U.S. diplomats in 2008 called the Libyan city where protests erupted this week "a locus of extremist activity" not really under the control of Muammar Qaddafi's government.
What U.S. diplomats have to say about Xi Jinping, China's next leader.
NATO on Russia's military: Meh.
Inside the United States' cozy relationship with Bahrain.
Bahrain's king told U.S. officials that his country's opposition was trained by Hezbollah.
The U.S. government's WikiLeaks probe makes its courtroom debut in the United States.
The preposterously complex hacking and counter-hacking saga engulfing WikiLeaks' online allies.
Australia wants to make sure Julian Assange is treated justly in Sweden.
Anonymous is now going after Iran.
THE BIG PICTURE
Free speech advocate and celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, now Julian Assange's lawyer, tells FP why WikiLeaks is "the Pentagon Papers case for the 21st Century."
WikiLeaks' Asia cables could be a whole lot worse.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hasn't been charged with any crime in the United States yet, but he is preparing for the possibility that he will be sooner or later -- in a statement released via Twitter on Monday, WikiLeaks announced that Assange had secured the assistance of Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Dershowitz has been a staunch civil liberties advocate for decades -- he represented Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel in the Supreme Court in 1972 after Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record -- although he's as well known today for his work as a celebrity attorney (he's represented O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and Leona Helmsley, among others) and his outspoken defense of Israel. "This is the Pentagon Papers case for the 21st Century," he told me today. "This is a very important test case, because it tests the reach of the First and Fourth Amendments to new electronic media. It's every lawyer's dream to help shape the law, not just react to it."
Dershowitz says he was enlisted in Assange's legal team by Geoffrey Robertson, an Australian attorney who cuts a similar profile in his own country and Britain -- he helped hide his client Salman Rushdie after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against him in 1989 -- and who signed on to Assange's case in December. "I've been involved for a while now," Dershowitz says. "I've been quietly advising them over the past weeks. I've spoken myself with Assange on several occasions."
The U.S. Justice Department's case against Assange, if it can make one, hinges on demonstrating some sort of collaboration between the WikiLeaks leader and his alleged source for his cache of U.S. government documents, Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is currently being held in a Marine Corps jail. A federal judge in Virginia agreed today to consider an order from the Justice Department compelling Twitter to hand over account information for Assange, Manning, and several other people associated with WikiLeaks -- which Twitter has so far resisted -- in an attempt to prove that the parties were communicating before Assange received the documents. Dershowitz wasn't involved in today's hearing, but says that "we will do what we can in this country to minimize the chances that [Assange] can be prosecuted here."
"In a situation like this, you're waiting to see what moves the government makes," he says. "But I never wait passively. I always wait actively."
ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. government has justifiably taken a lot of heat for its relative silence regarding -- and occasional complicity in -- the human rights abuses committed by Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. But it's worth highlighting an exception in a recently WikiLeaked November 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, signed by Amb. Margaret Scobey, in which American diplomats did the right thing -- while Silicon Valley played it safe.
The cable concerns an Egyptian blogger whose name is redacted in the document, but who CNET thinks is most likely Wael Abbas, a celebrated dissident journalist whose efforts to distribute videos of human rights abuses by Egyptian authorities have in one case led to convictions of the perpetrators (and who, incidentally, was arrested on Friday in Cairo, though according to his Twitter feed he's since been released):
Prominent Egyptian blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXX, contacted us November 17 to report that YouTube removed from his website two videos exposing police abuses -- one of Sinai bedouin allegedly shot by police and thrown in a garbage dump during the past week's violence (ref A), and the other of a woman being tortured in a police station. XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us that YouTube is also preventing XXXXXXXXXXXX from posting new videos, and asked us for assistance in urging YouTube to re-post his removed videos and reinstate his access to uploading new material. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said XXXXXXXXXXXXXX has tried to contact Google, but has not received a response.
The cable notes that the same thing happened to the blogger the previous year -- which again suggests that the blogger in question is Abbas, who had his YouTube access restored in December 2007 after getting kicked off for posting videos of Egyptian police brutality. At the time, YouTube explained in a statement that the company's general policy banned videos depicting graphic violence, but that "Having reviewed the case, we have restored the account of Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas -- and if he chooses to upload the video again with sufficient context so that users can understand his important message we will of course leave it on the site."
