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Why Wikileaks' Doc-Dump Is Such a Big Deal (Even if There's Nothing New Within)

There is a tendency among People Who Pay Close Attention To Things to think other Americans are also paying attention -- to decent information -- and are therefore somewhat in the know. That leads to people trying to get away with ridiculous claims, such as this:
ANYONE who has spent the past two days reading through the 92,000 military field reports and other documents made public by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. I’m a researcher who studies Afghanistan and have no regular access to classified information, yet I have seen nothing in the documents that has either surprised me or told me anything of significance. I suspect that’s the case even for someone who reads only a third of the articles on Afghanistan in his local newspaper.
That paragraph was from an op-ed piece by Andrew Exum, a fellow with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) -- a pro-Afghanistan war think-tank -- in The New York Times. Exum's message seems to be, 'move along, folks, there's nothing to see here.' Understandable -- CNAS, according to a WaPoreportlast year, "may emerge as Washington's go-to think tank on military affairs" in the Obama era. CNAS staff have "filled key posts in the new administration (such as former CNAS president Michele Flournoy, who is now undersecretary of defense for policy), and its top people include John Nagl, who helped draft the Army's counterinsurgency manual, and David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus." And his suspicion that everyone already knows this stuff is bullshit. In 1997, the government conducted a huge survey on American adults' civic participation. Almost a third of the public couldn't say what "job or political office" Al Gore held -- after he had spent five years serving as vice-president. Around a third didn't know which party held the majority in Congress at the time. Perhaps most shockingly, at least to political buffs like myself, was that 49 percent of Americans surveyed didn't know "which party is more conservative at the national level." That's domestic politics -- a subject that Americans tend to have a better grasp on than foreign affairs. Two years after the attacks of 9/11, 70 percent of the public believed in a conspiracy theory which held that Saddam Hussein had had a connection to the attacks. I haven't gone through those 92,000 field reports myself. And I have no problem buying that there's nothing in the pile that would surprise  anyone who not only reads the entirety of their hometown paper's foreign coverage but also reads those stories all the way through to the 17th paragraph, where the real news -- the ugly news of American war-making -- tends to be buried. What is that -- one percent of the population? I'd guess that's overstating it. So, this document dump pushes what a few war-nerds may have grasped from a thousand stories on page B-6 onto the front page, revealing not a series of "unfortunate incidents" but a pattern of disregard for civilian casualties that disproves a central tenet of our COIN strategy -- that war can be fought in a kinder, gentler, more progressive way thus helping win the hearts and minds of the local population. Here's a report from the Times' news section that completely contradicts Exum's 'ho-hum' narrative:
The disclosure of a six-year archive of classified military documents increased pressure on President Obama to defend his military strategy as Congress prepares to deliberate financing of the Afghanistan war. The disclosures, with their detailed account of a war faring even more poorly than two administrations had portrayed, landed at a crucial moment. Because of difficulties on the ground and mounting casualties in the war, the debate over the American presence in Afghanistan has begun earlier than expected. Inside the administration, more officials are privately questioning the policy. In Congress, House leaders were rushing to hold a vote on a critical war-financing bill as early as Tuesday, fearing that the disclosures could stoke Democratic opposition to the measure. A Senate panel is also set to hold a hearing on Tuesday on Mr. Obama’s choice to head the military’s Central Command, Gen. James N. Mattis, who would oversee military operations in Afghanistan. Administration officials acknowledged that the documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, will make it harder for Mr. Obama as he tries to hang on to public and Congressional support until the end of the year, when he has scheduled a review of the war effort.
Exum isn't alone arguing that 'there's no there there,' but I don't think that's going to cut it. Recent history certainly suggests it won't:
The [Pentagon] papers revealed that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corpsattacks, none of which had been reported by media in the US. The revelations widened the credibility gap between the US government and the people, allegedly hurting President Richard Nixon's war effort.