Media See WikiLeaks Cables as Security Porn. They Don't Get it. Nor Does Obama

For the moment, the WikiLeaks scandal is all sound and fury-details about the site's fugitive founder Julian Assange, snippets of cables eagerly deciphered by a prurient press. The Obama administration is in a damage control frenzy as much of the world looks on, aghast that an alleged rapist has managed to tie the world's greatest power in knots.

But while Interpol seeks Mr. Assange and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton barnstorms on her embarrassing world tour, we hear little to nothing of the origins of this maelstrom. PFC Bradley Manning allegedly stole a quarter of a million cables over time, passing them to Assange in the name of transparency. Private Manning is now in custody in the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Va., awaiting trial.

Who else is responsible?

Senator John McCain has demanded that Manning's superiors be investigated and disciplined, but most politicos have focused on Assange, demanding he be tried for treason, hunted down, and possibly even killed. But what of the U.S. government? Should there not be consequences for a failure of this kind? Is there no chain of command in the military, and does every private first class have access to some of the most confidential musings of our national leaders? Who was Manning's supervisor when the leak happened? Where was the internal monitoring system keeping track of unusual downloads? Is this Private alone responsible for the WikiLeaks scandal?

These are serious questions, yet they are a matter of apparent indifference to the Obama administration, which has focused attention almost exclusively on adjusting its skirts while doing the international walk of shame. Security procedures have beeen tweaked and hatches are reportedly being battened down, but heads are not rolling. Apparently, it's enough that we close the barn door and hope that no other horses get away.

Perceptions at home and abroad

Overseas, this lack of command and control within the US government is an object of concern for our allies and a source of conspiracy theorizing among our enemies. Friends view the scandal as just the latest sign of American weakness, of a piece with a president whose policies appear less and less consequential in addressing the threats we face. They question the reliability and seriousness of their putative ally in Washington. Perversely, enemies like Iran are persuaded still of American might, and cannot conceive that incompetence is at the root of the largest leak in decades, if not ever.

And what of the perception at home? The State Department cables WikiLeaks published reveal an Obama administration that:

  • Worries North Korea is transferring missiles to Iran, but ignores the misbehavior of the former and seeks rapprochement with the latter nonetheless.
  • Bemoans the evanescence of democracy in Russia and the thuggery of its de facto leader while assuring the US Senate of Moscow's bona fides as a trustworthy signatory to the New START treaty.
  • Frets about nuclear security in Pakistan while assuring the public of the stability of the Pakistani state.
  • Continues to treat China as a responsible stakeholder in the face of actions that show it to be anything but.

Incompetence and hypocrisy

The specter of hypocrisy will be hard to shake off.

There is an element of pornography to this entire episode, and the dirty pictures are all still on full display, distracting many from examining the implications of this case in whole. But once the titillating information is digested, and Assange is apprehended, both the world and the American people will be left with a sense that the man in the White House is serious neither about his responsibilities abroad nor competent governance at home.

Danielle Pletka is the vice president of foreign defense policy studies at AEI.

Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

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