WikiLeaks’ US embassy cables paint an unflattering portrait of the world’s sole superpower, argues James Supple
WIKILEAKS’ RELEASE of thousands of US diplomatic cables has enraged the American government. They have launched a desperate effort to shut WikiLeaks down and silence Julian Assange.
The anger reaches deep into the US establishment. President Barack Obama described WikiLeaks as “deplorable” and the White House itself is widely believed to be co-ordinating the efforts to cripple WikiLeaks. The scale of the cyber attacks on the WikiLeaks web site, and the pressure applied to corporations to take action against the site could hardly be authorised by anyone else. It took just one phone call from US Senator Joe Lieberman to get Amazon to throw the WikiLeaks site off its server.
So why is the US so angry? Their claims that the release of diplomatic cables put the lives of “named individuals” including US intelligence personnel at risk have little credibility. WikiLeaks has so far released only a tiny portion of the 250,000 cables, and all those released have the names of anyone who could be at risk redacted.
But what the cables have done is lift the veil on how the US, the world’s sole superpower, operates on the global stage. The picture they paint is one of a ruthless imperial bully.
Cables exposed how the US embassy in Spain pressured politicians and judges to interfere in trials against US personnel over extraordinary rendition, the killing of a Spanish journalist in Iraq and the torture of Spanish citizens in Guantanamo Bay. The US forced Germany to drop plans to prosecute CIA officers who kidnapped an innocent German civilian, who was then detained for months in Afghanistan.
Hillary Clinton ordered American officials not just to conduct spying at the UN in breach of international treaties, but to steal the computer passwords, bank details and frequent flyer numbers of foreign officials and UN staff.
This evidence about the reality of US diplomacy exposes the real face of US power.
The US justifies its role in the world as a guardian of “freedom and democracy”. But the only way it can do this is by covering up a mass of evidence of war crimes and abuse of power, and lying about its real aims. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are only the most recent examples of this. Over one million Iraqis were killed and a whole society destroyed in the US’s effort to grab Iraq’s oil and dominate the Middle East. It justified this with lies about weapons of mass destruction, and the claim it wanted to liberate Iraqis from Saddam Hussein.
But the US had helped put Saddam in power in the first place, and happily tolerates other dictatorships in the Middle East like Egypt and Saudia Arabia, so long as they will give the US what it wants.
In Afghanistan it justified war by pointing to the barbarity of the Taliban, but has put in place a regime based on warlords who are just as corrupt and ruthless. It then used the opportunity to build a string of military bases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia, as a way of keeping out Russian influence.
WikiLeaks’ releases of US war logs have provided evidence of hundreds of previously unreported civilian killings, use of torture and sectarian militias in Iraq, and a secret US assassination squad as well as the shooting of dozens of unarmed protesters in Afghanistan. This has reinforced that these are brutal wars for US power that have nothing to do with human rights or democracy.
The US administration’s onslaught on WikiLeaks itself is just as revealing. Not only is the US government willing to suspend freedom of speech to go after WikiLeaks, it also works with major US corporations to impose its will. As Julian Assange said recently, “We now know that Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and others are instruments of US foreign policy. It’s not something we knew before.”
But given the way the US uses its global power to serve the interests of US corporations, their willingness to work together shouldn’t really be a surprise. The WikiLeaks cables themselves show how US diplomats conducted lobbying operations to boost the sales of US corporations including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Visa, MasterCard and Monsanto.
The history of US foreign policy contains a catalogue of coups and armed interventions aimed at protecting US corporate interests.
In 1953 the US helped organise a coup to topple the elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mosssadegh after he tried to nationalise the oil industry, threatening US oil companies. The following year it did the same in Guatemala, when the government announced land reform that threatened the interests of US corporation United Fruit.
Part of the reason for invading Iraq is that it has the third largest proven oil reserves on the planet. After the invasion, US corporations like Halliburton and KBR were allowed to profiteer off Iraqi “reconstruction” contracts.
The US’s support for corrupt Arab dictatorships, especially the Saudi Arabian monarchy, is also motivated by controlling Middle Eastern oil.
General Smedley Butler summed up his time in the US army in 1935 by saying, “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps…I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
And even where direct economic interests are not involved, the US often wages wars to prove its ability to dominate over its rivals.
This ruthlessness is a product of the competition that is central to capitalism. The US government sees its own corporations as threatened by economic competitors in Europe and by the rise of new economic powers, especially China. This economic competition spills over into military competition.
The Russian Marxists Lenin and Bukharin analysed the emergence of modern imperialism as it arose in the late 19th century. It was a product of the growth of firms inside each nation state to such size that a handful of companies dominated each individual industry. As these giant companies spread beyond national boundaries they began competing with companies based in other states for the same markets and raw materials. Seeking the assistance of their own nation state in seeing off these competitors—ultimately through the use of military force—led to conflict between the great world powers.
The US uses its global power today in much the same way—whether through war, pressuring foreign governments for favourable trade deals, or in international bodies like the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank.
The US has used the IMF and World Bank to enforce “structural adjustment” policies like privatisation and cuts to subsidies on basic foods in third world countries, to allow US companies to take over local markets and boost their profits.
But the rage and horror of top US government officials, and their allies like the Australian government, is not simply at the current leaks, but the threat WikiLeaks poses to their capacity to keep secrets itself. WikiLeaks’ exposures on US foreign policy seem to be getting bigger and bigger. The release of the diplomatic cables follows earlier leaks including the “collateral murder” video shot from a military helicopter of US soldiers gunning down 12 innocent civilians in Iraq; and war logs recording the conduct of first the Afghanistan war, then the Iraq war.
Wars and diplomacy run to serve the interests of corporations and the rich have to be justified by lies and buttressed by a mass of state secrets. This is necessary not just to keep foreign governments in the dark, but for states like the US and Australia to keep the truth from their own people. Otherwise their demands for sacrifice from workers sent to fight, or for those left at home to support the troops, would fail. The majority of us have no interest in fighting their wars.
WikiLeaks has done us a great service in exposing the truth about US power. The exposure of state secrets can be a powerful way of showing the kind of world we live in. The leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 exposed that US presidents had systematically lied about the Vietnam War and that it had been known from early on that the war could not be won. This helped undermine the case for war and the continual government claims that victory was “just around the corner”.
One of the first acts of the new Bolshevik government after the Russian revolution was to release secret treaties outlining plans for the division of Europe among the victors after the conclusion of WWI. This was proof of the imperialist aims of those who had sent millions to their deaths in the trenches.
As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote, “Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests.” Knowing the truth about the wars and intrigues of our rulers will help more people to understand their real agenda.