Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks: American Diplomacy At Work

The wikileaks saga has two perspectives to it. One, to judge  the revelations themselves. Two, the raging debate over secrecy, First Amendment rights, whistle-blowing etc. I'll restrict this blog to the revelations themselves. America, undoubtedly, is the laughing stock of the world right now. America's ability to guard secrets is in complete tatters. The reactions from the commentariat, the serious non-partisan ones, ranged from "it shows diplomacy at work" to "harm has been done". In fact Fareed Zakaria gushed that the revelations "show an American diplomatic establishment that is pretty good at analysis" (,8599,2034284,00.html) . Zakaria cites a British scholar's column in Guardian as writing that his opinion of the State Department has gone up several notches.Zakaria, sums, "When foreigners encounter U.S. diplomats and listen to their bland recitation of policy, they would do well to keep in mind that behind the facade lie some very clever minds."

That nations keep secrets, that diplomats say in private what they can NEVER say in public, that nations say one thing in public while expressing their concerns in private etc etc are not surprising. Only the naive would be shocked by such things. Fareed Zakaria and many others have discounted to put this episode alongside the "Pentagon Papers" affair. The Pentagon Papers affair relates to leaking a confidential study of Vietnam War. Those papers "exposed" American government's duplicity in promoting the Vietnam War, how the public was lied to. It exposed a systemic rot. Wikileaks has not "exposed" anything unknown. There is no gotcha moment here. If, for instance, there was a smoking gun about America going into Iraq at the behest of some oil company now THAT would have had the world sit up and heap scorn and vitriol. 
The cables pretty much confirm that American diplomats pursued in private what were well known public stands. The real surprise is the Arab street. When US invade Iraq, Bush and US were hated as 'islamophobic'. US concerns on Iran were labeled as 'islamophobia'. The cables reveal that Saudi Arabia actually was trying to get US to do something more than sanctions against Iran. What is jaw dropping is that some of that was coordinated with Israel. When India voted alongwith US against Iran the decrepit commies cried "foul" at the behest of Indian Muslims. Fareed Zakaria highlights, "We now have official confirmation of something many of us have been saying for years: Arab regimes share Israel's concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran. In fact, since they do not have the massive nuclear deterrent that Israel possesses, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are probably even more nervous about an Iranian bomb".

I was browsing Der Spiegel (Germany's leading news paper) and the special section on wikileaks had articles with interesting headlines:

None of the above are really reprehensible goals in themselves. None of the above show any duplicity on part of America between what it said in public versus what it said in private.

The real clincher is the one on Iraq. While the 'oil' angle in Iraq is undeniable it was a complete trope that America was interested 'ONLY' in oil. I remember reading an article in NYT long back that amongst the oil contracts given by free Iraq only a minuscule came to US companies. Der Spiegel in an article titled "A lot of Blood for Little Oil". The following excerpt is compelling:

""No Blood for Oil" had been a slogan used by protesters against George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. A SPIEGEL cover story in January 2003 even carried the title "Blood for Oil" and analyzed Iraq's role as an oil power. Neoconservatives in Washington had always said that the money from Iraq's oil would be used to pay for the war and the reconstruction......
But the opposite came true. A lot of blood was spilled, but very little oil flowed for the US. With production of 2.5 million barrels of crude oil daily, production in Iraq has returned to close to its prewar levels. Forecasts now suggest it will take 20 years before that production is doubled or tripled, however. The US spent more than $700 billion on Iraq, but now Iraq's oil profits are going to other countries"

There has been no revelation that has given grounds for any diplomatic uproar between countries. Of course this has embarrassed the US and has seriously undermined how other nations feel let down in their trust of America's ability to keep diplomatic negotiations secret. Every great power, Russia and China especially indulge in exactly the same diplomatic maneuvers. The unmasking of Chinese hacking of Google is the only real meaty stuff and that's more concerning to the Chinese than to Americans.

To indulge in cheerleading of wikileaks as some vanguard against governmental abuse is sheer chicanery and absolutely puerile. There is no unearthing of some Katyn or My Lai kind of episode. There is not even something of the nature of Abhu Ghraib. There is no smoking gun here.

So much for the exposes themselves. How did America confront it? Was freedom of opinion or First Amendment breached in how wikileaks was dealt with by America? Is this on par with Pentagon Papers or even the Watergate expose? Is Julian Assange the digital equivalent of Bob Woodward's 'Deep Throat'? Await my next blog on that.

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