(...) The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to U.S. Empire (Verso, 2015) begins to address the need for scholarly analysis of what the millions of documents published by WikiLeaks say about international geopolitics. The chapters use a constellation approach to these documents to reveal how the United States deals with various regional and international power dynamics.
It is impossible to cover the wealth of material or relationships in this first volume, but I hope that this work will stimulate long- form journalists and academics to eclipse it.
Chapter 1 reflects on America's status as an "empire," and considers what this means, seeking to characterize US economic, military, administrative and diplomatic power with reference to the long sweep of global history over the last century.
The chapter establishes the "imperialism of free trade" framework that the rest of Part II then develops—a framework wherein American military might is used not for territorial expansion but to perpetuate American economic preeminence. Both themes are considered in more detail in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. Chapter 1 also situates WikiLeaks in the context of an unprecedented growth in American official secrecy, and the evolution of US power following the commencement of the "war on terror."
Chapter 2 examines the WikiLeaks materials on the so-called "war on terror." Besides providing a keen summary of the war crimes and human rights abuses documented in WikiLeaks publications, along with a detailed historical overview of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the consequent unfolding disaster there, the chapter also draws conclusions about the ideological and conceptual substructure of America's "war on terror," and investigates how an aspect of the imperial prerogative of the United States is to exercise decisive power to ensure that terms like "just war," "torture," "terrorism" and "civilian" are defined in its own favor.
The argument adduces evidence from the full range of WikiLeaks publications, along with other sources, such as the recent CIA torture report. In the process, the chapter also examines the double standards and problems arising from the misuse of these concepts (including the attempt to delegitimize and marginalize WikiLeaks itself).
Chapter 3 embarks on a thoroughgoing discussion of the "empire of free trade"—the relationship of the American form of empire with the worldwide promotion of neoliberal economic reform, providing American corporations with access to "global markets."
The chapter draws on State Department cables published by WikiLeaks, as well as WikiLeaks publications dating back to 2007 concerning the "private sector," including material on banks and global multilateral treaty negotiations. The chapter provides luminous examples of how the drive toward economic integration buttresses the position of the United States as an arms-length empire, and provides the underlying rationale for the patterns of intervention, military or otherwise, pursued in Latin America and beyond.
Chapter 4 is a do-it-yourself guide on how to use Wiki- Leaks' Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD), written by investigations editor Sarah Harrison. At the time of writing, PlusD contains 2,325,961 cables and other diplomatic records. The State Department uses its own logic to create, transmit and index these records, the totality of which form its primary institutional memory.
Harrison explains how to get started searching, reading and interpreting cable metadata and content, from the infamous CHEROKEE restriction to the use of State Department euphemisms such as "opposing resource nationalism."
The history of US policy regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a rich case study in the use of diplomacy in a concerted effort to undermine an international institution.
In Chapter 5, Linda Pearson documents what the cables reveal about the efforts of successive US administrations to limit the ICC's jurisdiction. These include the use of both bribes and threats by the George W. Bush administration to corral states signed up to the ICC into providing immunity from war crimes prosecutions for US persons—and, under the Obama administration, more subtle efforts to shape the ICC into an adjunct of US foreign policy.
Japan and South Korea have been epicenters of US influence within East Asia for decades. The cables document nearly a decade of US efforts to affect domestic political outcomes within these two countries in line with its own long-term interests.
In Chapter 14, investigative journalist Tim Shorrock examines the geopolitical triangle created by US relations with both countries, including its attempts to play one off against the other, as part of long- term efforts to undermine left-wing governments and policies within the region.
Of global GDP growth over the last decade, over 50 percent has been in Southeast Asia. This understanding has led to an explicit reassignment of military, diplomatic and surveillance assets to Southeast Asia, epitomized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a strategy of "forward deployed diplomacy." In Chapter 15, Richard Heydarian examines the cables on Southeast Asia and situates his findings within a broader historical critique of US influence in the region.