While the incident was widely reported at the time, there was no mention of any involvement of the State Department in YouTube's decision. But the 2008 cable notes:
In December 2007, DRL [State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor] and Embassy Cairo worked to convince Google [which owns YouTube] to restore XXXXXXXXXXXXX' YouTube access after a similar incident. We believe that a similar Department intervention with Google representatives could help in restoring XXXXXXXXXXXXX' access again. XXXXXXXXXXXXis an influential blogger and human rights activist, and we want to do everything we can to assist him in exposing police abuse.
A YouTube spokeswoman wouldn't confirm or deny the cable's account of the two incidents, saying in an emailed statement that "In order to protect the privacy of our users, we do not comment on actions taken on individual videos or accounts."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
WikiLeaks seems to have rediscovered the news cycle, releasing seven cables from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as the Egyptian government crackdown on protesters and journalists turned ugly Thursday. There's not much in them that you didn't know if you've ever read a Human Rights Watch report on Egypt, though a 2009 scene-setter for a visit by FBI Director Robert Mueller does effectively sum up the sorry state of human rights and civil liberties in Hosni Mubarak's country:
Egypt's police and domestic security services continue to be dogged by persistent, credible allegations of abuse of detainees. Police brutality in Egypt against common criminals is routine and pervasive, resulting from poor training and understaffing. Over the past five years, the government has stopped denying that torture exists, and since late 2007 courts have sentenced approximately 18 police officers to prison terms for torture and killings. In March, a court sentenced a police officer to 15 years in prison for shooting a motorist following a dispute. The GOE [government of Egypt] has not yet made a serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution, but there are indications that the government is allowing the courts increased independence to adjudicate some police brutality cases.
The Interior Ministry uses SSIS [the State Security Investigative Services] to monitor and sometimes infiltrate the political opposition and civil society. SSIS suppresses political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation. In February following the Gaza war, SSIS arrested a small number of pro-Palestinian activists and bloggers, and detained them for periods of a few days to several weeks.
CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak thought George W. Bush was "naive, controlled by subordinates, and completely unprepared for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq."
Inside the U.S. military's $1.3 billion-a-year relationship with Egypt.
When Hillary met Hosni.
The Egyptian military's Plan B in the event of a regime change.
The U.S. military hasn't turned up any evidence of collaboration between Assange and Pfc. Bradley Manning.
Manning's supervisors warned the U.S. Army not to deploy him to Iraq.
Der Spiegel's tick-tock on the lead-up to Cablegate. (Assange: "We have to survive this leak.")
When American newspapers aren't bashing Julian Assange, they're imitating him.
WikiLeaks: the next generation.
Assange wants more media partners.
THE BIG PICTURE
Reading WikiLeaks as literature.
Is Manning Capt. James Yee all over again?
Is Algeria next?
Why the Palestine Papers aren't the next WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks has done more for Arab democracy than decades of U.S. diplomacy.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Cables from the U.S. Embassy in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare account for just 13 of the nearly 2,000 State Department documents that WikiLeaks has posted so far, but President Robert Mugabe's government has gotten a lot of mileage out of them -- in fact, he's probably made more enterprising use of the slow-rolling scandal than any other world leader. When an independent Zimbabwean newspaper reported on a cable alleging that members of Mugabe's circle -- including his wife, Grace Mugabe -- had profited extensively from the country's black -market diamond trade, the first lady sued the paper for $15 million (a move that has prompted reprisals from hackers). When WikiLeaks published a year-old cable detailing a meeting between Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and U.S. officials, Mugabe -- who had grudgingly acceded to a power-sharing arrangement with his old nemesis -- jumped at the opportunity.
Last week, Johannes Tomana, Zimbabwe's attorney general, announced that he would consider charging Tsvangirai with high treason over the contents of the cable, in which Tsvangirai suggests the possibility of working with U.S. and other foreign officials on the international sanctions regime imposed on Mugabe's government -- penalties that Tsvangirai publicly opposed but privately insisted "be kept in place," according to the cable. High treason carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe, and a number of writers -- Christopher Albon in the Atlantic, James Kirchick in the Wall Street Journal, and James Richardson in today's Guardian, among others -- have pre-emptively placed Tsvangirai's blood on Julian Assange's hands. Richardson's piece is a particularly good summary of the events thus far and builds to a withering conclusion:
And so, where Mugabe's strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe's democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed. Twenty years of sacrifice and suffering by Tsvangirai all for naught, as WikiLeaks risks "collateral murder" in the name of transparency.
