in which he shows that Ronald Reagan was not the only actor in Washington, that in fact acting is an indispensable talent for modern US political leadership -- especially in this moment in our history when the ability to deny reality is so critical.
"Perhaps it needs to be said," Miller writes, "that as a general rule, an axiom if you will, the closer one approaches any kind of power the more acting is required."
When he was interviewed by ABC's Christiane Amanpour, Gates was in full thespian mode. He said this:
"I'm not sure anger is the right word. I just -- I think, mortified, appalled!"
Amanpour lobbed him a softball: "Is WikiLeaks criminally liable?"
"That's not my arena," he said. "But there's a moral culpability. And that's where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks."
Julian Assange, the Australian founder and director of WikiLeaks, says they held back thousands of the field reports they felt might endanger someone. "We've worked hard," he told reporters in London, "to make sure there's not a significant chance of anybody coming to harm."
The WikiLeaks revelations seem to be resonating much farther than their actual news value, which may explain Gates' passion. As Frank Rich pointed out in the Sunday New York Times, the WikiLeaks revelations, like the Pentagon Papers 39 years ago, aren't new information; what they are is "a herald of the end of American engagement in Afghanistan."
If Rich is right, the war in Afghanistan is over -- and everybody in Washington is now going into a huddle to get their stories straight.
A front page story in the Sunday New York Times supports this view. It suggests a consensus has been reached that the counterinsurgency campaign is a failure, leaving the default decision that the US military will be relying more exclusively on its Delta Force and Seal assassination teams used to thin out Taliban leaders and intimidate anyone thinking of applying for those leadership openings. The few al Qaeda leaders remaining in Afghanistan are also targets of these teams.
Labeled "counter-terrorism," this approach has been pushed for some time by Vice President Joe Biden. What it amounts to is jettisoning the more costly counter-insurgency "long-war" of development and "nation building" and focusing more on the secret hunter/killer teams that General Stanley McChrystal was famous for managing under the radar. (One of McChrystal's claims to fame in Anbar Province in Iraq was preventing the Red Cross from visiting the major hunter/killer task force interrogation center in Baghdad.)