Friday, December 3, 2010

WikiLeaks: useful, gossipy, amusing, embarrassing and ho-hum

Well, now. Preacher-turned-Arkansas-governor then presidential candidate then TV commentator Mike Huckabee has given a clue about what sort of president he'd be in a "crisis."

When thousands of purloined diplomatic cables were released to select publications by WikiLeaks, Huckabee was quick to exclaim: WikiLeaks founder, Australian Julian Assange, should be "executed." Not "tried and executed." Just "executed."

This is crude political demagoguery appealing to the hang-'em-high vote. Yet as Arkansas governor, Huckabee showed the opposite inclinations. He commuted more sentences and pardoned more felons than three previous governors combined. Execution wasn't his cup of tea He looks even more infantile when the contents of the leaked messages are fully read.

If anything can be said of the leaks, they are harmless gossip that provide clear-eyed perspectives of overseas friends and adversaries, stripped of niceties. It's the pastime of every nation's embassies.

High tribute came from Iran's off-kilter President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He called cables condemning Iran a "plot."

The bellicose Russians were unruffled. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin even went on CNN's Larry King show to mutter that U.S. criticisms of vanishing Russian democracy amounted to "interfering" in his politics. Worse has been said about Russia on the floor of Congress and in New York Times editorials.

Weary Mideast peacemakers were warmed by cables showing Arab states and Israel agreeing on Iran as their common enemy. Only good can come of that.

To the credit of publications receiving the leaks, editors have been assiduous about cutting out "secret" cables containing sensitive intelligence.

Chicken Littles who fear the sky is falling because of the leaks have short memories. When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, politicians were quick to cry "treason!" Even so, not only did the U.S. Supreme Court protect First Amendment rights by refusing to stop their publication, but the public learned of Washington's 22 years of lies in Vietnam War decisions. Richard Nixon's Watergate didn't do us in.

Leaks about Ronald Reagan's 1986 Iran-Contras deal to sell arms to Iran also revealed presidential scheming and lies. But Uncle Sam survived.

And leaks about torturing terrorist suspects surely were far more damaging than a cable deploring Russian corruption.

Diplomatic relations haven't been broken or embassies closed. War hasn't been declared. Terrorism alerts haven't been raised. Impeachment of President Obama hasn't been suggested.

Washington talk of charging WikiLeaks with espionage is uncalled for. Criminalizing gossip would make Washington look silly.

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