Last week, touching down in India on his way to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta described reality as you seldom hear it in the confines of Washington and, while he was at it, put his stamp of approval on a new global doctrine for the United States. Panetta is, of course, the man who, as director of the CIA, once called its drone air campaign in the Pakistani borderlands “the only game in town.” (At the time, as now, it was a classified, “covert” set of air strikes that were a secret to no one in Washington, Islamabad, or anywhere else on Earth.)
In India, expressing his frustration over U.S. relations with Pakistan, he spoke the “W-word” aloud for the first time. “We are,” he told his Indian hosts, “fighting a war in the FATA [the Pakistani tribal areas].” How true. Washington has indeed long been involved in a complex, confusing, escalating, and undoubtedly self-defeating partial war with Pakistan, never until now officially called by that name, even as the intensity of the drone air campaign in that country’s borderlands continues to ratchet up. So give Panetta credit for rare bluntness.
In India, he said something else previously unspoken, acknowledging a breathtaking new reality: "We have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves. This is about our sovereignty as well." In other words, he claimed that, while the sovereignty of other countries might be eternally violable, U.S. sovereignty extends inviolably over Pakistani territory. This is, in fact, the concept that underpins the use of drones there and elsewhere. When it comes to its presidential version of war-making, only the U.S. has a claim to global sovereignty, against which the more traditional concept of national sovereignty doesn't stand a chance.
"When it comes to its presidential version of war-making, only the U.S. has a claim to global sovereignty, against which the more traditional concept of national sovereignty doesn't stand a chance."
In Washington, a controversy has now broken out over what are clearly administration leaks about our drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and our new cyberwar against Iran. It’s clear enough that, in its urge to run a Republican-proof election campaign on the image of a tough-guy president, those in the Oval Office, themselves fierce anti-leakers in other circumstances, didn’t know when to stop leaking information they considered advantageous to the president and so badly overplayed their hand. Now, as prosecutors from the Justice Department (one with a pedigree that should leave the administration shaking in its combat boots) are being appointed to look into the leaks, all bets should be off in the capital. Hold onto your hats, tell your journalist friends that, as the investigations begin, they are the ones likely to find themselves in the hottest water, and expect almost anything in the coming months.
One thing won’t happen, though. You’re not going to get tons more Panetta-style realism. It’s clear that all of Washington's players, however intensely they might argue with one another, will be pulling together to shut down those leaks and any others heading our way. We at TomDispatch are convinced, on the other hand, that its time to open the faucets, turn those drips into a steady stream, and let the American people know just what is being done, what wars (even when not called wars) are being fought in their name, what new weapons are being released into the world with their imprimatur (if not their knowledge).
In that light, consider TomDispatch’s whistleblower-in-residence, State Department official Peter Van Buren in his latest post, “Leaking War,” on just how this controversy looks to someone who has been on the other end of the Obama administration’s fierce crackdown on governmental truth-tellers, rather than image-padders.