Why WikiLeaks will be bad for scholarship

I have an essay in the latest issue of Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Why WikiLeaks is Bad for Scholars." My thesis is a bit more sophisticated than that -- I argue that WikiLeaks will be a short-term boom and a long-term drag for international relations scholars and diplomatic historians. You'll have to read the essay to find out why, but I do open with one of my all-time favorite academic nightmares:

Let me share one of my recurring nightmares with you. I'm delivering a paper on why the United States pursued a particular strategy during an international negotiation. Suddenly a former policy principal, groaning with gravitas, emerges from the shadows and declares, "You lie! We did that for another reason entirely." Then, with a dramatic flourish, the person raises a wadded piece of paper and shouts triumphantly, "And I have the document to prove it!" The audience gasps; my shoulders slump. My career in ruins, I wake up in a sweat.

Go read the whole thing, but I want to make one addendum here. I expect that many who read it will immediately e-mail me this Julian Assange essay and this interpretation of Assange's essay to demonstrate that the political theory of action behind WikiLeaks is not absurdly utopian but in fact quite sophisticated and far-reaching in scope.

Let me save you the trouble -- I've read them and remain unimpressed with Assange's strategy. According to these documents, Assange expects the U.S. government to become more insular and secretive, and therefore contribute to its own downfall. Glenn Greenwald is correct to observe that Assange and Osama bin Laden really do have the same political strategy -- goad the United States into overreacting, expose the U.S. government as an imperial authoritarian power, and then watch the hegemon rot from within.

Where Greenwald and I might disagree is in how effective this strategy will be. I certainly think expect that there have been will be overreactions -- I just don't think that these will really and truly cripple the U.S. government. Furthermore, the people and groups who embrace this kind of strategy also tend to overreact a lot themselves, alienating potential sympathizers and allies in the process. Assange seems like the perfect personality type to fall into that trap as well.

What do you think?


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