The critique of Western imperialism is most contentious in regions of the world that have historically been US protectorates, such as western Europe. So indoctrinated are European liberals in modern imperialist ideology that even the idea that the United States might be administering a global empire is routinely dismissed with references to concepts like "right to protect," demonstrating a willful deafness not only to the structure of US power around the world, but also to how it increasingly talks about itself as an "empire."
In Chapter 6, Michael Busch examines the broad patterns of influence and subversion pursued by the global superpower on the political systems of Europe and its member states. Themes include European government collusion with the CIA's rendition and torture programs, the subversion of European criminal justice and judicial systems to rescue alleged US government torturers from prosecution and the use of US diplomacy to open up European markets to US aerospace companies, or to invasive, monopolistic technologies and patents, such as Monsanto's genetically modified organisms.
In Chapter 13, Phyllis Bennis opts for a broad overview of WikiLeaks' publications on Afghanistan—including not just the State Department cables, but also the Significant Action Reports (SIGACTs) published by WikiLeaks as the Afghan War Diary, and Congressional Research Reports and other documents on Afghanistan published by WikiLeaks prior to 2010.
What emerges is a stark assessment of the folly of US military involvement in Afghanistan since 2001 and its cost in terms of human life and societal well-being.
Geopolitics is complicated, and all the more so in relation to a country like Israel. Israel's military dominance in the Middle East; its diplomatic relations with other regional players such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey; its role as an avatar for US imperial policy within the area; its wayward exploitation of its protected status in pursuing its own genocidal policies toward the Palestinian people—all of these themes are brought to the fore in Chapter 9, by Peter Certo and Stephen Zunes, which carefully interrogates the relevant State Department cables.
In Chapter 11, on Iran, Gareth Porter provides an excellent companion to the chapter on Israel, choosing to focus on what the cables reveal about the tripartite geopolitical standoff between the US, Israel and Iran, and the shadow this structure casts on the rest of the Middle East.
In particular, Porter focuses on the P5+1 talks about Iran's nuclear enrichment program, on US efforts to misrepresent intelligence in order to tip the international consensus against Iran, and on the role of Israel as both a catalyst for and an agent of US policy in the Middle East.
The conflict in Iraq is the focus of Chapter 12, by journalist Dahr Jamail, which draws on a wide range of WikiLeaks materials to argue that the United States had a deliberate policy of exacerbating sectarian divisions in Iraq following its invasion and occupation, in the belief that the country would be easier to dominate in such circumstances.
The consequent devastation is documented in painstaking detail using WikiLeaks materials, including US cables, Congressional Research Reports dating between 2005 and 2008 and the Iraq War Logs from 2010.
Jamail pays specific attention to the "Sahwa" movement— the US-sponsored program of counter-insurgency that was implemented to respond to the growing influence of al-Qaeda affiliates among Sunni Iraqis disaffected by the Shia-dominated US-client government of Nouri al-Maliki.
The United States paid large numbers of Iraqis to defect from the Sunni insurgency and instead fight against al-Qaeda, on the promise of receiving regular employment through integration into the Iraqi military. As Jamail argues, the failure of the Maliki government to honor this promise saw huge numbers of US-trained, US-armed and US-financed—but now unemployed—Sunni militants return to the insurgency, eventually swelling the ranks of the former al- Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, which in 2014 became known as ISIS, or the "Islamic State."
Across Iraq's northeastern border, in Syria, the cables also describe how the scene was set for the emergence of ISIS. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, warmongers in the media have demanded the Western military pounding of Syria to depose Bashar Al-Assad—presented, in typical liberal-interventionist fashion, as a "new Hitler."
The emergence of the Islamic State, to which the Assad government is the only viable counterweight within Syria, has thrown this propagandistic consensus into disarray. But US government designs on Syrian regime change, and its devotion to regional instability, long pre-date the Syrian civil war, as is demonstrated in the cables.
Chapter 10, by Robert Naiman, offers a careful reading of the Damascus cables, pointing out important historical presentiments of the current situation in Syria, and unpicking the benign-sounding human rights constructions of US diplomats to bring into focus the imperialist inflection of US foreign policy and rhetoric toward Syria—including concrete efforts within the country to undermine the government and bring about the chaos of recent months during the entire decade preceding 2011.
