Will WikiLeaks Documents Change the Afghan War?

Predicting the fallout

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Whatever you think of Wikileaks, the group's release of 92,000 military intelligence documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan is generating extensive attention and media coverage. As the public digests the revelations about the war that is now nearly a decade old, could the coverage change public opinion? As the White House is keen to point out, the leaked documents are only as recent as 2004 to 2009 and do not cover the period after President Obama's war-policy review and new strategy implementation. But could the leak and subsequent reaction change policy?

  • The Case That they Won't  The Washington Post's Greg Jaffe and Peter Finn, in a story headlined "WikiLeaks disclosures unlikely to change course of Afghanistan war," write, "In the near term, the Obama administration seems intent on casting the voluminous leak as old news and ignoring it. The Pentagon similarly played down the need for safeguards to prevent future leaks of classified material. ... The same dismissive attitude dominated the national security think tanks in Washington where analysts closely follow the war. By Monday afternoon, most of these experts had given up on searching through the huge WikiLeaks database for new information."
  • Sen. Kerry Thinks They Should  The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler reports that Democratic Senator John Kerry "sent a signal Sunday night that the Wikileaks disclosure of 92,000 classified documents on the Afghan war could have political consequences for the president. ... He didn't hint at any softening in support for the war, but some phrases are likely to set off alarm bells at the White House -- in particular 'serious questions about the reality' and 'make the calibrations needed to get the policy right.' At the least, Kerry seemed to be suggesting he will hold hearings on the documents and what they mean. But he also appears to be signaling that the White House needs to demonstrate -- if only politically -- that it has taken steps to address any shortcomings in the war effort suggested in the documents."
  • Could Damage Key Political Support for War  The New York Times' Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper write, "The disclosures, with their detailed account of a war faring even more poorly than two administrations had portrayed, landed at a crucial moment. Because of difficulties on the ground and mounting casualties in the war, the debate over the American presence in Afghanistan has begun earlier than expected. Inside the administration, more officials are privately questioning the policy. In Congress, House leaders were rushing to hold a vote on a critical war-financing bill as early as Tuesday, fearing that the disclosures could stoke Democratic opposition to the measure. ... Administration officials acknowledged that the documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, will make it harder for Mr. Obama as he tries to hang on to public and Congressional support until the end of the year, when he has scheduled a review of the war effort."
  • Ultimately, It's All About War's Ongoing Performance  Foreign Policy's Dov Zakheim writes, "At the end of the day, the WikiLeaks papers will change few opinions. Those who want us out of Afghanistan will cite them ad nauseum; those who recognize the stakes for what they are -- the need to preclude that country from once again serving as a breeding ground for al Qaeda and their copycats -- will give them short shrift. What matters more is whether General Petraeus can affect the turnaround that made him a war hero in Iraq. If he does, the WikiLeaks papers will make good grist for historians' footnotes, and nothing more."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.