Empire against Republic: What explains the neocon rage against Wikileaks?

Based on Assange’s own writings Bady argues that he views powerful states as similar to, if not literally, criminal conspiracies. “…the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make ‘leaks’ a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s information environment. …Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire.*

Milton Mueller, author of the book ‘Networks and States‘, offers an insightful analysis of the huge reaction of the forces of Empire against the use of the freedom of speech by Wikileaks:

“To get to the root of the internet governance implications of the Wikileaks episode, however, one must examine the fulminations coming from the American Enterprise Institute, normally a rather staid distributor of dully predictable conservative policy wonkery. Assange, it tells us, is a “terrorist.” Wikileaks is “at war” with the United States. The whole world must polarize around this issue: You are “either with us, or you are with Wikileaks.” Assange should be put to death or assassinated. The U.S. military should unleash full-scale cyberwar against Wikileaks and any supporting sites. These are not a couple of passing angry editorials. It has been going on for days. Note also that this hysteria is largely confined to the USA. As one of our European IGP partners wrote, “most people see it as little more than gossip and, yes, some “revelations” that we already knew, really. Not to trivialize it, but states [here] do not respond to it as some sort of existential threat.”

So a few tatty cables and discomfiting revelations spark demands for death, assassination, censorship and cyber-war. What prompts this huge overreaction? We know that it is not any particular revelation in the cables or any specific security damage done. This is a clash of principles, a rupture in the rules of the game that the practitioners of US foreign policy find astonishing and threatening. And it is a rupture only made possible by the scale and transnational scope of internet-enabled communications. Not content to characterize computers and networks as weapons, the American Right now edges closer and closer to being enemies of the internet itself. Despite all their noises about opposing “big government” they reveal themselves to be completely and unambiguously on the Hamiltonian side of the great American Jefferson-Hamilton debate. The new polarity is here: Internet freedom vs. state power.

AEI and the neocons accuse Assange and wikileaks of being dangerous anarchists, but this is a case of Freudian projection. They are the anarchists. The reason they are so upset is that they believe deeply in the kind of unchecked executive power that is associated with the rise of a globally extended national security state. Empires, global spheres of influence and international affairs operate in an environment of political anarchy. Running an empire requires an army of diplomats and spies who have to strategically manipulate access to information, make opportunistic deals with unsavory foreign rulers, prop up favored puppets and undermine others, all with the threat of military force hanging over the process. The tension between republic and empire has been true since the time of the Romans. Many in the U.S. foreign policy and military establishments believe that public oversight is a nuisance in such operations; indeed, the most hard core imperialists openly contend that they are impossible to reconcile. The foreign policy hard-liners want both untrammeled power to surveill the public and complete insulation from any reciprocal surveillance of their activities.

The latest Wikileaks have thrown a hand grenade into this modus operandi; it has pulled the cloak away from this amoral, rule-free world of foreign affairs. Aside from the often unflattering personal portrayals there, we see that all kinds of information that is classified as “secret” really doesn’t need to be. Assange has revealed the deep contradiction between traditional liberal-democratic values regarding transparent and accountable government, and the existence of a U.S. empire on the other. Revealing this contradiction seriously undercuts the practice of business as usual in American foreign policy. This is what is so unforgivable. It is noteworthy that both mainstream liberal internationalists such as Hilary Clinton and the hawkish neoconservatives at AEI are on the same page.

Whatever one’s opinion about the wisdom, responsibility and ethical justification of the revelations, it has shown that there is a new countervailing force in the world that the militarists and diplomats don’t know how to control yet. This is, on the whole, a good thing. It is true that the disclosure power Wikileaks invoked can be abused. It can do real damage. But in relative terms, it is far more benign that the power it is being used against in this case and its legitimacy resides more in public opinion than anything else. The hysteria generated by foreign policy hawks polarizes the world around the internet and its capabilities and shows that, all too often, those who claim to be defenders of freedom are its worst enemies.”

From the recommended comments field, the following quote from R. Mullen:

“I coined the phrase “Law IS Social Media” because of exactly this situation: law is being rewritten daily because, first and foremost, it is a creature of human communication. When the modes of communication change, when the distance between nodes goes to zero, the law has to adapt. Law must eventually conform to reality,–not the other way around. The process is as painful as it is inevitable.”

1 Comment Empire against Republic: What explains the neocon rage against Wikileaks?

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