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The World After WikiLeaks

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] So, who said government officials are dull, dry and boring people whose prose would only make you wish to sleep? Some American ones, at least, can be quite sharp, witty, and slangy – as the whole world have learnt by now thanks to the WikiLeaks exposé. Yet the officials in question are probably not too happy to see their “confidential” analyses about dozens of countries wandering “online” – a term which is, ironically enough, an American creation. The irony, in other words, is that the American government has become a victim of its own technological sophistication. “We keep similar files only on paper,” a Turkish diplomat was telling me smilingly the other day. “Call it less advanced, but it is apparently more secure.” The end of classical history Here lies the dilemma that faces the world’s powerful states like America: The modern world they pretty much invented has started to challenge them. The airplanes they constructed have become potential weapons of their terrorist enemies. The nuclear bombs they first made are now “proliferating” in ways which give them the creeps. And the Internet they have created to make life easier is giving them hell by exposing their own secrets. In all such cases, we see the empowerment of the so-called “non-state actors” – radical groups such as al-Qaeda or even individual activists such as Julian Assange, the shadowy man behind the WikiLeaks affair. For such actors, who probably see themselves as the Davids of the age, stones to use against contemporary Goliaths are getting increasingly abundant and lethal. So, instead of the “end of history” that political scientist Francis Fukuyama predicted in the early 1990s, what we are entering is probably a very unpredictable era in history, where global law and order will be more and more challenged by numerous forms of defiance, insurgency and even anarchy. If I were an American policy maker, I would sit down and seriously worry about all this. And I would first try to understand the new reality out there, which renders old ways of “strategic thinking” pointless. We have seen many examples of the latter in the past decade, with American analysts, often of the neo-conservative camp, referring to how they defeated the Nazis or contained the Soviet Union in the past, and arguing for similar strategies against today’s “radical Islam.” The obvious fact that the first two were well-defined political entities, whereas the third one is a free-floating idea did not get enough notice. Similarly, in the past, the grievances of small communities in remote parts of the world probably did not matter much for policy makers. What rather mattered were the deals the latter made with the rulers of states, who could well be dictators and tyrants. But now such unprincipled deals are all the more dangerous, for their angry discontents can find very effective tools to make their points. Conspiracies unfound If WikiLeaks implies lessons for Americans, it does for others as well, including the Turks – who seem to be at the very center of American attention, with Ankara being the number-one source of confidential diplomatic reports. The most important lesson, I believe, is for conspiracy theorists – if they would ever really learn. Believe it or not, these over-suspicious Turks, and millions who take them seriously, honestly believe that America has been ruling Turkey for decades with proxies. Many secularist Turks, for example, suppose that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government is an “an American puppet,” and a Washington project, designed to fulfill Uncle Sam’s need for “moderate Islam.” Just enter a Turkish bookstore, and you will find dozens of popular books making that expound upon this lunatic argument. Yet there is no shortage of conspiracy theories on the Islamist side either. Here, the popular belief is that America has orchestrated all military coups in Turkish history, and has been toying with anti-AKP forces since then. So, when a critical voice comes out from Washington against the AKP government, these Turks suppose that “the button has been pushed,” and the military-judicial complex has gotten a “signal” to stage some form of a coup. Yet all the WikiLeaked reports from Ankara emphatically indicate that Americans are observers of Turkish politics – not its designers. For me, this is just a confirmation of what I have been arguing all along: What happens in Turkey, first and foremost, is the work of us, Turks. That is in fact how the world often runs. Direct foreign interventions, such as the infamous CIA-managed coups against Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran or Salvador Allende of Chile, are exceptions, not the norm. And even if the Americans are really cooking up big conspiracies, it seems that they are more likely to fail than succeed. Just look: they can’t even keep their secret files in secret!
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