It will take some time to comb through the massive document dump that WikiLeaks unleashed last night. Thus far, a database available on the WikiLeaks website includes almost 77,000 documents. There are reportedly upwards of 15,000 more on the way. What we’ve seen thus far is not really earth-shattering, but it does tell us something about the motive behind the leak.
WikiLeaks gave three press outlets a sneak peak at the documents: the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and the Guardian. To its credit, the New York Times’s initial reporting (there will surely be more pieces to follow) was the most balanced, and focused on Pakistani duplicity. That Pakistan is double-dealing on America is not surprising. We’ve been saying the same for years for now – and so has the Times.
The other two accounts were not so balanced. In a piece titled “Afghanistan war logs: Massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation,” the Guardian reported that the documents show: “How a secret ‘black’ unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for ‘kill or capture’ without trial.”
You mean to tell us that American special forces are hunting Taliban commanders in the middle of a war zone without giving them a lawyer and a trial? The horror!
Der Spiegel says the documents portray a “gloomy picture” and their “release comes at a time when calls for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan are growing -- even in America.” Der Spiegel is of course happy to add fuel to those calls. But are the documents really that “gloomy?”
The three media outlets selected by WikiLeaks, which has been anti-war in the past, have had lead time to pick through them. And, again, it will take time to fully process them. But skimming through the documents released thus far, it is remarkable how few of them really stand out and how few of them are really “gloomy.”
Most of the documents are just the types of ordinary messages one would expect in a war: a cache of weapons was found here (Iranian and Chinese weapons appear often), while another was found there; the Taliban and al Qaeda really are ruthless and some tribesmen waffle in their allegiances (we knew that); IEDs are the enemies’ weapon of choice (we already knew that too).
Overall, the documents depict war as war is – a complicated and horrible thing. Some of the documents will undoubtedly cast the American-led war effort in a negative light. Most will not. Some of the documents will provide new, granular details about how our enemies operate. (And when the press focuses on these details, it turns up some very interesting nuggets.) Most of the documents, however, are ho-hum.
In the end, the documents are a sort of Rorschach test – people will see what they want to see. And WikiLeaks made sure to give the documents to journalists who see things the way WikiLeaks does first.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.