Why The Wikileaks Document Release Is Key To A Functioning Democracy

from the the-difference-between-democracy-and-the-state dept

As various politicians and bureaucrats freak out and get the wrong message from the latest Wikileaks document leak, the Economist has an excellent explanation of why the leak is actually a very good thing in preserving American democracy. Will it make some diplomats jobs harder? Absolutely. But diplomacy isn't supposed to be easy. And what the documents reveal is that the US has a history of doing things it's not supposed to do. The really key insight in the Economist piece is that there's a difference between elected officials and "the state" made up of career bureaucrats, who are not necessarily subject to democratic pressures -- allowing them to make moves where they are not, in fact, answerable to the American public. And that's a problem:
The United States is nominally a democracy, but it's sadly ridiculous to think this means very much. To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it's important to distinguish between the government--the temporary, elected authors of national policy--and the state--the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America's intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America's unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

As Scott Shane, the New York Times' national security reporter, puts it: "American taxpayers, American citizens pay for all these diplomatic operations overseas and you know, it is not a bad thing when Americans actually have a better understanding of those negotiations".


I'd say providing that information certainly would have been a socially worthy activity, even if it came as part of a more-or-less indiscriminate dump of illegally obtained documents. I'm glad to see that the quality of discussion over possible US efforts to stymie Iran's nuclear ambitions has already become more sophisticated and, well, better-informed due to the information provided by WikiLeaks.
A better informed public is not a bad thing... except if your entire job is based on trying to keep people in the dark. Look at who's complaining the most about Wikileaks and you realize that it's the people who benefit from not being held accountable for their actions.

Filed Under: democracy, free speech, information, wikileaks
Companies: wikileaks

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  1. icon
    Matthew (profile), 1 Dec 2010 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: You can't have it both ways

    The mainstream media denounces Wikileaks for two reasons:
    1) They want to suck up to those in power so that they will continue to be granted easy access to the scraps of information they are given.
    2) Wikileaks shows the people just how bad the mainstream media are at their job. For whatever reasons (laziness, corporate control, greed, corruption, partisanship - pick your favorite mix) today's media and what passes for "journalism" on it are exceptionally bad at telling the truth and holding people and governments accountable for their actions.

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