Hillary Clinton, Julian Assange said, “should resign.” Speaking over Skype from an undisclosed location on Tuesday, the WikiLeaks founder was replying to a question by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel over the diplomatic-cable dump that Assange’s organization loosed on the world this past weekend. Stengel had said the U.S. Secretary of State was looking like “the fall guy” in the ensuing controversy, and had asked whether her firing or resignation was an outcome that Assange wanted. “I don’t think it would make much of a difference either way,” Assange said. “But she should resign if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. Yes, she should resign over that.”…
Asked what his “moral calculus” was to justify publishing the leaks and whether he considered what he was doing to be “civil disobedience,” Assange said, “Not at all. This organization practices civil obedience, that is, we are an organization that tries to make the world more civil and act against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction.” As for whether WikiLeaks was breaking the law, he said, “We have now in our four-year history, and over 100 legal attacks of various kinds, been victorious in all of those matters.” He added, “It’s very important to remember the law is not what, not simply what, powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is.”
There are indeed treaties that prohibit spying at the UN, but should that legal formality matter to Obama? Not only was his foreign policy platform during the campaign unusually diplo-centric (remember his promise to meet with any world leader without preconditions?), but the contrast with Bush that he strained so hard to draw was based on the idea that perceptions of the United States matter crucially to our success abroad. Now, suddenly, here’s his own secretary of state apparently caught endorsing a little spycraft inside the Mos Eisley cantina of global diplomacy. Pretty bad perceptions-wise. What’s a soft power aficionado to do?
My hunch: Knowing that he can’t afford to further alienate Clinton Democrats ahead of 2012 and fully aware that dumping her won’t do a smidge of good to improve U.S. standing in the eyes of rabid anti-Americans like Assange, he’ll pat her on the back and say she’s guilty of nothing more than being a bit too zealous in defense of her country’s interests. And pretty much every last voter in America aside from 20 percent on the far left fringe will agree with him. Especially now that articles are starting to appear chronicling the damage Wikileaks has done not only to intelligence sharing between U.S. agencies but to the whole project of diplo-centric Democratic foreign policy. I made that point myself when the documents first dropped on Sunday: For an ostensibly anti-war organization, Wikileaks ironically has done more damage to the State Department than it has to Defense.
Today’s early evening document dump is out at the Times and Guardian. Back in a few minutes with an update on the newest dirt dished.
Update: A stark reminder from tonight’s NYT story that these leaks are indeed capable of damaging the United States.
Less than a month after President Obama testily assured reporters in 2009 that Pakistan’s nuclear materials “will remain out of militant hands,” his ambassador here sent a secret message to Washington suggesting that she was worried about just that.
The ambassador’s concern was a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, sitting for years near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan. There was enough to build several “dirty bombs” or, in skilled hands, possibly enough for an actual nuclear bomb…
She wrote to senior American officials that the Pakistani government had concluded that “the ‘sensational’ international and local media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time.”
A senior Pakistani official, she said, warned that if word leaked out that Americans were helping remove the fuel, the local press would “certainly portray it as it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”
No doubt that’s precisely what they’ll do tomorrow, which means Pakistani cooperation on loose nukes will be that much smaller going forward. That’s not the only subject where secrecy is underscored either: The Pakistani military reportedly allowed a small team of U.S. special forces troops into the tribal areas last year, a development the American embassy emphasized should be kept confidential lest they nix future deployments. So much for that.
In fact, read the Guardian’s piece on the cables and you’ll see that cooperation is the least of American concerns. Some of the language about Pakistan being on the brink of collapse is hair-raising, especially when coupled with warnings about Islamists wanting nukes and worries that Pakistani military or nuclear techs might be willing and able to smuggle bomb-grade material out. As always with Pakistan, its systemic weakness ends up, oddly, being its strength: It’s because the country fears being overrun by India that it’s invested so heavily in a nuclear deterrent, which means more uranium production, which means that much greater a chance of jihadis with nuclear weapons or dirty bombs. Frankly, after reading the Guardian piece, it’s hard to believe nuclear material hasn’t leaked out already.