Disclosure comes at a cost. So does keeping the public in the dark.
If there’s a universal rule for politics, it’s surely been stolen from Las Vegas; what happens in Washington, stays in Washington. And when that rule is broken, it can seem like the whole world is turned upside down at once. Dozens of lies and cover-ups shattering into a thousand pieces, leaving the public to sort through the leftovers and pick out the truth. The latest such blunder comes with WikiLeaks’ release of the so-called “War Logs,” a collection of some 91,000 articles and dispatches on the war in Afghanistan that paints a disturbing picture of the conflict’s progress.
Reading through the logs in their entirety, it’s almost impossible not to feel some measure of outrage. Not only because Coalition efforts seem to have been so futile, but because such extensive documentation was kept from the public. In the midst of all that frustration, there have been calls to censor the media when it comes to war-related secrets, especially when reporting on them could increase morale in the enemy. And while no one could justify the posting of current American troop movements on the Internet, the right of the press to bring the truth to the public is more in demand than ever. There’s a reason that government officials are trying to kill the War Logs, but it likely has little to do with protecting our soldiers. Plain and simple, their dealings have been laid out for the entire world to see, and they’re not amused.
Everyone knew that the Afghan region was unstable, but in light of this new report, the extent of that instability is staggering. These revelations show that the Taliban has continued to grow and thrive despite billions of taxpayers’ dollars and thousands of American lives. But this is information that the public needs to know to assess whether or not the war should continue, and if it should, for how long and with how much more investment. If the Logs are to be believed, Washington has been manipulating the facts to make the conflict more palatable to the people, and that’s simply unacceptable. To hear of a much more powerful Taliban and a complicit Pakistan is shocking, but reactions have to be tempered with the knowledge that the intelligence still needs to be properly vetted and checked.
While whomever leaked the documents should certainly face the consequences of his/her (illegal) actions, it’s hard to deny the value of what was provided. It’s true that the names of soldiers and their informants, and of course sensitive logistics information, should be kept from the nation’s enemies, but isn’t it also true that the public has the right to know the results of their sacrifices? In a democracy, the cost of war is shouldered by the populace. It only follows that said populace gets a fair say, and that means a fair and complete assessment of the facts.
Perhaps more importantly, any war waged by a democratic country must maintain the support of the people. In a system where a single vote can launch an invasion or stop one in its tracks, keeping the public informed and willing is critical. The War Lots aren’t likely to change many minds on Afghanistan; if anything, such disheartening news will only harden opposition to further combat operations. But it provides an important reminder for future administrations that Americans have never been a people comfortable with war. It would be best not to sell them a comforting lie in an attempt to change that.