Andrew Exum’s Times’ Op-Ed pretty much encapsulates the new conventional wisdom on Wikileaks’ Afghanistan document dump. After laboring to show that there’s nothing new or interesting in the revelations, he tells us how awful they were:
The Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel did nothing wrong in looking over the WikiLeaks documents and excerpting them. Despite the occasional protest from the right wing, most of the press in the United States and in allied nations takes care not to publish information that might result in soldiers’ deaths.
But WikiLeaks itself is another matter. Mr. Assange says he is a journalist, but he is not. He is an activist, and to what end it is not clear. This week — as when he released a video in April showing American helicopter gunships killing Iraqi civilians in 2007 — he has been throwing around the term “war crimes,” but offers no context for the events he is judging. It seems that the death of any civilian in war, an unavoidable occurrence, is a “crime.”
If his desire is to promote peace, Mr. Assange and his brand of activism are not as helpful as he imagines. By muddying the waters between journalism and activism, and by throwing his organization into the debate on Afghanistan with little apparent regard for the hard moral choices and dearth of good policy options facing decision-makers, he is being as reckless and destructive as the contemptible soldier or soldiers who leaked the documents in the first place.
What really scares a lot of establishment types is not Wikileaks itself, but that a group of soldiers or civilians with access to information have started to work against the war from the inside, and that they have a secure conduit to get that information to the outside world.