I've been wondering when the hysteria about WikiLeaks would start to die back a bit. Of course, with a quarter of a million diplomatic cables being released, something really shocking might yet come to light. But otherwise, what have we found out?
Yeah, people don't say the same things in public that they say in private. Hey, it's not just diplomats. Think about last week's Thanksgiving dinner. Do you think the discussion was no different than what any two people there might say to each other in private? Really?
None of us would like everything in our lives posted for public view. And it's not necessarily because we have something to hide. Some things are just private. (I've often wondered about believers who think that their God, and even their deceased relatives, are watching everything, all the time. How can that sound like a good thing?)
And diplomacy - any kind of negotiation - is a messy business, anyway. It's not simple and it's not neat. But it's far less messy than war, which is the alternative. We just got through eight disastrous years of a presidential administration that liked things simple (even if wrong) and saw everything in black and white. Give me messy negotiations any day!
And I was very glad to see this editorial from the New York Times:
The business of diplomacy is often messy and when private communications become public, it can also be highly embarrassing.
But what struck us, and reassured us, about the latest trove of classified documents released by WikiLeaks was the absence of any real skullduggery. After years of revelations about the Bush administration’s abuses — including the use of torture and kidnappings — much of the Obama administration’s diplomatic wheeling and dealing is appropriate and, at times, downright skillful. ...
The cables also add insight into how the Obama administration has built the case for sanctions against Iran. To win China’s support, it got Saudi Arabia to promise Beijing a steady supply of oil. To win over Russia, it replaced a Bush-era missile defense plan with one that is just as effective that Moscow finds less threatening.
The administration may well be uncomfortable about disclosures of its wheeling and dealing to try to get governments to accept prisoners from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Slovenia was told that taking a prisoner was the price for a meeting with President Obama. We wish that the White House had been as energetic and inventive in its attempts to get Congress to shut down the prison.
We were reassured to learn that Washington has been trying to persuade Pakistan to remove nuclear fuel from a reactor so it cannot be diverted for use in a terrorist’s weapon. And that the United States and South Korea are prudently discussing how to handle the potential collapse of North Korea. Disconcertingly, there is no sign that Washington or Seoul knew about the North’s recently disclosed uranium enrichment plant.
The Obama administration should definitely be embarrassed by its decision to continue a Bush administration policy directing American diplomats to collect the personal data — including credit card numbers and frequent flier numbers — of foreign officials. That dangerously blurs the distinction between diplomats and spies and is best left to the spies.
There are legitimate reasons for keeping many diplomatic conversations secret. The latest WikiLeaks revelations will cause awkward moments not least because they contain blunt assessments of world leaders. The claim by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the leaks threaten national security seems exaggerated. The documents are valuable because they illuminate American policy in a way that Americans and others deserve to see.
This was embarrassing, just like your personal, private conversations might be embarrassing when repeated around the Thanksgiving dinner table. And it might well make our diplomats' jobs more difficult. But as far as I can tell, it's more titillation than anything. It's private gossip made public, and I guess it's just human nature to be enthralled by that. Embarrassing? Yes. Disastrous? Hardly.
And although I don't like some of the revelations (just like I wouldn't like all of the gossip about me, no doubt), I haven't seen anything really shocking, certainly nothing like the news that America was torturing prisoners of war. For the most part, I guess I'm relieved at how reasonable most of these revelations have been. Does Putin have bad breath? Well, it's not something a diplomat might say in public, for good reason.
Here's Jon Stewart putting all this in hilarious perspective last night:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Laugh, people. If this is the worst it gets, laughter is the only appropriate response.