At some point, one could have predicted that the WikiLeaks document dump story would turn into a critique of the WikiLeaks document dump itself. Objectively speaking, there's very little that can be called authentically new information contained in the thousands of classified documents that WikiLeaks, in conjunction with the New York Times, Der Speigel, and the Guardian, rolled out on Sunday. But the conversation on the lack of revelations is starting to shift into one that insists that there's nothing important to see here, let's move along!
I present to you my own mini-document dump, showing how WikiLeaks has exposed the fact that the media is just bored to tears with a life-or-death situation that costs American lives and untold sums of taxpayer dollars. Here's a bit from the lead editorial in today's Wall Street Journal:
Among the many nonscoops in the documents, we learn that war is hell, especially for infantry, and that sometimes troops make mistakes; that drone aircraft sometimes crash; that a forward U.S. base near the Pakistan border was ill-positioned to defend against Taliban attacks and had to be abandoned; and that many Afghan officials are corrupt and that Afghan troops flee often under fire. Any newspaper reader knew as much.
Far from being the Pentagon Papers redux, the larger truth is how closely the ground-eye view in these documents reinforces what U.S. officials were long saying: that the war wasn't going well, the Taliban were making gains, and a new and invigorated strategy was needed to combat them. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations made the same diagnosis in recent years, neither one kept it secret, and this year Mr. Obama followed through with an increase in troops levels and a renewed counterinsurgency.
All this proves is that it's possible to take the same view from 30,000 feet in the air of the WikiLeaks documents as it is of the war itself. The war in Afghanistan isn't going well? Ho-hum! Tell us something we didn't know! Any newspaper reader knew as much!
What this leaves out is how this is often presented to the average newspaper reader -- that the "war is not going well" argument is simply offered up as one side of a debate, a side that the media takes great pains to paint as essentially unserious. Am I alone in thinking that the fact that this document dump has prompted so many in the media to simply admit that the war in Afghanistan is not going well is an extraordinary development in itself?
The Washington Post's Richard Cohen suddenly cares about Afghanistan today, too:
The news in that massive data dump provided by the dauntingly mysterious Wikileaks (who? what?) to one American and two European publications is that there is no news at all.
I sort of love how Cohen presents his stunning ignorance of WikiLeaks -- who have been in the news before -- as something that bolsters his insight. His attitude about what WikiLeaks tells us about the War In Afghanistan is much the same as the Journal's:
Indeed, what would have been major news is if these documents supported any optimism. That would have been a stunning reversal of what is fast becoming conventional wisdom: The war in Afghanistan cannot be won as winning is now defined -- defeat of the Taliban, eradication of al-Qaeda and the preservation of a functioning central government run by someone like our close friend and cherished ally, Hamid Karzai. This is not going to happen.
Oh, what? You mean you didn't know the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and there's no cause for "optimism?" My, my, Washington Post readers! That's been the "conventional wisdom" for a long time.
And this paragraph seems to live within a maze of concentric contradictions:
The Obama administration will go through the motions of hunting down the leaker and denouncing the leaks, as it should. (Government is entitled to some secrets; it needs them to protect us.) But after taking a deep breath, it may conclude that Wikileaks has done it a favor -- speaking the unspeakable, and not in the allegedly forked tongue of the mainstream media but in the actual words of combat soldiers. This will make the inevitable decision easier. Barack Obama, an unemotional man, will wind down the war in Afghanistan -- not just because he wants to but because he has to. This, like the news from Wikileaks, is not news at all.
I'm not even sure this qualifies as thought. If I read it correctly, after the Obama administration embarks on a fruitless, time-wasting quest to unearth the leaker(s), they will finally turn their attention to the war and discover that the non-newsworthy (in Cohen's opinion) WikiLeaks disclosures have actually "done it a favor." From there, the administration will finally "wind down the war...because he has to." But if, at this moment, Obama "has to" end the war, why isn't the media writing stories with the headline: "Obama Has To Wind Down The War, There Is No Reason For Optimism?" Oh, it's because they speak in "forked tongues."
So, WikiLeaks in one breath, has no news value. In the next breath, it is the best hope for winding down the war In Afghanistan. But, ho hum, this is all stuff everyone should already know!
It really is a wonder that no one's talked about how bad the war is going until now. It's almost as if the press just naturally assumed the rest of us were as bored with the war as they were.