A couple of years ago Julian Assange was a superstar, feted by the international anti-American left and pulling the strings of much of the world’s media. Leading liberal newspapers, including the New York Times and Britain’s Guardian, trumpeted every new revelation from his Wikileaks organization. He graced the cover of Time; a Guardian journalist who worked with Assange told him: “You’ll be up there with Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.” He had, his sycophants proclaimed, done nothing less than change the world.
These days, Assange is holed up in the cluster of rooms that passes for the Ecuadorean embassy in London, living on fast food and trying desperately to avoid extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault. For a noted campaigner for truth and justice, he seems remarkably keen to avoid the truth coming out and to prevent justice being done.
His lawyers claim he is fighting extradition because he fears Sweden would in turn extradite him to the United States to face charges relating to the release by Wikileaks of military communications from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts plus thousands of classified diplomatic cables. Ever eager to stoke the drama — and keen to portray Assange as some feared global revolutionary rather than a fugitive from charges of sexually abusing two women — his supporters claim he could face the death penalty.
These claims, like almost everything Assange says these days, do not stand up to scrutiny. The Swedish government has indicated that it would be unlikely to send Assange to the U.S. In any case, it would be much easier for the U.S. to have him extradited from Britain, whose courts have in recent years sent a number of suspects to face trial in America, in the face of high-profile campaigns to prevent them from doing so.
Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador’s left-wing president Rafael Correa, an arrangement somewhat at odds with his ostensible commitment to freedom of speech and of the press. Since coming to power in 2007, Correa has run a campaign of intimidation and harassment against critical news organizations and journalists, shutting down dissenting TV and radio stations. The country’s journalists are not given to feeling a tingle down their leg when their president speaks — he’s been known to refer to the press as “savage beasts.”
Assange’s acceptance of Correa’s hospitality isn’t the only association that makes a mockery of Assange’s professed crusade for openness. While out on bail in Britain, he moonlighted for Russia’s state-funded news channel, apparently untroubled by the government’s persecution of journalists and political opponents. Assange has also flirted with Iran’s mullahs, and has dispatched a Holocaust-denying associate to cooperate with the dictatorial regime in Belarus.
It is hypocrisy of the kind only the Left could ever countenance, and it’s all a far cry from the heady days of those first document dumps. Which incidentally came not as the result of investigative journalism or cunning on the part of Assange, but courtesy of the treachery of Private First Class Bradley Manning. Wikileaks has since faded from the headlines and is said to be on the verge of collapse, and Assange has become more adept at blowing his own trumpet than blowing whistles.
Last Sunday, Assange decided it was time the world heard from him again. Amid farcical scenes, he appeared on the balcony of his refuge to demand the United States call off its “witch hunt” against himself and Wikileaks. Diplaying his customary flair for the portentous, Assange asked:
[Will the United States] affirm the revolutionary values it was founded on … or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark?
For the time being, Assange remains in legal and diplomatic limbo. The British government caused a stir by suggesting it could revoke the embassy’s diplomatic status in order to seize him, although it is unlikely to do so given the precedent it would set. Unless his hosts manage to smuggle him past the watching police in a rolled-up rug and spirit him to South America, it seems that Assange will remain in the embassy for as long as his new friends will tolerate him, unless he decides that he can somehow turn facing the music in Sweden to his advantage.
With Assange exposed as a coward, a hypocrite, and a narcissist in the eyes of all but his most blinded supporters (a few hard-core British leftists continue to downplay the charges against him and belittle his alleged victims); with the journalists who once danced to his tune having disowned him over his increasing recklessness and his disregard for the safety of individuals compromised by his activities; and with his organization in disarray, this seems a good time to reflect on the whole Wikileaks phenomenon, and to assess how the grandiose claims made by the group and its admirers have held up.
The bulk of the Wikileaks revelations were either diplomatic tittle-tattle, or actually showed the U.S. and its allies in a good light while exposing the mendacity of its enemies (Syria, Russia, North Korea, Iran). Even the smattering of potentially interesting revelations were mostly common knowledge to people who take an interest in foreign affairs and national security matters. Wikileaks has caused nothing more than mild embarrassment to those it sought to expose; a couple of diplomats may have been recalled, but no governments have fallen.
Ironically, even as Wikileaks’ fortunes have waned, governments have been falling across the Arab world amid upheavals of the kind Assange no doubt fantasized about fomenting in the West. And these governments have been brought down not by the machinations of self-styled digital anarchists, but by spontaneous popular uprisings. The Arab Spring has served to highlight the impotence and irrelevance of Assange and his cohorts.
So why did the left in general, and their leading media lights in particular, allow themselves to manipulated by Assange? I’d suggest it’s due in large part to the left’s need for a narrative to explain why their ideas are generally rejected by electorates in Western nations, and why, when they do win power, they inevitably fail to deliver on their utopian promises. (This is particularly the case in the U.S. and the Anglosphere, but even European governments regarded as socialist by American conservatives are often viewed as centrist by those countries’ left-wing movements). For the left, its failure to win lasting power and influence can only be explained by the existence of sinister forces pulling the strings and brainwashing electorates.
The existence of Wikileaks helps to support this narrative. The left was never much concerned with the specifics of the leaks; they were more excited about the fact that secrets — any secrets — were being exposed, and by the notion that America (even under Obama, who’s proved such a disappointment to the left in matters of national security, from his embrace of drone attacks to his failure to close Guantanamo Bay) and other “right-wing” governments were somehow being undermined. In the minds of the left, secrecy, corruption, and the abuse of power are exclusive to the right. According to their warped logic, the very existence of Wikileaks proved there must be a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.
Added to this is the left’s enthusiasm for all forms of disruption to the “established order,” whatever the consequences. From Wikileaks to the Occupy movement to last year’s London riots, whether it’s leaked diplomatic cables or smashed windows at Starbucks, leftists like to imagine they’re bringing down that old order, and that whatever emerges from the chaos will be somehow “better.” The only flaw in their plan, as Michael Moore so eloquently conceded, is that they have absolutely no idea what that “better” system will look like.
That won’t stop the left from dreaming, or from pressing ahead with the “destroy free market democracy” stage of their plan for world domination. But in their desperation to prevail they have an unfortunate habit of throwing their lot in with every thug or fraud they believe will advance their cause. Julian Assange is the latest figurehead to prove an embarrassment and a liability, and he won’t be the last.