Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks - cynical and naive

Having read a few of the cables leaked by Wikileaks, I am actually more impressed by U.S. diplomatic representatives than I was before. The cables I've read are well-written, concise, and informative, and reveal a knowledgeable and skeptical attitude towards those with whom the U.S. is negotiating.

The Wikileaks site, however, introduces the cables with the following 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.
I totally disagree with the Wikileaks introduction, which I think is both cynical and naive.

It is cynical because it assumes that U.S. intentions are always, and uniquely, bad. Other countries don't spy on their allies, turn a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses in countries with which they are allied, lobby for corporations based in their countries, and advance the interests of those who have access to their diplomats? I think that probably almost every nation with even the least bit of power does these things in their diplomatic relations. Just for an example I know about, Israel has spied on the U.S. (think of the Pollard case). Most nations pick and choose the human rights abuses they protest. I don't particularly like it, but I don't expect anything differently - national governments operate on the basis of what they perceive national self-interest to be. China, for an example, has been assiduously working on behalf of Chinese economic interests in other countries. Diplomacy is not conducted in such a way as to prove the pure motives of the nation.

It is naive because it assumes that it's possible to get anything done diplomatically without secrecy. The Oslo Accords negotiated between the PLO and Israel would not have occurred if they had been conducted publicly. Diplomats need to be able to report truthfully back to the State Department - which means they have to be able to say undiplomatic things about foreign leaders. What use would there be in sanitized cables to the State Department which don't reveal frank evaluations of foreign leaders or officials? Or which don't reveal what they really say to U.S. diplomats? I want the U.S. to be able to say different things in private than in public - that way we can propose actions that if they turn out to be a bad idea, we can later disavow and say we never thought of.  Or perhaps our diplomats can say things that we might aspire to do but cannot do at the present moment. There are a lot of good uses for secrecy in diplomacy.

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