Before more political carnage is wrought and more blood spilled -- in Africa and elsewhere, with special concern for those US-sympathising Afghans fingered in its last war document dump -- WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it -- at least to those who understand the value of a life.
It's certainly true that Assange has been maddeningly unwilling to examine the implications of his actions -- or, alternately, convinced that he can have it both ways, remaking the business of geopolitics while claiming no casualties. But I'm somewhat more persuaded by Albon's measured take from last week. After noting that a Tsvangirai conviction based on the cable alone is unlikely, he writes:
It's difficult to see this as anything but a major setback for democracy in Zimbabwe. Even if Tsvangirai is not charged with treason, the opponents to democratic reforms have won a significant victory. First, popular support for Tsvangirai and the MDC will suffer due to Mugabe's inevitable smear campaign, including the attorney general's "investigation." Second, the Prime Minister might be forced to take positions in opposition to the international community to avoid accusation of being a foreign collaborator. Third, Zimbabwe's fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.
As Robert Rotberg wrote here last week, WikiLeaks may have provided Mugabe with a useful pretext for dispatching Tsvangirai from his government, but it's an open question whether he needed one. In reward for his decade-plus of political efforts, Tsvangirai has been variously arrested, beaten, tortured, thrown from a 10th-floor window, and involved in a suspicious collision with a truck that claimed his wife's life. WikiLeaks is useful to Mugabe, but it's hardly necessary.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
Another day, another cable about alleged central-African multi-million-dollar embezzlement -- this time in Gabon.
The Obama administration dispatches a Florida senator to urge Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon not to pursue a torture case against Bush administration officials.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency quietly evolves into an international intelligence agency.
How a Brazilian who once kidnapped a U.S. ambassador managed to get into the United States.
McDonald's tries to muck up a free trade agreement in El Salvador.
The Jamaican government warned U.S. officials that extraditing a local drug lord would lead to trouble.
Britain trains a "government death squad" in Bangladesh.
Did Britain try to cheat Mauritius out of an island chain?
Inside Russia's awful prisons.
Shell thinks that Ireland could become a booming offshore gas supplier -- or not.
More U.S. complaints about Egypt's lackluster military.
Behind the scenes of an assassination in Dubai.
Julian Assange claims (dubiously) to have the names of CIA moles in Arab governments.
The FBI pays back "Operation Payback" over PayPal attack.
77 percent of Americans disapprove of WikiLeaks' cable release.
Did WikiLeaks dash Zimbabwe's hopes for democracy?
Hackers claim to have brought down Zimbabwean government websites in retaliation for a WikiLeaks-related lawsuit against a Harare newspaper.
THE BIG PICTURE
Daniel Ellsberg lawyer Floyd Abrams says Assange is no Daniel Ellsberg.
Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images
An April 2009 cable from the State Department's U.S. interests section in Havana, acquired by WikiLeaks and published yesterday by El Pais, offers an unsparing assessment of the state of the dissident community in Raúl Castro's Cuba, concluding that the U.S. government "will need to look elsewhere, including within the government itself, to spot the most likely successors to the Castro regime."
The portrait that the cable, signed by top mission official Jonathan Farrar, paints of the old guard of Cuban dissidents would likely seem familiar to a student of failed opposition movements anywhere in the world: organizations fragmented by the competing egos of their leaders, absorbed in campaigns of decreasing relevance to a population mostly resigned to the status quo. Farrar is not unsympathetic to the dissidents, who are up against formidable odds. "[B]eing an anti-[government] activist in Cuba is enormously difficult, and ... any effort to move beyond small meetings in private homes would almost certainly be quickly and firmly repressed by the security services," he writes.
Still, the activists do themselves no favors. Farrar notes that the leaders of groups such as Agenda para la Transición, which was formed by prominent dissidents in 2008 in the hopes of influencing the immediately post-Fidel era, are in their 50s and 60s: "They have little contact with younger Cubans and, to the extent they have a message that is getting out, it does not appeal to that segment of society." Faced with a limited pool of funding, the various groups have also dedicated much of their efforts to undercutting each other rather than the Castro government:
When we question opposition leaders about their programs, we do not see platforms designed to appeal to a broad cross section of Cuban society. Rather, the greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day. One political party organization told the [chief of mission] quite openly and frankly that it needed resources to pay salaries and presented him with a budget in the hope that [the U.S. interests section] would be able to cover it. With seeking resources as a primary concern, the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources.
