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One of the most interesting aspects of the emergence of WikiLeaks as a global phenomenon is the unexpected range of responses that it has provoked. The very nature of the WikiLeaks agenda is not necessarily one which readily adheres to traditional left or right wing ideology, so predicting any given person’s reaction has proven remarkably challenging. Take, for instance, the revelation that Vladamir Putin has openly expressed solidarity with Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks movement, implying that the leaks have been beneficial for democracy:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has led growing support from some world leaders for the beleaguered WikiLeaks founder, describing his detention in Britain as “undemocratic”….
Putin railed against the detention of the 39-year-old Assange, the Australian founder of the website which has been releasing thousands of secret US diplomatic cables as well as Pentagon communiques.
“Why was Mr. Assange hidden in jail? Is that democracy? As we say in the village: the pot is calling the kettle black,” Putin said.
“I want to send the ball back to our American colleagues,” Putin added.
Putin is not someone who is renowned for his embrace of democratic principles, so his vocal support for WikiLeaks is initially somewhat worrisome. Particularly when we consider that Christopher Hitchens, a highly intelligent and generally ethical individual, has spoken out against the actions of Assange and WikiLeaks:
All you need to know about Assange is contained in the profile of him by the great John F. Burns and in his shockingly thuggish response to it. The man is plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda. As I wrote before, when he says that his aim is “to end two wars,” one knows at once what he means by the “ending.” In his fantasies he is probably some kind of guerrilla warrior, but in the real world he is a middle man and peddler who resents the civilization that nurtured him. This Monday, in two separate news reports, the New York Times described his little cabal as an “anti-secrecy” and “whistle-blowing” outfit. Such mush-headed approval at least can be withheld from the delightful Julian, even as we all help ourselves to his mart of ill-gotten goods.
What are we to take away from all this? One might expect that those who uphold the highest ideals of democracy would embrace WikiLeaks, while those who despise democratic practices would denounce it. And to a certain degree this is what has happened, as demonstrated by the vehement protestation spewing forth from the likes of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Joe Lieberman. There are no surprises here. Yet in this instance we have the notoriously authoritarian Putin boldly vociferating his admiration of WikiLeaks for its promotion of democratic ideals, while the alleged champion of free thought, Christopher Hitchens, has expressed scathing resentment.
I suspect that the reactions of Hitchens and Putin are anomalies and are not representative of the norm. Putin likely sees an opportunity to burnish his heretofore thuggish reputation, and wisely recognizes that the WikiLeaks era of widely divulged classified information is here to stay. Undoubtedly, his regime will now be taking painful precautions to ensure that no such damaging leaks are spawned in the future.
With Hitchens, I am afraid to say that I suspect at some level he is somewhat of an elitist. Though I despise the term for its routine doublespeak usage, in Hitchens case I fear the original definition to be all too applicable. I respect Hitchens and greatly admire the work he has done combating religion and other forms of ignorance and intolerance, but on social and governmental issues his beliefs reek of disingenuousness and snobbery. His (continued) support of the Iraq War was remarkably brutish and wholly incompatible with the rationality and critical analysis endemic in his work, as is his most recent implication that preemptive war with Iran is also to be desired. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that both Putin and Hitchens are in agreement as to the loathesome nature of WikiLeaks, due to an innate antipathy towards democracy – Hitchens is simply honest enough to admit it.
And such is undoubtedly the case with most observers: disciples of authentic democracy and freedom respect and uphold the WikiLeaks agenda, while those who despise democracy abhor it.