The New York Times said of Snowden that he had “done his country a great service” by releasing classified information from the NSA. He was showered with international honours, even being made rector of the University of Glasgow. Noam Chomsky was, naturally, only too willing to offer his support to Assange. The upper echelons of the Democratic Party, which oversaw and administered the security services, were naturally quick to condemn the leaks.
But amongst the bien pensants of the Guardian and Le Monde, WikiLeaks were doing God’s own work. Such comments have been rarely heard since its apparent attempts to swing the election against Clinton through the publications of the DNC and Podesta emails.
Similarly lost down the memory hole is the contempt heaped on Mitt Romney for saying in 2012 that Russia was America’s number one geo-political threat. Joe Biden thought it showed Romney was one of a “small group of cold war holdovers”; Hillary Clinton described the analysis as “dated”; and John Kerry exercised his razor-sharp wit by suggesting that the extent of Romney’s knowledge of Russia was gained watching Rocky IV. Yet now such rhetoric is par for the course from the very same people. We are being led to believe that the Russian government, not only attempted, but succeeded in influencing the election, by hacking into the DNC and Podesta emails, and using WikiLeaks as a tool to leak them.
One of the main problems with these two shifts in argument, is the complete lack of principle.
I am willing to defend anyone’s right to free expression, but that is not what WikiLeaks do. They indiscriminately publish U.S government classified material, much of which has nothing to do with domestic surveillance, but is instead related to the tracking of Taliban affiliates in Afghanistan. But the sheer volume of material it publishes, means that they could never perform due diligence and discover if the material is such that a government might legitimately seek to conceal.
I think the suggestion that Russia is America’s number one geo-political threat is a dangerous exaggeration. There is conflict between many American and Russian national interests, but the Russian Federation is not the USSR, and should stop being treated as such. However, to defend WikiLeaks, or Russia, when that is seen as being the orthodox ‘Left Wing’ thing to do, and then reverse your principles, when it becomes clear WikiLeaks is engaged in an anti-Clinton campaign, is obvious hypocrisy.
The Russian government clearly wanted Trump to win. There are advantages to them in a Trump Presidency, and Trump had made very favourable noises in that direction. A much warmer relationship seems a distinct possibility.
It is therefore entirely possible that the email hacks and their leaking, were organised by the Kremlin. Even if this activity wasn’t activated by the Kremlin, they would have been very happy to take advantage of it once it occurred. This is probably what happened in the case of Edward Snowden, who sought refuge in Russia in 2013, and remains there. Snowden was probably no more than a foolish young man who betrayed his country, but the Russians saw an opportunity to antagonise an enemy, and took it. I don’t for a moment dispute that Putin might have been the instigator of this whole recent saga. But the nature of computer hacking is such we cannot actually know for certain who it was who stole and leaked these emails, however much the Kremlin may have welcomed them.
The real point, however, is that whether it was the Russians, or not, President Obama was correct to describe them as “not very interesting emails”. The Clinton campaign did not lose to Trump, because of what was contained in the leaked emails. The issues of concern in that election – the loss of jobs due allegedly to free trade; Hispanic immigration; hostility to political correctness; concern about the changing nature of traditional communities – would have enabled Trump to win the way he did, whether they had been leaked or not (although it is important to point out that Clinton actually did receive more votes – this was hardly a Trump landslide)
The Democrats, and the Left more generally, should be using this opportunity to reflect on what it was that they have done in government, and said in public, that allowed a man like Donald Trump to beat them in a Presidential election. This was one of the most important political events since the Cold War, and a key moment of what can be described as the crisis of liberalism. It should be a wake-up call for the Left to engage in genuine self-reflection. Trying to blame it on Russia is a cop-out. And abandoning WikiLeaks, after many years defending them for being heroes of transparency, should remind people that the only moral course in politics, is to defend principles, not people, or parties, or institutions. Fail to do that, and you’re just a party stooge.