Cuba has a younger cohort of dissidents -- such as the well-known blogger Yoani Sánchez -- who, Farrar writes, "are much better at taking ‘rebellious' stands with popular appeal." But these individuals are less likely to cohere into organized groups, and have little to do with the old-line dissidents, who Farrar says are jealous of them in any case. Dissident groups also suffer from the influence of Cuban exiles in the United States; exile groups fund the dissidents still on the island, but "opposition members of all stripes complain that the intention of the exiles is to undercut local opposition groups so that they can move into power when the Castros leave."
The saddest character in Farrar's cable is Oswaldo Paya, the veteran democracy activist and frequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee who ran the Varela Project in the 1990s and is still, in Farrar's estimation, "a very sober and serious force." But he remains traumatized by the Black Spring of 2003, the sweeping crackdown in which the Cuban government arrested, tried, and imprisoned 75 dissidents. The Black Spring trials revealed the extent to which the Cuban government had infiltrated the country's political opposition and civil society -- a surveillance that stunned even the few American journalists in Havana in its scope -- and left a cloud of mutual suspicion over the dissident community that has never quite dispersed.
"The fact that 41 of the 54 prisoners of conscience arrested in the Black Spring of 2003 and still being held," Farrar writes, "are Varela Project volunteers clearly weighs heavily on Paya. Therefore, much of his focus has been on defense of human rights and demands for the release of political prisoners. While these are laudable goals that must be pressed forward...they have little resonance within Cuban society and do not offer a political alternative to the government of Cuba."
Farrar concludes that Cuba's future likely lies in younger dissidents like Sánchez, and "within the middle ranks of the government itself" -- the regime insiders poised to succeed Castro. Beyond that, he writes, "[w]e also must continue to open up Cuba to the information age...to facilitate and encourage the younger generations of Cubans seeking greater freedoms and opportunity."
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
WikiLeaks poses an interesting dilemma for governments that share Julian Assange's hostility to Washington, but not his enthusiasm for information. Case in point: Havana. Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez offers a glimpse:
I remember the first mention of Julian Assange's site in our official media was accompanied by a certain complicity on the part of the article writers, a hint of laughter anticipating the damage that the publication of these classified documents could cause the U.S. Government. But when the name of Cuba began to appear along with reports about the interference of Venezuela and the testimonies of coercion against their own medical personnel, the enthusiasm of the newspaper Granma turned to annoyance and the initial applause gave way to silence. Not even the Maximum Leader referred to Wikileaks again.
She's presumably referring to this cable from the Caracas embassy, which alleged that Cuban medical personnel were being forced against their will to work in Venezuela. Aside from old-school communist credibility, medical expertise is the main export Cuba has to offer Venezuela, which under Hugo Chávez has become an essential trading partner and oil supplier for Fidel and now Raúl Castro's government.
Speaking of which, a February cable published Friday -- one of only a couple to emerge from the U.S. interests section in Havana, signed by Jonathan Farrar, the top official there -- offers a sweeping view of the crumbling Cuban economy: Chávez's support is the only thing keeping Cuba from falling back into the deprivations of the Special Period, Farrar reports, and the country is defaulting right and left on its trading partners. But the cable also suggests that American diplomats badly misread the seriousness of Raúl Castro's economic reform agenda:
Despite how badly Cuba needs them, significant economic reforms are unlikely in 2010, especially with the continued delay of a policy-revising Communist Party Congress... . The [government of Cuba]'s direction and leadership remains muddled and unclear, in great measure because its leaders are paralyzed by fear that reforms will loosen the tight grip on power that they have held for over 50 years. Faced with political uncertainty regarding future Cuban leadership and relations with the United States, the Cuban people are more likely to endure a slow erosion of state-subsidies than a much-needed radical restructuring.
Less than a year later, a radical restructuring may in fact be on the way.
When two bloggers in Azerbaijan were thrown in jail last year for a satirical video making fun of the government of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, a (unnamed) source told the U.S. embassy in Baku that if you wanted to understand the mercurial ruler, you had to think of The Godfather: "He's not Michael Corleone," the source said of Aliyev; "he's Sonny."
