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Why WikiLeaks Leaks Matter

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Why should anyone care about the secret diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has disclosed? So what if State Department bureaucrats say unflattering things about other world “leaders”? Some people may be asking those questions in response to WikiLeaks’s latest disclosures. Okay, they say, leaks about atrocities on the battlefield (such as the first WikiLeaks disclosure, the “Collateral Murder” video) tell us something we should know about — the gross misconduct by U.S. military forces, condoned by the command all the way up to the president of the United States.

But diplomatic cables? Who cares?

We all should care. The documents serve as a timely reminder that the people who collectively call themselves “the government” are professional liars. Lying is what they are paid to do. They lie to their foreign counterparts, but mainly they lie to us. The biggest lie of all is that they do it in the American people’s interest.

When American (mis)leaders profess confidence in the Afghan president and his government, while saying privately they are incompetent and corrupt — stealing hundreds of millions of Americans’ dollars — that’s the American people’s business — at least as long as they are compelled to bankroll the U.S. government’s lethal operations.

When American (mis)leaders praise and encourage the Mexican government’s efforts in the criminal “war on drugs,” while privately believing they’re practically worthless, that’s the American people’s business — at least as long as they are compelled to bankroll that evil crusade, which harms Mexicans and Americans.

When American (mis)leaders bomb Yemen while conspiring with the Yemeni dictator to portray the murderous campaign as the act of Yemen’s government in order to make it more palatable to the Yemeni people, that’s the American people’s business — at least as long as they are compelled to bankroll that dishonest and imperialist policy.

When Israeli officials implore American (mis)leaders to bomb Iran and even to effect “regime change” to stop its unproved nuclear weapons program, threatening to do it themselves if the U.S. government won’t, that’s the American people’s business — at least as long as they are compelled to bankroll militarism and suffer the “blowback” such an action would produce.

When Israel advises American (mis)leaders that a shipment of bunker-busting bombs “should be handled quietly to avoid allegations that the U.S. government was helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran,” that’s the American people’s business — at least as long as they are forced to underwrite Israel’s aggressive foreign policy, which will surely harm Americans.

When Secretary of State Clinton orders diplomats to engage in spying and identity theft, violating among other things the country’s UN obligations not to do such things, that’s the American people’s business — at least as long as the U.S. government forces Americans to support the UN as vital to world peace, while using it to justify invasions, occupations, and the economic warfare of sanctions.

Sure, at some level the American people already “know” that their (mis)leaders and (mis)representatives are chronic, systematic liars. Everyone laughs at the riddle asking how you know when a politician is lying: “His lips are moving.” But that knowledge too often fades deep into the background as the people are distracted or put to sleep by the solemn mendacity that issues from the politicians’ mouths on a daily basis.

So WikiLeaks performs a critical service in exposing the underworld in which the real U.S. government exists and operates. As the Economist, although a defender of secrecy, said, it “is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents.”

Some will say that this government — keeper of the empire, policeman of the world — could not exist without duplicity. I take them at their word. It again demonstrates that an imperial foreign policy conflicts with values Americans claim to cherish.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.