In an exemplary show of responsible journalism, the New York Times last week began running articles that analyze the latest trove of WikiLeaks documents, from Iraq.
No, I am not being sarcastic. The Times’ series was based on an advance view of the 391,832 secret American military documents that WikiLeaks illicitly obtained. The organization gave the same opportunity to preview the material to several other favoured liberal papers—the Guardian in England, Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany—and all seem to have made their best efforts. But I was especially impressed by the sincere attempt by the Times’ team to provide context, proportion, and fair emphasis.
Let me begin as they do by asserting that there is nothing very surprising to be found in all that haul. Scandals aplenty, and the horrors of war—of course—but in the main, the account which the Bush administration gave of what was happening in Iraq, is vindicated.
That there has been a great deal of corruption within the Iraqi regime; that their mistreatment of prisoners makes Abu Ghraib seem almost gentle; that the Americans too often “did not want to know”—none of this should surprise anyone with some basic understanding of the history and geography. U.S. and allied troops marched into a country that had been subject to decades of violent misrule.
That the numbers of non-partisans killed may be higher than official estimates cannot be breaking news, either. It is clear enough from the documents that the overwhelming majority of these were victims of terror strikes, and not “collateral damage.”
That the U.S. government has come to rely on private contractors, including security firms that provide what are in effect mercenary soldiers—where have we heard this before? It is a complex and cumbersome issue, lurking almost entirely in the grey areas of moral resolution. My impression is that it has more to do with manpower shortages in the military, than with any privatization ethic in the Pentagon.
That the allied “surge” may have worked, less because of the ingenuity of U.S. commanders, than because the Iraqis themselves were tired of bloodletting, and had become willing to cooperate with any effort to eliminate terror cells—could almost go without saying. I have cited before the old Indian adage: “Too much peace only leads to war. Too much war only leads to peace.”
But the biggest revelation from the documents is not about misdeeds by the allies. It is instead that the Bush administration actually understated its case against Iranian meddling in the conflict. The WikiLeaks include numerous field intelligence reports from which it is clear that Shia “militants” are trained, armed, and infiltrated by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, or directly by the Revolutionary Guard. And these are, in the old parlance of international law, direct acts of war by Iran against the United States and Iraq.
As even the liberal New York Times notes, too little attention has been given to this facet of the war in Iraq; and as I would add, the evidence is mounting for Afghanistan, too. Acts of war are the sort of thing no responsible state can allow to pass, if any sort of order is to be preserved in the world, and I think President Bush may be faulted for failing to take that bull by the horns.
That he fought shy of confronting certain hard realities can be easily explained. The weight of opposition, both at home and abroad, was on the side of “peace at any price.” And demonization of Bush as a warmonger—a view that history will be unable to sustain—stayed his hand.
I seriously doubt the sincerity of WikiLeaks’ claim to be serving some good purpose in releasing this vast trove. Moreover, I doubt their ability to black out material of direct use to the terrorists—for it is not just the names of informants that can be useful to them. Much blood will be on Wiki hands. And yet the sheer scale of the release has the effect of wiping away the various conspiracy theories that have animated both Islamists and the Left.
But again, there are no “secret wars.” A conspiracy that must necessarily involve thousands of people cannot be concealed—an article of common sense that should need no detailed argument. As these documents confirm, the basic facts of the Iraq War have been in plain view from the beginning.
Perhaps the most alarming revelation comes from following the timeline to the present. For while the Bush administration may have chosen its enemies too carefully, the successor Obama administration does not choose them at all. Uninterested in the Middle East, distracted from foreign affairs generally, the Obama White House is letting things happen for which we must pay later, and in a currency much worse than money.