Even as WikiLeaks fights for its life -- a phrase that becomes less metaphorical by the day, especially for Julian Assange, hounded and hunted by several governments -- its revelations continue to shake the world's power structures. Every day we are treated to the edifying spectacle of the most powerful and privileged people on earth scurrying around like panicked rats, trying to escape the streams of light pouring into their filthy backrooms, exposing their ruthless machtpolitik -- and their monumental incompetence at every level.
The trove of leaked diplomatic cables is too rich to encompass or fully process right away. Dip your hand into one batch and you come out with a whole handful of jewels, each one worthy of careful, in-depth analysis, buttressed with innumerable links to current events and detailed historical context. This is the work of months, even years. For now, we can only survey the highlights as they are released and draw some initial impressions.
Two things stand out immediately. First, the leaked cables reveal -- or rather, confirm -- that American "intelligence" on the activities of foreign nations is based almost totally on hearsay, rumor, gossip and fantasies brewed from a deadly mix of arrogance and ignorance. Second, they show that the overwhelming majority of the public statements made by top American officials about the nation's foreign policy are deliberate, knowing lies: the cheapest, most threadbare bromides about America's noble intentions coupled with cynical fear-mongering, which knowingly fans low-grade -- or non-existent -- threats into dire "emergencies" that somehow, always, fill the coffers of war-profiteers (and that new breed of gluttonous predator, the security-profiteers) and require ever-greater expansions of authoritarian power.
Or as Arthur Silber, who has explored these themes in depth for years, puts it: "They'll lie about everything."
Take for example a couple of the latest Guardian stories from the WikiLeaks trove: "Cables portray Saudi Arabia as cash machine for terrorists" and "Saudi Arabia rated a bigger threat to Iraqi stability than Iran." These are not particularly major revelations, but they are highly illustrative for our purposes. In them, we find American diplomats flinging accusations of extensive terrorist funding by powerful Saudis and, in particular, by Saudi-based charities which work around the world. Even as they report their assertions back to Washington, however, the diplomats admit that the "intelligence" they are relying upon is merely "suggestive," that it is based on "limited information," that confirmation of the charges and rumors is "hard to come by."
This is not to say that powerful Saudi interests -- that is, staunch political allies and business partners of the American elite -- are not helping finance extremist organisations around the world. This is hardly a secret: the Saudi Arabian monarchy itself is one of the most extremist organizations in the world, openly propagating a retrograde and repressive brand of Islam, even as its bloated ranks of royalty enjoy every possible secular indulgence in their Western pleasure palaces.
And the American government has often used the Saudis' extremist networks to advance its own agenda -- usually the undermining of any government or movement (secular or religious) that might offer a genuine alternative to thuggish American clients (such as the brutal dictatorship in Egypt) or simply to the general principle of rule by corrupt, rapacious elites (such as our own dear great and good in God's shining city on the hill). Must we bring up yet again the great US-Saudi alliance in building a worldwide network of armed Islamic extremists to fight the great Jesus-Mohammed-Allah-Jehovah crusade against the Commies in Afghanistan? (Well yes, we must, given the total amnesia that afflicts the American memory, where every new day is a fresh clean slate of goodness and righteousness.) And that, of course, just scratches the surface in the US-Saudi use of Sunni extremists over the years, in such places as Bosnia and more recently in Lebanon and Palestine, where, as Seymour Hersh reported, the Americans and Saudis were backing al Qaeda allies -- yes, yes, years after 9/11 -- to try to counteract Hizbollah and Hamas.
But are Saudi tycoons and Saudi charities specifically funding any extremist organizations that might not be serving American interests at this particular moment? No one knows -- certainly not American "intelligence," with its "limited information" and its boldly asserted unsupported suppositions. But what is interesting and revealing in this instance is that, in private, Washington evidently believes that powerful Saudis, with the knowledge if not the outright connivance of Saudi leaders, are financing America's enemies in the "War on Terror" -- but in public we hear nothing but high praise for our stalwart Saudi allies and their anti-terrorism efforts. Again, the Wikileaks revelations lay bare the ruthless power politics that actually govern world affairs, where murder, corruption, terror and war are simply the tools of the trade in a vicious, murky racket of ever-shifting alliances that have no rhyme or reason beyond a bestial urge for dominance.
