Document leaks will force decisionPosted Wednesday, July 28, 2010, at 8:17 AM
The release by WikiLeak of more than 90,000 pages of documents, many classified, about the war in Afghanistan, will probably have the same affect on the war as the release of the Pentagon papers by Daniel Ellsberg had on the Vietnam War.
A public already soured on the war will probably clamor with even greater furor for an early end to American involvement in the war.
It's easy to shoot the messenger -- the WikiLeak website that largely provides a useful platform for whistleblowers -- but the true culprits are those who decided to release the documents in the first place, and it is they who should be held criminally accountable.
The massive volume of the documents makes it likely that the individual (or individuals) responsible are fairly high up in the information food chain. Because of the internet today, those documents were going to show up somewhere, but at least WikiLeak attempts to vet the information it receives and called on three prestigious and respected newspapers, the New York Times, the Manchester Guardian and Der Speigel, to help it check the veracity of the information.
Most of the high points in the documents aren't exactly new. Previous reports have indicated the Pakistani intelligence service has been aiding and abetting the Taliban, and the corruption of the Karzai government in Afghanistan is well known. But the documents provide a level of detail that shows the extent of those activities is much greater than ever suspected by the general public (but apparently well known by policymakers in this and the previous administration).
There are technical details about past operations in the reports that probably are already known to the Taliban. But those details will shock some people. Anyone who's been in combat won't be surprised, but those who haven't will discover that war is not very pretty. It's like making sausage. You really don't want to know the nitty gritty details.
For example, innocent civilians in war zones get killed. It happens. Whenever bullets and bombs are being tossed around, anybody in the area is likely to become a victim.
These documents will almost certainly give a better handle on how many civilians have died in this war, better than the vague estimates tossed around in the past, but one thing that's important to remember is how few there really are in comparison to past wars.
In WWII, both the Germans and the Allies deliberately targeted civilians. Today, we try to avoid it at all costs. In fact, the United States is the only country in the world that has both the technical capability and the desire to limit civilian deaths.
But limit does not mean zero. And while civilian deaths have dropped significantly since the Obama administration took over, the highly restrictive new rules of engagement that have helped protect civilians have come at the cost of risking the lives of our own troops.
The real problem with the release of these documents is going to be in area of geostrategy and politics, especially as it relates to our relations with many of our allies. This is where some of the disclosures are likely to be most disadvantageous to the United States. We wouldn't be surprised if some allies, who privately may be reluctant right now to be involved in this war, use it as an excuse to back out.
And it almost certainly will fan the flames of those in this country who want to see an immediate end to American involvement, which almost certainly was the intent of those who leaked the documents.
War and geopolitics are not for the faint of heart and the curtain on this war has been pulled aside for all to see. The genie is out of the bottle.
The question now becomes, what do we do with that knowledge and can we place it in its proper context?
At the least, it now forces the American electorate to make some decisions we may have been avoiding, and could have a significant impact on this fall's elections.
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