ClicheÌs abound about Turkey being a "bridge between East and West," but it cannot be denied that this country of some seventy-five million people occupies an important position— both as a regional player within Middle Eastern geopolitics and as a large and economically powerful nominal democracy on the fringes of Europe.
As Conn Hallinan argues in Chapter 8, State Department cables illustrate US efforts to exploit the rich geopolitical significance of Turkey. Hallinan uses the cables as a pretext to provide a tour of Turkey's regional alliances, strategic concerns and internal affairs. Among the topics he covers are the complex strategic energy calculations that necessitate Turkey's delicate relations with Iran and Russia, even as it cultivates the United States, Europe and Israel in its efforts to gain access to Western markets.
The chapter also examines Turkey's bargaining power, demonstrated in its use of a veto against the election of former Danish prime minister Anders Rasmussen as the head of NATO, in order to force the United States to pressure the Danish government into suppressing a Denmark-based Kurdish television channel.
The essay also deals with Turkey's internal issues, such as government policy toward Kurdish separatist groups, and the extraordinary underground political conflict and intrigue between Recep Tayyip ErdogÌan and the expatriate political figure Fethullah GuÌlen.
Since the end of the Cold War, and especially during the so- called "war on terror," US diplomacy has leaned toward South, Central and East Asia. Except in the case of one or two flare-ups, US-Russian relations receded from the popular consciousness as the main geopolitical dynamic.
This of course has changed as a result of the conflict in the Ukraine. But popular consciousness is not reality. As Russ Wellen shows in Chapter 7, in the decade following the century's turn the US has pursued a policy of aggressive NATO expansion, challenging Russia's regional hegemony within Eastern Europe and the former Soviet area and seeking to subvert nuclear treaties to maintain its strategic advantage.
As the cables show, these efforts have not gone unnoticed by Russia, and are recurring points of conflict in US-Russian diplomatic relations, even during the most cordial of periods. The chapter provides the necessary context for recent East-West tensions centering around Syria, Ukraine and the granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, and yields critical insight into a geopolitical relationship that, if mishandled, threatens the survival of our civilization and even of our species.
Perhaps no region of the world demonstrates the full spectrum of US imperial interference as vividly as Latin America. Since the 1950s, US policy in Central and South America has popularized the concept of the CIA coup d'eÌtat, deposing democratically elected left-wing governments and installing US-friendly right- wing dictatorships; inaugurating legacies of brutal civil war, death squads, torture and disappearances; and immiserating millions to the benefit of the American ruling class.
As Alexander Main, Jake Johnston, and Dan Beeton note in the first of their chapters on Latin America, Chapter 17, the English-speaking press saw no evil in the State Department cables, concluding that they did not fit "the stereotype of America plotting coups and caring only about business interests and consorting with only the right wing."
The exact opposite is true: the cables demonstrate a smooth continuity between the brutal US policy in Latin America during the Cold War and the more sophisticated plays at toppling governments that have taken place in recent years.
Chapter 17 offers a broad overview of the use of USAID and "civil society" astroturfing, as well as other, more direct methods of pursuing "regime change" in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Haiti.
Chapter 18, by the same authors, focuses on Venezuela, the socialist enemy of the day, and specifically on US efforts to undermine the country as a regional left-wing bulwark in the wake of the failed US-backed coup against the ChaÌvez government in 2002.
The response of the United States to the release of the WikiLeaks materials betrays a belief that its power resides in a disparity of information: ever more knowledge for the empire, ever less for its subjects.
In 1969, Daniel Ellsberg—later famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers—had a top-secret security clearance. Henry Kissinger had applied for his own top-secret clearance. Ellsberg warned him of its dangers:
"t will ... become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to them: "What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?" You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You'll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours."Freed from their classified seals, the WikiLeaks materials bridge the gulf between the "morons" with security clearances and nothing to learn, and us, their readers.