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Imperial Secrecy

Article by Stephen Walt.
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Glenn Greenwald has a couple of must-read posts over at Salon, and I want to highlight the connection between them. The first post deals with the familiar issue of anti-Americanism, and Glenn makes the obvious but often-forgotten point that foreign animosity to the United States is largely a reaction to things that the United States does. In other words, they don’t hate us for our freedoms, or for our values, or even our supposedly decadent TV shows. Rather, people who are angry at the United States — and this includes most anti-American terrorists — are opposed to different aspects of U.S. policy. Whether those U.S. policies are the right ones can be debated, of course, but the key point is that anti-Americanism doesn’t come out of nowhere.

His second post draws on a just-published New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, detailing the Obama administration’s unprecedented campaign to preserve official secrets and to prosecute leakers and whistleblowers. We’ve already seen the outlines of this campaign in the administration’s overheated response to Wikileaks and its harsh treatment of alleged Wiki-leaker Bradley Manning, but Mayer offers a typically thorough account of just how widespread the administration’s campaign is and I recommend you read it for yourself. The irony, of course is that candidate Obama used to be a loud advocate of greater transparency in government. But now that he’s president, not so much.

The point I want to highlight, however, is that these two phenemona are tightly linked. America’s global military presence, and its penchant for intervening in other countries for various reasons, inevitably generates a hostile backlash in lots of places. We tend to see our actions as wholly benevolent, in part because we take our leaders’ rhetoric at face value and assume that if our stated purpose is noble, then the people whose countries we are meddling in will see it that way too. But no matter how noble our aims may be, military intervention and occupation inevitably creates winners and losers, and some of the losers aren’t very happy about it. And because force is a crude instrument, even well-intentioned actions often have unfortunate unintended consequences (like civilian deaths). And so some people plant IEDs, or organize suicide attacks on our troops or our clients, and the most extreme of them even fly airplanes into buildings.

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