On one hand, this weekend's WikiLeaks dump of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables was a letdown after all the media hype. There were lots of interesting bits and pieces, few bombshells.
A nervous Israel, it seems, will come away from the information avalanche without much diplomatic damage – not like Saudi Arabia, perhaps, which was revealed to be pushing for a U.S. attack to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program.
According to today's Ha'aretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “The documents show many sources backing Israel's assessments, particularly of Iran." Claims by Iran hawks in this country that other Middle Eastern powers fear Iran and want the United States to solve the problem seem confirmed by the released data.
The leaks didn't quite live up to the advance publicity, but they are fascinating because of what they reveal about how diplomacy really works - a process built on trust and beneath-the-radar communications as much as on public statements and official positions.
Over the decades the opaque nature of diplomacy and Washington's ever-growing obsession with secrecy have sometimes gotten us into trouble, allowing leaders to say one thing in public while doing exactly the opposite in their private dealings with foreign counterparts, deceiving voters along the way.
Think “Vietnam” here.
But it's also hard to see how our efforts to deal with different kinds of governments in different cultures with often radically different interests can function in an environment of complete openness.
In an ideal world, maybe; in the chaotic, complex world as it is, no way.
Did the revelation that the Saudis want Iran's nukes taken out help or hurt the U.S. effort to build an international coalition to increase pressure on Tehran? I can see it playing out both ways. Will it make the secretive, autocratic Saudis warier about dealing in private with Washington? Undoubtedly.
This is interesting stuff if you're a foreign policy geek, but it doesn't look like it's going to fundamentally alter the Obama administration's diplomatic prospects. No doubt Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a lot of diplomatic feathers to unruffle, but there are few real surprises here for seasoned diplomatic observers.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is reportedly furious that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said " “Russian democracy has disappeared.”
Peter Beinart does a pretty good job taking apart the massive hype over the WikiLeaks dump in today's Daily Beast. Peter writes: “The latest WikiLeaks dump is to American foreign policy what the Starr Report was to presidential politics—fun, in a voyeuristic sort of way, revealing, but not about important things, and ultimately, more trouble than it is worth.”
He added that the information provides “valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.”
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