Wake up call for Swedish social democrats: Julian Assange is friendly with dictators!

The Left's judgement of Assange, from the start of the Wikileaks saga, has been far too lenient

All smiles: Julian Assange and Rafael Correa
Emanuele Ottolenghi
On 23 August 2012 12:03

This is what you get from reading Karin Olsson's impassioned defense of her country's democratic standards in last week's Guardian: Olsson, alongside many Swedes, is not only outraged at the abuse that Julian Assange has visited upon her country, but disappointed to see him embrace Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, given Correa's dismal democratic credentials.

Her outrage is fair and commendable – but her surprise at Assange's embrace of a South American strongman is symptomatic of a cavalier attitude on the left; their judgment of Assange, from the start of the Wikileaks saga, has been far too lenient. Olsson is just the latest in a growing group of disgruntled fans who forgave Assange for unforgivable deeds until he hurt their feelings or pride.

As readers know, Ecuador has offered political asylum to Assange. Assange has been camping inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual harassment charges. It bears emphasizing that he broke his bail conditions to get inside the embassy, after he broke laws in several jurisdictions before – but heroes of the left get good mileage on law-breaking activities, as long as they break the laws of imperialist, oppressive powers.

Call it the Robin Hood syndrome – but what is remarkable about Olsson's plea on Sweden's behalf is how mild it is when it comes to Assange's misdeeds – or how late it came in the Wikileaks game.

Olsson says that Assange's "unholy alliance with Ecuador's political leadership casts a shadow over what was, despite everything, his real achievement: to reveal shattering news through the revolutionary medium of WikiLeaks." It almost sounds like everything prior to his little escapade inside Ecuador's London embassy was legally, morally and politically sound.

Yet, there is nothing out of character in the latest twist of the Wikileaks saga. What people on the left like Olsson took to be a noble crusade for transparency and democratic accountability was in fact an obsessive attack against America, masqueraded as a battle for human rights.

Assange's anti-Americanism is well-documented, and so are his associations with disreputable regimes, characters, and ideas. What's amusing is that every time Assange crosses a line, someone steps out to announce “buyer's regret”.

Here's the Guardian's Andrew Brown getting turned off by Assange's association with Holocaust denier and occasional Counterpunch contributor, Israel Shamir. That association was in keeping with prior deeds, yet, Brown found it distasteful to embrace Assange only after his connection to Shamir was disclosed.

Here's Kapil Komireddi in Britain's New Statesman, exposing, documenting, and detailing Assange's contribution to the stability of Belarus' dictator through, among other things, the good services of Israel Shamir. Belarus was a step too far for others who had, until then, found Assange's actions otherwise commendable.

Prior to these exposés there was Assange's casual association with Iran which probably still bothers no one, and his later professional engagement with Russia Today with a friendly interview with Hezbollah's Supremo, Hassan Nasrallah, as the opening shot.

Judge Assange by his friends and past associations then – dictators, oppressors, Holocaust deniers and yet more autocrats – and his embrace of Ecuador's dictator and his gracious offer of asylum is anything but a surprise. Judge Wikileaks against this background – and the glow of sainthood should similarly rub off.

Assange's association with dictators is entirely in character with the Wikileaks dumps, which well-meaning intellectuals like Olsson initially welcomed. Their buyer's remorse should go deeper and recognise that the entire enterprise is tainted by a disdain for Western democracy and the freedoms it actually purports to protect.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

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