Editor’s Note: Each week, we cross-post an excerpt of Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com.
The war in Afghanistan just got a little foggier—or a little more transparent—depending on how you choose to see the weekend’s 92,000-item document dump courtesy of Wikileaks. As London’s Guardian editorialized, "These war logs—written in the heat of engagement—show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitised ‘public’ war, as glimpsed through official communiqués as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting."
The futility and frustration illustrated in these documents should provide a fairly wide opening for a much-needed "what are we doing there, anyway?" debate. And I hope the ensuing discussion will lead President Obama to understand that the human and financial costs of continuing on this path far outstrip any conceivable security benefits. In fact, it is clear from the granular details in the war logs, and especially in the sections about collusion between Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban, that any homeland security provided by the war is significantly undermined by the anger and resentment—and armed resistance—of our Central and South Asian hosts. And the evidence that U.S. troops have sanitized accounts of bloody scenes they’ve left in their wake underscores that our presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive.
What to make of the leak itself? Of course, more than a few commentators—including Daniel Ellsberg himself—have called it a 21st-century Pentagon Papers. That "21st century" modifier may prove to be the most salient facet of this story.
In noting the distinct "times have changed" element to the leak, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote, "In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But WikiLeaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does WikiLeaks."
Read the rest of Katrina’s column at the WashingtonPost.com.