What on Earth Are America's Friends to Say?

A small band of Brits still try to defend America's current foreign policy to a sceptical world. When US forces abroad do something cruel or counter-productive, like bombing another wedding party or fighting the wrong country, we point to their nobler values and to past defences of freedom. Surely they at least meant well. The Wikileaks revelations now gleefully headlined across Europe have left us floundering.

The brutality and apparent collapse of front-line discipline is charted in thousands of meticulously filed US government reports, proving only one thing, that any war "among the people" that goes on too long degrades its participants and degenerates into senseless cruelty. Our friends become our victims and our enemies triumphant.

The fact that the leaks are irresponsible and helpful to the enemy is by now immaterial. The enemy, mostly Iran, is riding high on the sheer incompetence of coalition and NATO operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and increasingly Pakistan. Hilary Clinton's objection to them, that they are leaks, hardly meets the case. These are true records from the side that claims "higher values", of helicopters shooting innocent individuals in cold blood, of the massacring of 600 civilian drivers, women and children among them, at checkpoints, of the killing of people trying to surrender, of a litany of prisoner torture and maltreatment that shows Abu Ghraib was no exception. The idea that the American invasion liberated Iraqis from kidnap, torture, rape and summary execution is shown to be a sick untruth. Indeed a shocking feature of the leaks is that few Iraqis appeared surprised.

I have visited enough wars to see what happens to young soldiers when politicians' promises of victory prove false. Led by fools into swamps, they adjust their moral compasses, at first slowly and then fast. The leaks show controllers departing from any concern for "winning hearts and minds" as self-protection takes precedence over the safety of others. Troops err on the side of violence. An obsession with kill rates, inherited from Vietnam, recruits enemies at every turn and makes the prospect of stability and peace ever more distant.

In Afghanistan the random killing of Pashtun as "bad guys" has become a call to arms not just across Waziristan and the Punjab but throughout the muslim world. On a recent visit to Pakistan, I was shocked at savagely unpopular America has become, not because of its aims but because of its methods, now reinforced by the pilotless bombing of mountain villages. Many Pakistanis genuinely believe Washington is in the pay of Ahmadinejad of Iran, as his influence increases over regimes from Beirut and Damascus to Baghdad and Kabul. This too is recorded in the leaks.

I at least expected Clinton to offer some apology for the reckless cruelties recorded, and to suggest some inquiry into the more outrageous atrocities. Instead she only damned those who leaked the truth. What on earth are America's friends to say?