Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks and unintended consequences

[Updated and edited December 3, 2010]

If we needed further evidence that Julian Assange is a fool and an amateur in his understanding of international affairs (though admittedly technically clever), how about the apparent unintended consequences of this round of WikiLeaks? He claims to have caught the US government in some grand "gotcha" moment of lies, deceit, inhumanity, and generally bad behavior (See  -- when it's not being hacked down that is).  While the USG is embarrassed by the leaks and concerned they will hinder diplomacy going forward, they suggest that the US and other democratic governments are apple-tree cutting George Washingtons compared to their non-democratic counterparts.  The revelations are much more at the expense of the latter than the former. He claims to support government transparency and internet freedom as general principles, but he pushes these principles only in the easiest case--vis a vis a government where such leaks are possible and one does not incur risks to the lives of one's family members.  See his now defunct blog (via Michael Totten). Finally, for all Wikileaks' invocations of free speech and transparency, there is good reason to think American diplomacy will become more secretive and diplomats less frank as a result of the leaks.  Freedom as a form does not necessarily make for freedom as a result, as my man Montesquieu teaches (as articulated by Mansfield).  

Diplomats to start talking like Congressmen, i.e. less honesty in government
I don't think anyone can be sure what the consequences will be to frankness among American diplomats and their counterparts abroad--in large part because the diplomatic institutions of authoritarian countries seem inherently more opaque and more unpredictable.  Nonetheless, I think that the bleak assessments are plausible. Moreover,  it makes sense to emphasize the great risks to deter further leaking and throw cold water on the praising of leakers and leakees (thanks to Gabriel Schoenfeld for that term). I don't blame them for being angry and emphasizing the worst case scenario.

See also, Richard Haass, "How to Read WikiLeaks." Council on Foreign Relations. November 29, 2010.

SEE ALSO: Paul Schroeder, "Op-Ed: The Secret Lives of Nations," The New York Times. December 2, 2010.

The State Department, its own tools weakened, may increasingly have to defer to the tools of Defense and Treasury
James Rubin, "The Irony of Wikileaks: by undercutting diplomacy, the hard left is threatening its own worldview." The New Republic. December 1, 2010.

The US government is not telling any "big lies" about its foreign policy. It's non-democratic countries who are. Gotcha!...Saudi Arabia? China?
Also from James Rubin
The Wikileaks document dump, unlike the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, shows that American private communication with foreign leaders by and large reflects the same sentiments offered by U.S. officials in public. There is no grand conspiracy, no grand hypocrisy to uncover and expose. The big hypocrisies here are not being perpetrated by Americans; they are being perpetrated by foreign governments, namely non-democratic ones.
Relatedly, see Jeffrey Goldberg on what WikiLeaks reveals about the nefarious cabal trying to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East....the Arab Lobby!

And the one country that has got to feel pretty good about the political implications of "Cablegate" is...Israel!  That's what you were trying to do, Assange, right? 
Marc Tracy, "For Bibi and Israel, Vindication." Tablet Magazine. November 29, 2010.

UPDATE: Maybe because it's all he's got to work with, or maybe because his worldview is not uniformly of the illiberal leftist persuasion, Assange is pointing to some of Netanyahu's comments as evidence of WikiLeaks' "public service."

...Which of course boosts Iran's and Turkey's insistence that Wikileaks is a Zionist conspiracy.

These cables make it pretty clear that Israel's geopolitical analysis is actually shared by most of its neighbors, though they don't have the stomach to say so publicly.  Few leaders actually believe the lies they often affirm in public, that Israel is the serious regional threat. In private its Iran Iran Iran. The leaks suggest that Israel is the only country telling the truth in public. Moreover, they suggest that robust American intervention in their region is what Arab leaders want. As Jeffrey Goldberg puts it, turns out Arab leaders are a bunch of neocons.

Whether or not the leaks will actually help address the global threat Iran represents is an entirely different question though. They may clarify understanding of the threat and forge unity of purpose in Western countries, but at the same time make it more difficult for Arab monarchies to participate in efforts to undermine the Iranian regime and its nuclear program. 

See also, Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, "Unexpectedly, Israel Welcomes WikiLeaks Reveations."  Inter Press Service. December 1, 2010.

Also, the leaked cables detail corroboration of arguments Israel and its defenders often make, but too many brush aside and even mock as paranoid or fabricated:
-Turkish PM Erdogan and his regime hate Israel with a religious fervor.
-The Iranian government actively supports terrorist operations against Israel via Hezbollah and others, including by commandeering Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons

See also, Raymond Bonner, "'By Whatever Means Necessary': Arab Leaders Want Iran Stopped." The Atlantic. November 29, 2010.


Monday, November 29, 2010

A few pieces on WikiLeaks

(The many quotes from Arab officials condemning Ahmadinejad and his regime, and urging the U.S. to take action are not exactly news. Nonetheless, it does seem to lend credence to the geopolitical reading of the Middle East many Israelis and Americans have been forwarding. See especially Tzipi Livni, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Barry Rubin.)

Laura Rozen on WikiLeaks Reax

Aaron Miller on the two leaks he sees as actually shedding unfavorable light on the US government. 

A cute series of photos of Middle Eastern leaders and comments US diplomats made about them in the leaked cables. From Now Lebanon.

Anne Applebaum, "Watch Your Mouth." Slate. November 29, 2010.
I'm sure the Russian people will be shocked—shocked!—to discover that U.S. diplomats think the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, "plays Robin to Putin's Batman." Italians will be equally horrified to learn that their prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is considered "feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader," just as the French will be stunned to hear President Nicolas Sarkozy called "thin-skinned and authoritarian."
...It seems that in the name of "free speech" another blow has been struck against frank speech. Yet more ammunition has been given to those who favor greater circumspection, greater political correctness, and greater hypocrisy. Don't expect better government from these revelations, expect deeper secrets...
The result: Very soon, only authoritarian leaders will be able to speak frankly with one another. A Russian official can keep a politically incorrect statement out of the newspapers. A Chinese general would never speak to a journalist anyway. Low-level officials in Iran don't leak sensitive information to WikiLeaks because the regime would kill them and torture their families. By contrast, the soldier who apparently leaked these diplomatic cables will probably live to a ripe old age.
In fact, the world's real secrets—the secrets of regimes where there is no free speech and tight control on all information—have yet to be revealed. This stuff is awkward and embarrassing, but it doesn't fundamentally change very much. How about a leak of Chinese diplomatic documents? Or Russian military cables? How about some stuff we don't actually know, like Iranian discussion of Iranian nuclear weapons, or North Korean plans for invasion of South Korea? If WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange is serious about his pursuit of "Internet openness"—and if his goal isn't, in fact, embarrassing the United States—that's where he'll look next. Somehow, I won't be surprised if he doesn't.


Wikileaks' Assange in his own words

The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in "client states"; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments -- even the most corrupt -- around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.

Does anyone besides Julian Assange and his groupies actually think he has embarrassed the U.S. more than himself?


Hezbollah "draining the life blood out of Lebanon"

Now Lebanon Opinion: "It's our dignity too." November 29, 2010.
In truth, Nasrallah is missing the point. All his babbling about US-Zionist projects and the wild theories of Israelis hacking into the mobile network to frame Hezbollah for the Hariri murder may serve his party’s longevity but it is draining the life blood out of Lebanon, and once again Nasrallah has shown that Lebanon plays second fiddle to his own fiendish agenda.
Nasrallah told the graduates that the STL [Special Tribunal on Lebanon] is an attack on the party’s dignity. Does he think Hezbollah has a monopoly on dignity? The rest of the nation is entitled to theirs too.
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