The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Assange the Coward

A legend in his own mind, Russian television propagandist Julian Assange has asked the United States to stop its “witch hunt” against whistleblowers. The self-important tone of his speech speaks volumes:

As Wikileaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies. We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America.

Will it return to and reaffirm the values, 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?

I say it must turn back. I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch-hunts against Wikileaks. The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation.

What Assange really wants is to look like a hero without having to run any risks. Serious people have decided at times that their duty required them to break the law. Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King all broke the law to achieve important political goals. But unlike Julian, they believed that they were required to face the consequences of their acts.

Assange does not believe that he should face the consequences of anything. He wants the rewards of moral heroism without actually having to do anything difficult or heroic.

Worse, he isn’t even trying to avoid living up to the higher standard required by moral heroes. He is attempting to avoid the responsibility of every citizen. He stands accused of rape in Sweden, yet he wants to avoid extradition and the kind of investigation that ordinary citizens have to face.

To think that Sweden is a puppet of the United States is both delusional and insulting to a very proud and independent government which has repeatedly defied the United States when it believed the U.S. was in the wrong. To refuse to appear for an investigation is cowardly.

There is nothing here that looks like moral heroism or even smart politics. Modern information technology seems to have put an unbalanced man in a position of more prominence and importance than he understands or can deal with. The kindest thing the world can do is to ignore Mr. Assange.

We hope he enjoys a quiet life in the beautiful embassy of Ecuador in London.

Published on August 20, 2012 9:16 am
  • Herbert

    Thanks for writing what many people have been thinking. It is surprising the number of intelligent, well meaning people Assange has as defenders. However his actions reveal that the narrative his defenders want to believe, about his life and about the international system, is a lie.

  • Eurydice

    He seems like he’d be a really high-maintenance guest.

  • Jim.

    “Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King all broke the law to achieve important political goals.”

    I could name a number of other people who broke the law to achieve what they saw as important political goals. Julius Caesar is one, though you could point to a number of more recent examples.

    Better to say, “achieve important moral goals”.

  • Kolya

    Narcissists like Assange seem to be able to attract flocks of useful idiots – It’s an interesting example of the human condition.

  • Luke Lea

    I disagree. Assange was not practicing civil disobediance nor did he claim to be. He released a lot of semi-classified information that shed light on foreign situations that otherwise would have remained opaque to the American public. So far as I know he responsibly scrubbed his releases so that no lives were endangered (else why would NYT and many other mainstream publications have published his findings?).

    As for the Swedish charges, anyone who has looked at them knows they are trumped up. If Assange is wanted for questioning why don’t they question him where he is.

    He may not be a nice guy. That is beside the point.

  • Armando

    “So far as I know he responsibly scrubbed his releases so that no lives were endangered”

    Evidently, Luke, Assange didn’t do a good enough job for Majid Jamali Fashi.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2145218/WikiLeaks-cable-led-Iran-hang-kick-boxer-said-Israeli-spy-assassinated-nuclear-scientist.html

  • Nathan

    @Luke Lea: On the contrary. When Wikileaks dumped its information on the public, they gave us exactly squat *except* the endangerment of US agents and their allies.

    There was nothing in any of the supposed “scandals” that Wikileaks put forward that we all didn’t kind of know already. Having diplomatic cables put forth in public causes problems, however, as the convenient illusions are pulled away.

    I actually found my faith in the US government (at least the foreign affairs institutions) strengthened by Wikileaks precisely because there was nothing surprising in them. That doesn’t mean that the vomit they put forward was wise.

    I can’t seriously believe that you think that we can rely on the NYT and their cohorts to be responsible in cases such as these.

    This man is a weasel and he is not the champion of free speech he pretends to be.

  • Lyle Smith

    I thought Assange was Australian?

    • http://www.the-american-interest.com Damir Marusic

      Lyle Smith, we’ve added a link to the “Russian television propagandist” bit to clarify what we meant. Assange is indeed Australian.

  • Cynical

    Yes, punish all whistleblowers who illegally disclose information to the public. We should not know what the government does not want us to know.

    But we must not prosecute Administration officials who illegally leak classified information to the press for their political purposes. Assange must not be trusted, but we must trust our officials.

    This is a principled position, because we follow the party line.

  • Lyle Smith

    Damir,

    Thanks for clarifying. I thought it was something I was missing.

  • Walter Sobchak

    WRM: would the following work without violating international law.

    Step 1. UK withdraws its diplomatic staff, if any, from Ecuador.

    Step 2. UK withdraws diplomatic recognition from Ecuador.

    Step 3. UK declares Ecuadorian diplomats in UK to be PNG.

    Step 4. UK barricades former Ecuadorian embassy.

    Step 4. UK turns off electricity, water, and gas to Ecuadorian embassy.

    Step 5. Wait for Assange to leave.

  • Snorri Godhi

    “To think that Sweden is a puppet of the United States is both delusional and insulting to a very proud and independent government which has repeatedly defied the United States when it believed the U.S. was in the wrong.”

    This is a tactful way of putting it, but I am not tactful.
    Surely we all realize that the Swedes were no more brave than the psychopath Assange is today, when their leadership “defied” the US.
    Defying the Soviet Union, or sponsors of terrorism: THAT would have been brave for an independent country!

    Having said that, there is some evidence that the Swedes are, slowly, becoming truly independent (from their own ruling class), and therefore have more reasons to be proud.

  • Palinurus

    “As for the Swedish charges, anyone who has looked at them knows they are trumped up.”

