WikiLeaks’ Political Jujitsu

2011 January 7
by Ando Arike

Remember the 2008 presidential campaign and how candidate Obama used his Chicago community organizer experience and connection to the legendary activist Saul Alinsky to rally progressive voters? It was a touch of PR magic (i.e., fraud) that played no small role in the Obama mystique, implying his allegiance to an entire history of left-populist agitation, and especially a tactic that Alinsky famously advocated—“political jujitsu,” used to great effect by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and myriad activists around the world. As Alinsky explained in his classic primer, Rules for Radicals,

The basic tactic in warfare against the Haves is a mass political jujitsu: the Have-Nots do not rigidly oppose the Haves, but yield in such planned and skilled ways that the superior strength of the Haves becomes their undoing. For example, since the Haves publicly pose as the custodians of responsibility, morality, law, and justice (which are frequently strangers to each other), they can be constantly pushed to live up their own book of morality and regulations. No organization, including organized religion, can live up to the letter of its own book. You can club them to death with their “book”…

Sadly, it was Obama’s “Alinsky connection,” coupled with the netroots organizing of groups like MoveOn.Org, that allowed many people to imagine that his campaign was not only a bid for the White House, but a grassroots social justice movement, a mass uprising against the Bush plutocrats and militarists—an illusion only strengthened when Republicans went along with the charade, frightening their flock with paranoid fantasies about Obama’s “socialist” agenda. Now, of course, two years after the historic election, we’ve learned that this agenda is mostly about catering to the “Haves”…

What fitting irony, then, to watch the White House fume and squirm in the face of some of the most provocative political jujitsu in recent history—the ongoing WikiLeaks revelations about the corruption and thuggery at the center of U.S. foreign policy. (See here, here and here for recent roundups). Beginning with its posting of “Collateral Murder” last spring—the wrenching video of a U.S. massacre of Iraqi civilians—WikiLeaks has given us a textbook example of what Alinsky meant by “utilizing the power of one part of the power structure against another part.” Not only has the group turned the Internet, originally developed by the Pentagon, into a potent weapon against American imperialism, but through shrewd release of its trove of classified documents, WikiLeaks has also turned the normally sycophantic mass media into active, if unwilling, co-conspirators. No wonder that Washington’s power elite, down to the lowliest corporate flacks on Fox and CNN, have joined in calling for the head of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—because if the media can’t be trusted to keep state secrets and spin stories to serve the Empire’s needs, well, the writing is on the wall. Think of what happened to the Soviet Union after Gorbachev’s glasnost unleashed reporters from the Communist party line.

Washington’s ham-fisted response, however, has only compounded the damage with yet more evidence of its imperial arrogance—confirming, not coincidentally, another nugget of wisdom from Rules for Radicals: “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.” What does it say about the United States that some of our leading politicians and pundits are calling on Special Ops forces to “whack” Assange? Have they watched too many episodes of “The Sopranos”? How does it look when Senate Homeland Security chair Joe Lieberman, acting like a mob enforcer, leans on to ban WikiLeaks from its web-servers, and threatens any other insubordination with imperial wrath? And isn’t it unseemly for Vice-President Biden, given his advocacy of the CIA’s “secret” Predator drone war in Pakistan, to label Assange a “high-tech terrorist”?  Then there’s the “sex crimes” smear campaign against Assange, which the whole world believes has been orchestrated by the CIA, and which seems destined to land him in a cell in the United States—or perhaps Guantanamo Bay. Is this any way for the world’s “beacon of democracy” to behave?

Worse yet, all this bellowing and thumping of chests isn’t even convincing—for all their threats, the Empire’s enforcers appear merely clownish and second-rate, like schoolyard bullies who’ve been made laughingstock by the class nerd. Equally ridiculous are the attempts to prevent government employees from reading the leaked documents on the Internet, or plans to create “insider threat” programs at federal agencies, using psychiatrists and sociologists to ferret out “despondent” and “grumpy” workers who might leak state secrets. As Paul Street observes:

The Cable leaks seem to portray an American Empire stretched beyond its economic and military limits, foiled yet again…in its always fantastic and grandiose endeavor to rule the planet from the Potomac. This is not the sort of image of itself—a pitiful horrid beast struggling to keep a handle on a world that keeps slipping out of its control—that the world’s leading Mafia Don wants to see disseminated. It only encourages further resistance to, and drift away, from subordination to Washington…You can almost hear Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates et al asking themselves how many more times the world’s only Superpower will allow itself to be exposed and humiliated… The world’s leading crime boss really can’t allow itself to keep getting tweaked by this little punk!

But does the Obama administration have any real recourse? Do our policymakers think they can both (1) make an example of Assange and (2) eliminate WikiLeaks without doing grievous damage to an international reputation that’s steadily losing ground? How many more “hearts and minds” can the United States afford to lose? And if WikiLeaks is “taken out,” how many imitators will rise to replace it?

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