The Corner

Digital Pentagon Papers Are the Future Face of War

On the one hand, it is like re-running the 1960s on an iPad.

For sure, the “Afghan Diary” will be used to trash the U.S.-led war effort, just as the Pentagon Papers were used to undermine the war in Vietnam. But we must remember that (1) selectively released documents lack context and don’t tell the whole story; and (2) these documents are about the past. Wars are won in the future. The U.S. has a new general and a new strategy and more forces. Past performance is no guarantee of future earnings.

While the documents may be less useful for understanding where we go from here in Afghanistan, their release certainly speaks volumes about the timeless challenges faced by democracies trying to wage wars. That should be the real focus of public concern. It looks as if information that was released could well put lives at risk in the future.

Democracies can never be complacent about how they fight wars. In some ways, new war is like old war — the old rules still apply. Free societies still need both security and liberty to remain free. Both are sustained by following the rules.

Rule #1. War is different from most other government activities, where we value and insist on public transparency. There are lots of legitimate secrets in war. Almost all knowledge is useful to the enemy. There should be secrets — and laws to protect them. When secrets get out, the government has an obligation to find who did anything illegal.

Rule #2. Government is supposed safeguard our secrets. When it fails to fulfill that responsibility, someone should be held accountable.

Rule #3. The Constitution guarantees individuals who act within the rule of law the right to make poor, stupid, and misguided judgments.

There are also rules for Wiki War.

Rule #1. The Internet is neutral. No party can count on a decisive and unassailable advantage in cyberspace.

Rule #2. Geography matters. The expanses of cyberspace are not the Wild West. Governments have a great deal of power to manage the electrons that traverse their borders. They should use that power wisely.

Rule #3. Cyber-strategic leaders are needed. The best way to win online is not to mess with the rules but to beat the competition. Washington has to be more adept at operating in the online world. That includes preventing digital leaks and responding to security compromises when they occur.

– James Jay Carafano is deputy director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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