WikiLeaks and the COIN Consensus
If there's been any kind of journalistic failure here it began not with WikiLeaks, but with the pundits and policy makers who have failed to enhance public understanding of the war.
Andrew Exum, writing in the pages of today's New York Times, shrugs at the WikiLeaks brouhaha:
ANYONE who has spent the past two days reading through the 92,000 military field reports and other documents made public by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. I’m a researcher who studies Afghanistan and have no regular access to classified information, yet I have seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance. I suspect that’s the case even for someone who reads only a third of the articles on Afghanistan in his local newspaper. [Emphasis added - KS]
But is this really the case? "Move along, nothing to see here" certainly appears to be the consensus from the media and the policy community, but this is an incredibly small (albeit vocal) sample size of Americans. Broader survey data paints a slightly different picture of the American public's war understanding - one which is more confused, critical and mixed about the U.S. mission and prospects in Afghanistan.
I agree with Exum that much of the information revealed in the leaks was common knowledge to the commentariat and the think tankers, but I wonder if the same can be said so unequivocally of the greater public. Would support for the war radically change if, for instance, the American public better understood the Pakistani intelligence community's relationship with a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks? What about that aid package Washington just handed to Islamabad?
Exum would have us all believe that the WikiLeaks disclosures are both ho-hum and irresponsible journalism. Both may be true, but if there's been any kind of journalistic failure here it began not with WikiLeaks, but with the pundits and policy makers who have failed to enhance public understanding of the war. There was no need for such debate and education however, because a bipartisan consensus had already congealed around a counterinsurgency strategy.
Exum accuses WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of being an activist with an agenda, which is no doubt true. But is Assange really the only one with an agenda here, or does his agenda simply not sit well will the COINdinistas?