This week, The Guardian broke a story about a secret deal that former U.S. president George W. Bush and former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf purportedly struck after the attacks of
9/11: When Osama bin Laden eluded U.S. military forces and fled to the border region, they quietly agreed that the Americans could conduct a raid in Pakistan to hunt him down. If successful, the U.S. would announce its triumph, while Pakistani officials would loudly decry the incursion.
The two leaders were never afforded the luxury of playing out their tacit little commedia dell'arte. Mr. Bush had to give up the hope that he would ever fire the special confetti cannon he had bought for the occasion and General Musharraf mothballed the mirror in which he had practised his "I'm so, so mad at you, America!" face.
Do you know how much money Gen. Musharraf paid to take those charades-expressions classes? Probably not, but that information will probably be served to us at some point by Julian Assange.
Learning of the 2001 deal, I couldn't help wondering a little more about the circumstances of Mr. bin Laden's death in Abbottabad this month. But I was also surprised that I was surprised - a backroom deal between two powerful political leaders in a time of crisis? Who would have thought?
Classically, the image people invoke for such behind-the-scenes manipulation is the end of The Wizard of Oz. But this time, instead of the velvet curtain pulling back to reveal a balding old man holding an array of helpful prizes, I felt like I'd got a glimpse of something grosser, more insidious. Something like a hot-dog factory. The feeling that hit me really should have been hitting me from the moment WikiLeaks became a common noun - that every hot-button political news story has its own hidden hot-dog factory, full of warm, swirling pools of organ meat and rendered donkey gums, and it is simply a matter of time before the curtain gets pulled back.
The problem here is lag time: On May 2, we were all privy to the news that Mr. bin Laden had been killed in a firefight by a team of Navy SEALs. A few days later, certain details (the gun, the "human shield") were reshuffled out of the deck. Now, clearly it will be months, maybe years, before we get the true, full picture of what actually happened before and during the raid - what President Barack Obama's exact orders were, the mechanics of the attack, whether Pakistan was complicit, etc.
The space between those two realities creates a psychological conundrum: To believe nothing that government officials are saying about Mr. bin Laden's death is to venture into the unhappy twilight zone of the conspiracy theorists. But to believe everything is to be a drooling idiot.
If only it could be as easy as dealing with the disgusting, mundane reality of a hot-dog factory. Personally, I've developed a keen system of defence against thinking too deeply about what goes into my tube-shaped meat, allowing none of the aforementioned lag between the state of deciding to eat the hot dog and the state of eating the hot dog. Abolishing the lag is a cinch, because hot dogs are delicious, are full of preservatives that will prevent you from ever dying and must undergo rigorous checks from independent health regulators.
The same cannot be said of governments. They are far less adept at preserving their integrity, are much more prone to rot and, tragically, are seldom dipped in sweet corn batter, deep-fried and served on a popsicle stick.
And it's confusing, because information loses its ability to empower and educate when there's a constant gush of new stuff obscuring the old stuff. Is the answer to be more judicious about releasing news on such shadowy backroom deals, perhaps to allow stories time and space to take firmer shape, to become what they truly are? Or do we continue to forge forth in this Wild West of unbridled transparency and try to get better at identifying what is useful and what is junk?
I wish I had an answer. With a hot dog, the choice is take it or leave it: Forget how it's made and eat up, or walk down the street and obtain something less nutritionally degenerate, like a falafel. But in the reality of geopolitics, there are no vegan alternatives.