A comforting leak

The latest document dump from WikiLeaks builds appreciation for diplomatic corps.

Mike Munzenrider

In what might be the overstatement of the year, responding to this weekendâÄôs release of over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the leak the âÄúSept. 11 of world diplomacy.âÄù He meant it in a way that the ground rules of diplomacy had been fundamentally changed; however, even in that context his statement seems more like posturing than actual sentiment.
If anything, WikiLeaksâÄô latest release is a departure from such posturing. ItâÄôs torn back the curtain on usually secret communications and shown the real sentiments of the U.S. diplomatic corps. Whether one agrees with the means of such a disclosure âÄî and it is not difficult to have problems with WikiLeaksâÄô tactics âÄî the document dump is comforting because it reveals the frank, sane and reality-based thinking that goes on behind-the- scenes diplomatically.
For those disconnected from the news over the holiday weekend, the WikiLeaks story is quite similar to those of the past. Giving warning to the U.S. government of the imminent release of secret documents, WikiLeaks contacted newspapers internationally for advanced disclosure of the cables. Stateside, The New York Times broke the story. The diplomatic cables released represent the day-to-day communications from more than 270 embassies and consulates from around the world, back to Washington D.C.
As alluded to, and expected, the diplomatic establishment is not taking kindly to the leak. Speaking for the U.S. government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the statement, âÄúWe condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.âÄù
The reporting of the leaks is ongoing, as information is being made public incrementally. WhatâÄôs been revealed thus far, though classified, is strikingly nuanced and sane, and can be comforting in an otherwise black and white world.
For instance, the cables revealed that the U.S. and South Korea have had talks regarding the reunification of the Korean Peninsula if and when the economy of North Korea collapses. ItâÄôs difficult to believe that such a prospect would be a surprise to many and itâÄôs pleasing to learn that such a treatment of a former member of the âÄúAxis of EvilâÄù is on the table.
Not all the information revealed by the cables represents our diplomacy as benign and logical as above. In our attempts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. has dangled meetings with President Barack Obama to Slovenia in return for accepting prisoners. WeâÄôve also enlisted the President of Yemen to lie about continued U.S. bombing in his country. HeâÄôs quoted in a cable saying, âÄúWeâÄôll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.âÄù
Indeed, even some not so nice things were said about world leaders in the cables. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was described as a âÄúmouthpieceâÄù of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was noted as âÄúrisk averse.âÄù
Throughout, the cables describe what we really know and what we really think. There are some inconvenient truths and statements made that would be considered gaffs if said in public. And there are probably better ways to make this information public.
However, at the heart of the disclosure comes a sense that the U.S. has smart, capable, realistic people working on the ground for us around the world. They shine an ordinary light on the extraordinary, and itâÄôs difficult not to take comfort in that.