The reference to Vito Corleone's sons in the famous Francis Ford Coppola film -- the first, Michael, pragmatic and calculating in his efforts to hang onto his family's organized crime empire after an attack on Vito; the second, Sonny, hot-tempered and preoccupied with vengeance -- sets a Baku embassy official off on an extended, and inspired, riff on the subject of which Corleone, exactly, the Caucasian strongman resembles most. The cable, filed by Charge d'Affaires Donald Lu, works off of the premise of John Hulsman's and A. Wess Mitchell's notion of the "Godfather Doctrine," but the author suggests that the comparison may be particularly apt in the Azeri case:
Because of family connections, dynastic succession, the strong arming of the opposition and the creation of an elaborate patronage/protection network, the Aliyev Administration has developed an "organized crime" image in some quarters, leading some analysts to see Ilham Aliyev at times in a mafia-like role.
The diplomat-essayist concludes that, in fact, Aliyev is a Michael abroad and a Sonny at home, crediting the president with maintaining the "clever, realistic foreign policy" of his father, President Heydar Aliyev, while savagely punishing his domestic enemies:
As Aliyev perceives a challenge to his authority or affronts to his family dignity, even minor ones, he and his inner circle are apt to react (or overreact), much to the detriment of the country's democratic development and movement toward Western alliances.
But the cable suggests that Aliyev's repressive domestic tendencies may be in part the work of his longtime presidential administrator, Ramiz Mehdiyev, and wonders,
Is [Mehdiyev] the puppet or the puppet-master? At age 71 and often seen in frail health, this is an increasingly important question. While the rule of 47-year-old Ilham Aliyev could continue for decades, it would be most likely without the benefit of his consigliere. Without Mehdiyev, it is not clear whom Aliyev will turn to for help in maintaining the same firm grip on the instruments of power.
(Thanks to FP contributor Haley Edwards for the tip.)
As with earlier WikiLeaks "revelations," the latest batch of classified communications is bound to be something of a Rorschach test. With a wealth of cables from which to choose, readers will be inclined to see in them what they want to see. I've been reading some of the latest releases and I've read the New York Times accounts pretty carefully, but thus far, I haven't seen anything that fundamentally alters my views about U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I seen any other commentator who says that they've changed their mind about some important contemporary issue either. That said, here are a few tentative reactions.
First, everyone should remember that these documents are not revealed truth or literal transcripts of an event. Like most forms of diplomatic reportage, they are a version of events or a summary of impressions, as seen through the eyes of the person (in most cases mid-level officials) who are drafting the message. Even when one is just summarizing a meeting, whoever is drafting the cable gets to emphasize certain things and to omit or downplay others, and that includes the possibility that they misheard, misinterpreted, or misunderstood what was said. Context matters too: what foreign officials say will be shaped by what they are trying to accomplish and also what they think their American interlocutors want or need to hear, and it's hard to identify the full context from these releases alone.
Please note that I am not arguing that there isn't useful information here. My point is that we bear in mind that these cables are the products of individual human drafters who have their own agendas and frailties, and that the discussions they are summarizing do not occur in isolation. And although these documents clearly tell us something about a number of key policies, they are a very incomplete picture.
Second, as with previous WikiLeaks releases, we need to be very wary about our initial conclusions. Only a small number of cables have been released so far, and the media outlets that were given access to them (the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel) are picking and choosing from among the one's they've seen. Until we've had a chance to see the full set of releases, a degree of interpretive caution is in order.
Third, I am less troubled than some others about the possibility that these documents will expose gaps between what governments say they are doing and what they are actually doing. Some commentators worry, for example, that these documents have exposed the hypocrisy of the Yemeni government, which has been pretending that it wasn't allowing the United States to conduct drone strikes on its territory. Others probably fear that some particularly pungent comments about various world leaders might get exposed, and thereby creating undesirable frictions. There's also the concern that foreign representatives will be less candid in the future, for fear of being exposed by some subsequent leak.
But let's get serious for a second. I doubt there are any major world leaders who once believed that we held them in the highest regard, and who will now be crushed to learn that some of our officials had reservations about them. (I'm willing to bet that plenty of foreign cables say less-than-flattering things about U.S. officials too, and that those officials wouldn't be entirely shocked were those reports to go public). I give most leaders a bit more credit than that: most people know when there are significant differences between allies and even personal points of friction, even if they are papered over with appropriate diplomatic niceties. It's mildly embarrassing to have this out in public, but I'm not sure anybody is going to feel seriously betrayed or misled.