The other story, about the jackal-fight over the carcass of Iraq after its American ravaging, is perhaps even more revealing -- and more sinister. Here we find American officials reporting back to the Potomac court that the imperial satraps in Baghdad are far more worried about meddling from the Saudis than from the Great Satanic Googily-Moogily of Iran. According to the dispatches, the Iraqi leaders are keen to assure their American patrons that they can easily "manage" the Iranians, who want stability; but the Saudis wanted a "weak and fractured" Iraq, and were even "fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government."
Naturally, the 2009 report of the then US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, is riddled with arrogant dismissal of the Iraqis' own assessment of their situation, and parrots back to Team Obama some of the usual evidence-free mind-reading of what the Great Googily-Moogily is really up to in Iraq -- which, even in Hill's most malign construction, is a level of "interference" several orders of magnitude less than, oh, say, invading the country, killing a million of its people, driving four million more from their homes and unleashing endless sectarian war.
But after tossing his bosses the ritual red meat, Hill gets down to the reality which, as our better know full well, lies behind their never-ending warmongering against Iran. He writes that the relation between Iran and Iraq is based on natural, "longstanding historical realities" that "should not lead to alarmist tendencies or reactions on our part." Iran's influence, he says, "should not be overestimated," and that the two countries will find many "points of divergence" on various issues, such as borders, water rights and ordinary political jockeying.
Again, the bipartisan American power structure knows very well that there is no great existential threat -- or even a minor military threat -- emanating from Iran. Yes, the Iranian government is a nasty, corrupt, amoral enterprise, blatantly violating its professed ideals and generally stinking up the joint. (Why, do you know they even execute women, and that their president believes that some kind of long-dead religious figure is going to come again at the end of time and take over the universe? What primitive barbarians, eh?) But so what? As the WikiLeaks cables have confirmed once again, all governments fall somewhere along this same inhumane spectrum. Readers can perhaps decide for themselves just where on that spectrum a nation that has engaged in the above-noted act of mass-murdering aggressive war in Iraq might fall.
But whatever they say amongst themselves, in public our bipartisan elites are eager to stoke fear and hatred of Iran among the populace, with the ever-present threat of war against the Persian demons held out continuously as an imminent, desirable prospect -- yea, verily, a moral good, done in the service of all humankind. Just as they knew all along that Iraq posed no threat yet spent years -- years -- wearing away all resistance to the act of aggression they craved, so too with Iran. It may appear at times that these homicidal cravings for violent domination have been put on the back burner, as we sometimes saw with Iraq; but rest assured -- that back burner is itself kept on high heat, and the stew of war is always boiling.
One final observation: it is remarkable that the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables has provoked a far more virulent and draconian reaction from government officials -- and from their craven sycophants in the mainstream media -- than we ever saw after the earlier releases about Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet many of those Terror War releases provided detailed, eyewitness accounts of horrific acts of murder, brutality, and depraved indifference toward the slaughter of innocent people. It seems the American elite are more outraged at being caught in various diplomatic faux pas than being shown to be perpetrators and facilitators of murder, repression and state terror. That's because they know that their cowed and passive subjects -- continually stoked with the hatred and fear of foreign demons -- don't care how many darkies get killed on the other side of the world. And so the Terror War leaks occasioned no more than a few days of Beltway bluster.
But the new releases put a bit of a crimp in business as usual for our backroom operators, exposing some of the rank hypocrisy and all-pervasive corruption of our great and good -- and of their clients and partners around the world. All this might -- just might -- give the rabble unseemly notions ... such as the idea that their interests are perhaps not being served all that well by a system run by and for a handful of liars, tyrants, killers and thieves. We can't have that.
And so Julian Assange is now being hounded -- perhaps to his eventual death -- not for revealing war crimes and atrocities, but for showing us a glimpse of our leaders as they really are: stupid, vain, petty and savage.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 7, 2010.