Sure, Assange sees himself as sort of a high-tech information broker version of Robin Hood—shedding light on the dark dealings of the powerful so the little guy can see—and many other reporters doubtless give themselves similar romanticized job descriptions, but that’s bogus for two reasons: 1) We already know this guy is a fraud, willing and able to distort information he gets his mitts on to present the opposite of the truth, and 2) tolerating any of this, no matter how seemingly harmless, sets a bad precedent. It emboldens leakers, and even if today’s batch didn’t get anyone killed, you can’t be sure tomorrow’s won’t. And let’s be clear: odds are, people are already dead because of Julian Assange.
Ironically, Beinart links to another Beast commentary published today on the subject by Tunku Varadarajan, whose take is of course far better. Varadarajan notes that Assange is a radical America-hater who “has not engaged in a single act of ‘exposure’ that disrupts our enemies,” and that the candor enabled by privacy is an essential part of meaningful negotiations. Most importantly, he points out that the conduct unveiled undermines the whole point of such leaks:
[T]here is nothing that suggests that any great American global conspiracies are afoot. All this is the embarrassing release of diplomatic pillow talk: None of it is particularly surprising or alarming; and certainly, none of it is damning. The United States government, the leaks make clear, is often stupid, but never malevolent.
And even if there was—even in the fantasy scenario of an intrepid truth-seeker finding real, explosive evidence of wrongdoing by our leaders—Varadarajan notes one final difference:
There are those who make comparisons between the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks, not least Mr. Assange himself. If that is so, will he turn himself in to face the consequences of his acts, as Daniel Ellsberg did in the case of the Pentagon Papers? “I did this clearly at my own jeopardy,” Ellsberg said, “and I am prepared to answer to all he consequences of this decision.”
WikiLeaks’ latest leaks may not be the nightmare some fear, but they’re a bigger deal than Peter Beinart admits, ultimately because they are symptomatic of a government that cannot secure control over its own dealings. We are at war, and this is no way to fight it.