25
Oct 10

Wikileaks and the Iraq warlogs

Three days after the release of almost 400,000 pieces of US Army data about Iraq between 2004 and 2009 it is already clear that what Wikileaks has done is a game-changer.

The leak will permanently alter how the Iraq war is seen: take this striking example from the Daily Telegraph. It may not shift the opinion figures on whether or not the war was worth starting in the first place. The detailed revelations are, I’d guess, less important than the massive accumulation of hard detail. Despite being reported in machine-prose, the logs paint an appallingly vivid picture of the careless brutality which flourishes not only in any war but particularly when an army is trying to work out counter-insurgency as it goes along.

Fiction could not compete with the surreal dialogue in which a helicopter pilot asks what he should do about suspects on the ground who are trying to surrender. The lawyer says they can’t surrender to a chopper, comes the reply. The helicopter with the callsign “Crazyhorse” blows the men to pieces.

As the experienced military commentator Robert Fox says, the axis of the information war has shifted. The public can now see the war with a sharpness and depth not possible before. (For the wider context of cyberwar read Seymour Hersh here and on military classification culture a Stratfor analyst here.)

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27
Jul 10

Assange, Wikileaks and the war logs

Are the Wikileaks Afghanistan “war logs” as big as the Pentagon Papers leak about the war in Vietnam in 1971? At first sight, clearly not.

Assange, Wikileaks and the war logs

Daniel Ellsberg

As the Pentagon Paper leaker himself, Daniel Ellsberg, gently pointed out, the Pentagon study had been a high-level, candid history which revealed the extent of government dishonesty about the war. Some analysts of that period concluded that the impact of the Pentagon Papers on public opinion at the time was in the damage the documents did to the government’s credibility, rather than in changing opinions about the war itself. The fact that the documents tended to support the view that the war was unwinnable had less effect than the revelations of large-scale lying to the public: people had already mostly made up their mind about whether the war was winnable or not.

Little of this applies the 92,000 documents in the war logs – as far as we know so far. The picture painted by the logs is rich in detail, but short on surprise. Civilians get killed and the military are reluctant to acknowledge it, secret military units try to kill Taleban leaders (and often fail), Pakistani spooks help the Taleban, the Taleban seem to have surface-to-air missiles (not clear how many or how effective) and, generally, the armies involved don’t give the public the full picture. War is ugly and messy; innocent people are killed. It may be useful for the record to have this confirmed in detail and that detail may well shift opinion further against the war, but it’s hard to describe these as revelations.

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12
Jun 10

Weekend miscellany: Assange, Kenyan corruption, why is sport so huge, the missed banking story and Iran

I’m increasingly finding, as this blog finds its feet, that I reach the end of the working week with a bunch of links which I’d like to pass on but which don’t require much comment or elaboration. I’m going to try bundling them into a single post. From time to time these pieces will have already appeared in “What I’m Reading” (just to the right of here) but that feed often osbcures the real subject of something I’ve clipped into Delicious. What follows is an eclectic selection, so there’s no point in trying to pretend that there’s any common thread.

  • Fascinating drama now going on around Wikileaks as the US government goes after its founder Julian Assange. Some background here. A more recent summary from The Economist, containing an intriguing little hint from Pentagon Papers man Daniel Ellsberg.
  • I’ve been reading properly for the first time It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong, the story of John Githongo, the man who exposed deep-seated, systemic corruption in the Kenyan political elite. The book is a superbly-written tragi-comedy: Githongo “exposed” a lot of appalling evidence but failed to dent the practice by which Kenyan ministers plunder the country’s treasury. But thanks to the depth of Wrong’s knowledge of her subject, the book is also a history of modern Kenya – and a very dispiriting chronicle at that. When Kenya’s tribal rivalries explode again, as Wrong predicts they surely will, reading this book will explain what is happening and why. Among her many qualities as a writer, Wrong is unafraid to take aim at conventional pieties. As they say in Texas, sacred cows make the best burgers.
  • Especially at World Cup you may occasionally wonder how sport, all sport, got so big. Because once upon a time, sport just wasn’t that huge a thing. When you don’t read much a subject – and I don’t read much about sport – you like an issue fully dealt with in a single place. This piece by Tim de Lisle from Intelligent Life is it.
  • Sometimes it takes a non-journalist to spot that journalists are asleep at the wheel. Not every document that emerges from the Bank of England is newsworthy or even comprehensible but the one spotted in this post was. As the perenially interesting MP Frank Field remarks here, this was not a story which either the Financial Times sor The Times ought to have missed.
  • A cluster of excellent stories from The Guardian on Iran at the first anniversary of last year’s stalled “green” revolution-that-wasn’t.

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