The substantive details of state department cables released by the “roguish” website Wikileaks and the context thereof have almost eclipsed every other news story this week, even as unemployment benefits are running out for 2 million Americans, Bush tax cuts are due to expire, the Pentagon released a report suggesting repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would not be disruptive to troops, and 21-term House Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is being censured on the floor of Congress.
To put it mildly, Christmas came a few weeks early for foreign policy junkies this year.
Juicy highlights? American diplomats called Russia a ‘mafia state’ and postulated its Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin as having the eyes of a killer, described the French president as ‘thin-skinned and authoritarian’ and surrounded by yes-men, mocked Canada regularly and ascertained former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as being an uncharismatic man who ‘lurched from disaster to disaster.’
But that’s just the stuff that ruffles egos. More enlightening news items in the Wikileaks release include the private encouragement of several Middle East states for the U.S. to increase pressure on Iran and stop its nuclear weapons development by any means necessary. Or that the bombings in Yemen that the Yemenese government took credit for were (of course) carried out by Americans. Or that the U.S. believes that Mexico can’t adequately fight its drug cartels. Or how Pakistan is funding the Taliban (ostensibly with U.S. development aid). Or how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged American diplomats to spy on the UN, looking for passwords, encryption keys, credit card numbers and frequent flyer numbers.
And on and on. By all accounts, it will continue, even though there is significant pressure to shut the site down for good. Its DNS registrar abandoned wikileaks.org under a probably bogus claim of denial-of-service attacks, forcing the company to relocate to a Swiss domain name. Amazon.com stopped hosting the site through their cloud service. House Representative Peter King (R-NY) called for the organization to be deemed a terrorist entity, claiming that the information “aids al-Qaeda and our enemies.” Mike Huckabee called for the execution of whomever leaked the data to Wikileaks in the first place, and various legal experts are debating the possibility that Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange (who White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs vainly tried to describe as “one guy with a website”), could be tried for espionage. And currently, there are some reports circulating that Congress is considering drafting a law making the release of details of informants (particularly their names) illegal.
The idea that Wikileaks could be considered a terrorist entity is hysterical. Wikileaks’ leaks are as much of a direct aid to al-Qaeda as Google is; unencumbered information. Sure, it may make it easier for our enemies (and friends) to find out which way American foreign policy is leaning, but isn’t everyone asking for more transparency these days? Isn’t that the word? Transparency?
Equally hysterical is the concept that other countries would be ignorant of the U.S.’s candor in internal communiques. Secretary of State Clinton paraphrased one of her unnamed foreign equivalents at a press conference, saying, “You should hear what we have to say about [the United States].” If this leak is any indication, state department cables are not as secure as we might have thought in the past, so it’s very conceivable that some of these countries either have seen or may in fact be monitoring United States department cables, especially as they’re disseminated to embassies throughout the world.
What is reassuring about these cables, as foreign correspondent Steve LeVine and some other commentators have hinted, is that they show that U.S. diplomats actually do their jobs, and in reading some of these foreign cables, they do their jobs fairly well. Compare this to the majority of elected legislators we’re consistently hearing about in government who take two months out of the year on vacation and can’t seem to get a damn thing done in the remaining ten without a greasing by the highest bidder on K Street.
The writing in these state department cables is clear, the content honest, and the insights intelligent, often written in a style worthy of the best-paid op-ed pages in the free world. And the spelling is surprisingly good. Take that for what it’s worth, but these guys don’t have proofreaders, and until recent memory, they didn’t have spellcheckers, either. Compare that to the number of lengthy emails free of spelling errors and grammatical inconsistency that you might get around the office.
If anything, these leaks show that the U.S. is in far greater control of world affairs than even our boldest patriots would believe, and the people that we’re sending to foreign countries to gain insight and access aren’t often appointed as favors. These ambassadors are the progenitors of unvarnished truth and political realism in an era of political convenience above all.