Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wikileaks: America's senior moment

So this is what the eclipsing of American power looks like, with the disgorging of so much of its sensitive diplomatic correspondence in one fell swoop. Arguably not since Berlin fell to the Red Army in 1945 has there been a compromise of state secrets as breathtaking as that brought about by WikiLeaks. Yet while the drift of much of the ensuing commentary has been that there is not much new in the 250,000 leaked cables, the truth is that the damage to American credibility and diplomacy is incalculable. Robert Baer - Financial Times

The US government must surely be ruing, and urgently reviewing, its weird decision to place a whole library of recent diplomatic correspondence on to a computer system so brilliantly secure that a 22-year-old could download it on to a Lady Gaga CD. Gaga, or what? Timothy Garton Ash - Guardian
David Seaton's News Links
"Gaga" is a French world that means senile.

In the opinion of many observers, the Wikileaks data-dump is America's "senior moment".

America's present day foreign policy shenanigans are beginning to look like one of those caper comedies, full of hilarious gags and prat falls, the kind where everything goes wrong.

Historians are not going to find much to surprise them in the documents themselves, nothing or very little that they won't already know; what they are going to be interested in is who is behind the massive leaks and what they hoped to achieve by destroying the credibility of the US State Department. 

This goes beyond mere "whistle blowing".

I'm not against whistle blowing in itself. It can perform many useful services: for example, in exposing corporate wrongdoing or dangerous pharmaceutical products. In politics it can also serve the public interest by revealing a specific error or crime. For instance I was in favor of showing the video of the helicopter murder of the Reuters reporters in Iraq.

But this "data-dump" of masses of mostly banal material, dotted with tasty information truffles of the kind Zbigniew Brzezinski calls "pointed",  in the video above, is wantonly destructive of diplomatic "back channels"  as former CIA operative  Robert Baer writes in the Financial Times. 

And as Dr. Brzezinski says, the leaks are probably being manipulated by a foreign intelligence service or services yet unknown. That has been my feeling since day one and I am glad to find myself in such illustrious company.

Certainly the wikileaked materials are already being used in furthering  some countries specific national interests. 

An article by a top Israeli journalist Aluf Benn in Haaretz entitled: "WikiLeaks cables tell the story of an empire in decline" we can read the following:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first world leader to leverage the WikiLeaks revelations for his own purposes. At a press conference on Monday, Netanyahu used the leaked cables to trash Obama's position and advance the agenda of "Iran first." The cables prove, he said, that there's no truth in the narrative that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the greatest threat to the region and its future. Aluf Benn - Haaretz
Why is Netanyahu in such a hurry to use Assange's material?

Here is how Noam Chomsky compares the relevance of the Wikileaks on the true situation in the Middle East:
NOAM CHOMSKY: (...) Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. The results are rather striking. They show the Arab opinion holds that the major threat in the region is Israel—that’s 80%. The second major threat is the United States—that’s 77%. Iran is listed as a threat by 10%. With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority—in fact, 57%—say that the region would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. 80%, 77%, say the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. 10% say Iran is the major threat.  (HT: readytoblowagasket)
You might imagine that as they hold opinions directly opposed to their subjects, the rulers of America's clients, the Arab security states, might think twice before ever speaking frankly to an American diplomat again. That might have serious consequences going forward. Especially if preparation for war gathers speed.

Many are shocked by what they read in these cables.  They seem to be suffering from a political version of "primal scene", you know, the trauma little children experience when they first discover what mommy and daddy do after they tuck the toddlers into bed.

I'm beginning to think that Bismark was right, politics are like sausages, they are easier to eat when people don't know how they are made.

Diplomacy is not, repeat not a a business and the relations between sovereign "armed and dangerous" states are not the same as the relations between a bank or a pharmaceutical company and their customers. Lehman Brothers crashing or a bank screwing its customers is not the same as bombing Iran.

So many of history's wars have begun through misunderstanding or miscalculations. Often the only thing standing between the guns of the opposing armed forces of dozens of countries are the world's diplomats. For hundreds of years they have only had their endless conversations to gauge the intentions of allies and potential or real enemies.

Taken as a whole their information and access to the minds of the governments and peoples where they are stationed is of immense value.

They all live in a boring, itinerant, community who spend most of their working careers outside their home countries, people who see each other over and over again in an endless, purgatorial round of cocktail parties and dinners and when they finally move on to a new post, they find themselves thrown again into the same company of diplomats from their own and other countries where they were posted before and again and again they renew old friendships... this goes on for years and years until they retire and is quite endogenous. They learn to read the meanings of each other's carefully chosen words and even more careful silences.

Taken as a whole the diplomatic community is very sensitive and valuable animal. Their understanding and their relationships can come in handy when there is an international crisis on and to freeze and clog it up could be really, really, dangerous at a time like now, when there is a imminent danger of a war breaking out.

So this mega data-dump is not the same as exposing some corporation that is selling infected chicken liver. This could end up in with thousands of people killed and the world economy off into the abyss. DS


Justin said...

Reader context: David, I've been silently reading along with your analysis for awhile and often find it quite enlightening. I also think your age and experience has yielded wisdom that I cannot match. I am not saying this to suck up to you, but as a way to acknowledge that you probably have a more rounded perspective than I do.

In this case, I get what you are saying about diplomacy and the predictable consequences of attacking diplomatic channels. I also see upside to the same actions. (Rather than regurgitate, here are some of my thoughts. Sorry to post links to myself here.

With some possibly good and bad consequences of Wikileaks, I hesitate to judge the overall merits of their actions and motivations on what I think are hypotheticals, especially in the matter of war, where there are so many other variables at play than how comfortable the diplomats feel talking to one another.

Anonymous said...

If I believe the American state and its ever growing global ambitions need to be curtailed or obstructed then it seems to me that exposing the diplomatic shenanigans, falsehoods and embarrassments contained in these leaks does serve a very positive purpose.

More and more I intuit postings on this site as subtly and covertly pro status quo and the establishment. E.g. the recent post with its supportive comments on Warren Buffet (and by extension to his contemptible partner and robber baron Charlie Munger) and now this.

It's now apparent to me that this blog is the locus for the interesting but genial analysis of somebody who is mildly critical but essentially and inherently supportive of the American state.

You can take the citizen out of America but not the America out of the citizen.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

For the time being the USA is the major pillar of stability of some sort that the world has. Anything that affects that stability causes unpredictable outcomes and damage everywhere. I am not "pro status quo", but on the other hand neither am I a nihilist or an anarchist.