And as for the possibility that American diplomats will be exposed as less than 100 percent honest: at this stage in our history, is all that even remotely surprising? I mean, after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Iran/Contra, the cruise missile attack on Sudan, Colin Powell's cooked-up testimony to the Security Council in 2002, how many people are under that many illusions about the dark underbelly of U.S. foreign policy? And it's hardly headline news to learn that the United States has been obsessed with Iran's nuclear program, reflexively solicitous of Israel's concerns, worried about North Korea, or deeply concerned about al Qaeda. Some of the details in these cables are interesting, but none of the dispatches I've read or the news accounts I've seen suggest that a major rewriting of recent diplomacy is in order.
Fourth, the recurring theme that I keep seeing in these documents -- it's my own Rorschach, I guess -- is how everybody around the world wants Uncle Sucker to solve their problems. South Korea and the U.S. talk about what to do if North Korea collapses. Israeli officials keep demanding that we deal with Iran and preserve their "qualitative military edge." Some Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf want us to stop an Iranian bomb too, but they don't agree on the steps we should take to achieve that aim. And so on.
You'd expect these documents to contain a lot of this sort of special pleading, of course, because they are reports from American officials who have been meeting with various foreign counterparts and trying to figure out what they think or want. Nonetheless, it is still striking how many pies the United States has its fingers in, and how others keep expecting us to supply the ingredients, do most of the baking, and clean up the kitchen afterwards.
Fifth, the big story in the early releases -- at least as highlighted in the Times -- seems to be the combination of the clear U.S. obsession with Iran and the fact that some Arab leaders expressed great concern about the prospect of an Iranian bomb. It was as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow that hard-line advocates of doing whatever it takes to stop an Iranian bomb would immediately seize upon the initial releases to buttress their case, but the documents don't actually support that conclusion. As Andrew Sullivan points out, the same people who routinely dismiss Arab calls for a different U.S. policy on the Israel-Palestinian peace process are now suddenly convinced that these same Arab leaders are pillars of wisdom. In any case, it is hardly a revelation to learn that some Gulf rulers would a) prefer a non-nuclear Iran, and b) would prefer it if the United States did the heavy lifting and bore the onus of taking care of this problem. It would be astonishing if they thought any other way.
But the crucial question all along has been how to address that issue, and here these releases show some ambivalence. There is hardly a consistent chorus of voices telling the United States to go ahead and bomb the place. Some leaders seem inclined in that way; others much less so. I've heard other senior Arab and Muslim officials say that it would be a calamity if we did.
Lastly, the big question I keep pondering is this: would it be all that bad if diplomats understood that secret deals and two-faced diplomacy wasn't going to be that easy anymore, because the true facts might leak out sooner rather than in twenty or thirty years time? I can think of a few cases where secrecy has been useful (Kennedy's deal over the Jupiter missiles in Turkey during the Cuban Missile Crisis comes to mind), but in general I think human beings -- and this include foreign policy-makers -- are more inclined to do bad things when they think they can do so without being exposed. If you have to keep something secret, that's often a sign that you shouldn't be doing it at all.
And at the risk of seeming like a naïve Wilsonian (the cruelest thing you can call a realist like me!), the whole episode raises the larger issue of whether the citizens of a republic have the right to know exactly what representatives are doing and saying in their name, backed up by the money and military power that the citizens have paid for with their taxes. And I don't mean finding out thirty years later, but now. I'm sure that most diplomats would prefer to minimize democratic scrutiny of their activities, as it would surely be annoying if Congress or the media or (God forbid!) ordinary citizens were to peer over their shoulders while they are trying to line up foreign support. But given that I am less and less convinced that our elites know what they are doing, I'm also less inclined to want to let them operate outside public view.
But there is a real downside, which is why I retain some concerns about this latest batch of revelations. If diplomats start fearing that any conversation or cable might get leaked, they will either stop talking, stop taking notes, or stop sending message back to headquarters in any sort of republishable form. There's an old line from Chicago city politics: "Don't write if you can talk; don't talk if you can nod; don't nod if you can wink." Somehow, I'm not sure our diplomacy will be enhanced if our representatives are reduced to making facial gestures, and communicating back home only through secure telephones.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
WikiLeaked is FP’s blog dedicated to sorting through and making sense of the more than 250,000 State Department cables acquired by WikiLeaks.