Due disclosure: I have been writing here for years that the American public and that of its allies has not been facing the reality of its wars. The accounting routinely demanded of Israel is on an order of magnitude more severe than what the armies of the free world are called upon to deliver. I've been saying this, however, not so as to damn the Americans and their allies, so much as to call attention to the inconsistent standards. The war against the Islamists, I am convinced, is in its broad outlines not only just, it is essential; it's also inevitable if the free world wishes to remain free.
I've been looking through some of the Wikileak documents from Afghanistan, and I'm sick to the stomach. Unless the various Islamist forces which face humankind are all total idiots without Internet connections and with no ability to read English, these documents will get people killed. No ifs, buts, or any other comfortable lies with which to hide grim reality. Publishing this type of internal military documents and in such quantities, at a time of war, must harm the side whose innards have thus been exposed. It cannot be otherwise.
My personal experience with military-intelligence documentation has been limited to two very different cases. The first was in the 1970s, when at two different moments, one in my regular military service and one early in my reserve duty career, I was sat down on hills and told to observe the Arab country on the other side of the fence. (The earlier case was Lebanon, the latter was Jordan). We were given sheets of paper on which to record boring minutiae. Mind-numbing minutiae, actually, so of course we kvetched. In both cases someone mildly better in the know took us to task, going so far as to demonstrate why our intelligence services needed to know if it had been one uniformed policeman in that village or two, and how often they had come by. It dawned on me at the time that if one had a large enough collection of banal, innocuous and uninteresting data, one might find all sorts of important patterns in them. This was an entire generation before it became fashionable to talk about data-mining, pattern matching and all those things that make Wallmart so good at what it does.
The second, very different encounter, was when I was doing research about the SS and it's Nazi accomplices and collaborators, and I spent a few years poring over the slips of paper the bureaucrats sent back and forth with nary the expectation that I'd ever see them. Some of my fellow researchers and I had the time and patience to read the documents carefully and with a growing understanding of the world they were emanating from, and this enabled us to know not only who was doing what, but what different players would be likely to say - indeed, think - when confronted with some new situation.
So when I glance at a report such as this one, from 19 January 2009, even though I've never in my life seen this particular sort of document, I immediately take note that whoever's doing the reporting is gauging importance of participants in the meeting by the size of their security attachment; or that he (?) infers that Saroubi is likely Saroubi district - i.e that he doesn't know, he's guessing. Not to mention that the Americans know about the meeting at all: how do they know? Who told them? Which observer needed to gauge importance by retinue?
And that's one single document, analyzed on the fly by Yaacov who knows nothing from nothing about the context, the identities, the actions, nothing. Might we assume the connivers who managed to topple the WTC buildings might be able to glean actionable knowledge about their foes by spending a month or five carefully sifting through Wikileak's miraculous trove of operational military documents from an ongoing war?
In the snippet embedded here, Julain Assange says, and I quote: "We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not, umm, put innocents at harm, ahh, all the material is over seven months old, so it's of no current operational consequence, even though it may be of very significant investigative consequence".
At best, Mr. Assange appears to be a blathering idiot, an innocent ignoramus who has figured out a way to show us things we were never meant to see, and without ever stopping to ask why we weren't meant to see them invents a story about the evil powers-that-be and gleefully exposes. Though when he then goes on to pontificate about war crimes, the babe-in-the-dry-woods-with-a-flamethrower theory does seem a bit far-fetched.
The fog of war is often understood to mean the inability of soldiers clearly to see what's gong on around them; in its derivative meaning it then includes the limitations on the rest of us to make sense, at our remove, of what's really going on. Yet there's a third meaning, ultimately the most important one. The fog of war is the inability of each fighting side to know what the other side knows, what it intends, how it understands the battlefield it's in, how much longer it can stay on course. Julian Assange and Wikileaks have removed a huge amount of the fog that has been confusing the Islamists until this week. They will take advantage of it.
Democracies must craft an ever-adapting set of mechanisms to peer through the derivative sort of fog. Yet like all other parts of the democratic decision-making, there's a filter between total participation of all citizens, and real actions. There are elected representatives; there are means of oversight; there are all sorts of checks and balances. Shareholders don't participate in commercial negotiations, patients don't sit in staff-meetings of physicians, voters don't sit in the chambers of legislation, and no outsider is ever allowed into the room where the court or the jury deliberates its decisions. The idea that the military, of all organizations the one that most immediately deals with life and death, can be disrobed for all to see and no harm will be caused is breathtaking in its idiocy and its malice.