    Then why doesn’t he go back to Sweden, put them to their proof, and humiliate them in front to the entire world?

    If the US really is persecuting him, then why doesn’t he welcome a trial in the US to show the injustice to the world?

    If the US is trying to shackle him, if he’s really talking truth to power, what would be a better demonstration than entering the dock in a US courtroom in shackles and rendering a full-throated, unforgettable indictment of the US? That would be much compelling, I would think, than sniping on Russian talk shows and squirreling himself away up in the Ecuadorian embassy.

    This post is spot on as to why: Coward.

  • Luke Lea

    @6 Armando — did Assange cost lives?

    I don’t claim to be an expert but scrolled down to the comments of the article you linked to. Here are a couple:

    “”WikiLeaks had no comment on the report yesterday.” Well actually they did, you just didn’t bother to print it. Here’s what they responded: “The unredacted State Department memo, released after WikiLeaks’ and the Guardian’s notorious snafu last summer that led to the accidental publication of its entire database, names that martial arts trainer and State Department informant. His name, though I won’t cite it here, is not Majid Jamali Fashi. And his branch of martial arts, which was also redacted in the initial release, is not kick boxing.” Oops?

    - Timothy, Europe, 17/5/2012 22:37″

    The real question here is was he truly guilty as charged? If so and the exposed cable dropped him in it the real offender there is not Wikileaks but whoever found it necessary to give the game away in an un-needed cable. If the stories leaked to us so far about the leaks are true all this confidential information was widely available to low level Americans, Corporals, for heaven’s sake. Hardly kept secret, and it is now claimed to have cost a life of a friendly agent. THAT is the real scandal in all this. Wikileaks has a point.

    - Iain, Glasgow, Scotland, 17/5/2012 01:06

    [Question: did Wikileaks save any lives?]

  • Luke Lea

    Here is the latest Wikileaks release:

    http://wikileaks.org/syria-files/

    I can’t help feeling this kind of information is valuable.

  • Luke Lea
  • Eurydice

    @Walter #12 – More likely, and well within international law:

    Step 1 – Assange complains about the food, the low thread count of his bedding, the slow internet access and why the liquor cabinet is locked.

    Step 2 – Assange declares he’s bored, bored, so very bored and starts pestering all the females in the embassy, including the ambassador.

    Step 3 – Assange finds himself and his luggage out on the sidewalk.

  • thibaud

    So much grumbling and mean remarks here! C’mon, people, Assange is the very essence of an Ayn Rand hero!

    Assange himself says in an interview with Forbes that he’s strongly influenced by “American libertarianism” – you know, smash the evil state, resist the Man, remove the shackles from the brave individual:

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/11/30/assange-im-influenced-by-ameri#comment

    All he needs is a coonskin cap, and he’d make a fine “Jacksonian Libertarian.”

    Even odds that Assange ends up on the libbetrarian nutjobs’ Fantasy Island, with a wing to himself in Kim DotCom’s compound and a lifelong supply of Ayn Rand videos.

  • Armando

    ” If so and the exposed cable dropped him in it the real offender there is not Wikileaks but whoever found it necessary to give the game away in an un-needed cable. ”

    Assange still released the cable, ergo, Fashi’s blood is on his hands.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    @Luke Lea:

    “As for the Swedish charges, anyone who has looked at them knows they are trumped up”

    How do you know thoughts of all those hundreds? thousands? millions? who looked at Sweden charges? Did you poll them or you have power of telepathy?

    Arguably Swedish justice system, while different of course from American, is one of the best in the world.

    What makes you think that your opinion, as fair-minded and considerate as I’m sure it is, should override Sw court?

    Is there any indication that Assnge will not get justice in Sweden?

  • Michael Goodfellow

    Fortunately, Wikileaks is not essential. It’s very easy to publish material anonymously now. It is a bit harder to publish it with some kind of credibility. That’s all Wikileaks was providing — a brand name.

    With the MSM going broke (and getting politicized), there’s going to be less and less investigative journalism. So this kind of activism is getting more important as well as easier.

    With the accountability and standards of governments everywhere seemingly in decline, I hope someone publishes every secret they can get their hands on. We are not going to find out what our “leaders” are up to any other way.

  • Kris

    Could someone please explain the following passage from Assange’s Very Important balcony speech? I just don’t understand what he’s referring to.

    Anna and Sofia? Things got a little out of hand. It’s just these wars and that lying [so and so] Bush and … I would never hurt you. You know that.

    (I have no position on the sexual assault charges.)

  • Swearjar

    Firstly, as an Australian, I feel moved to apologise to all for Julian Assange.

    Secondly, Professor Mead’s comments are spot on. Julian Assange’s great mission has always been the glorification of Julian Assange. Until recently, I thought the charges against Assange fairly lame. Then he takes refuge in a ‘friendly’ embassy. He is either worried that there is more substance to the rape allegations than first appears, or he’s realised there’s a way for him to stay in the spotlight with someone else picking up the tab. Only the truly insipid believe the claims that the US is seeking to extradite him from Sweden. And much of the media is guilty of projecting what it believes Wikileaks is or should be, rather than examining the secretive, distasteful and vindictive individual at its core.

  • thibaud

    Kris – Assange would probably get a vigorous defense from Todd Akin and his “Sanctity of Life Act” co-sponsor, Paul Ryan.

    Akin could help Assange make a case that it wasn’t “forcible rape.”

    Ryan and Akin together could force the Swedish women to reveal whether any zygotes were killed as a result of the non-forcible rape.

    And Ryan and Assange could bond over their deep love of Ayn Rand.