Hillary Clinton declares "information war"
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared to the Senate Relations Foreign Committee last week that "We are in an information war, and we are losing this war". In an attempt to justify the request for a US$47 billion diplomacy budget and extended legal powers that apply to Wikileaks, Clinton argued for a return to the strong media position the nation held during the Cold War. Arguing that the rise of Al Jazeera English, Russian and Chinese broadcasting was weakening the position of the US strategically in global politics, this was almost a complete reversal on her earlier statement on the importance of internet freedom to US democratic ideals.
This movement is a cause for concern to both people within and outside the US. First, it should be somewhat alarming that Clinton is recalling with rosy memory the McCarthy period, whereby people that were perceived to have communist leanings were blacklisted and had their opinions oppressed through the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC). While many critics have argued the loosely defined Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept Terrorism Act of 2001 (the PATRIOT Act) stepped over the boundaries of civil liberties by allowing the tapping of civilians' phones, new provisions for detention without charge and even the ability to track civilian's library book use, Clinton's announcements look to be stepping up the level of surveillance of their own citizens. This is in spite of Obama campaigning to librarians that he would look at overturning the PATRIOT Act. (Coincidentally, he also argued he would close Guantanamo, but then we have seen this week his creation of provisions to indefinitely detain prisoners without charge). Clinton also sits on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America and other international broadcasters in the US.
We should be concerned about the use of language here also, because at an international level it signals the extension of the US' imperialist discourse and the suppression of Wikileaks and other internet freedom programmes. Arguably, the US were always going to make this move. In the face of declining economic influence, the export of culture will become an important way of maintaining geostrategic dominance. That this occurs in the wake of the Arab uprising should come as no surprise. The foreign policies of the US have always involved one hand waving the flag of freedom, democratic expression and individual liberty for all, the other doing a backhander that makes this impossible.