Can the standard image of the United States government drawn from popular culture and leftist fantasy survive the WikiLeaks revelations? That image suggests the U.S. government controls everything and everybody and does so in a manner that would charitably be described as immoral -- almost as though Satan were the Omnipotent One rather than the Almighty.
But what happened here is this: A 21-year-old Army private working at a lone computer north of Baghdad logs on to a secure secret parallel Internet, puts billions of classified words on a thumb drive and gives them to an evil man in Sweden whose shadowy group is dedicated to destroying the foreign policy of the United States no matter the consequences.
Indeed, according to one report, Bradley Manning pretended he was listening to Lady Gaga while he copied the classified material.
A government whose inattention to detail (no corporate secrets would be so easily accessible) made such a horrific event possible is an entity worthy not of paranoid terror but of scorn and contempt. It should frighten not because it's so powerful, but because no matter how potent the weapons at its disposal might be, it's fundamentally inept.
That ineptitude is not the only aspect of the U.S. government revealed by the Wiki dump. One also gets an overpowering sense of just how well-intentioned the United States is. The cables I've read so far show our diplomats trying to make sense of a Bizarro World in which the United States tends to say what it means while almost every other nation is essentially allergic to candor or straight talk.
Arab potentates say exactly the same things the Israelis say about the Iranians and their intentions -- but won't say them out loud in public, nor lift a finger themselves. The Chinese whine about oil and Iran, and we help them with the Saudis.
Our diplomats must cope with Qaddafi's lunacy, the solipsistic nihilism of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and the shifting allegiances and gamesmanship of Vladimir Putin.
If the pop-culture version of the U.S. government had any basis in reality, it would be revealed in these documents. These are, after all, written for a tiny audience of governmental high-ups, and are supposed to be frank and unadorned. If we were plotting to overthrow governments, or figure out ways to divert precious resources for our own use, such things would appear in these cables.
John Podhoretz is a New York Post columnist. To continue reading his column, click here.