10 December 2010

What We’re Really Learning from Wikileaks

The wisest commentary I’ve seen on the Wikileaks disclosures of US diplomatic cables has come from Hendrick Hertzberg in the New Yorker:

Perhaps the two biggest secrets that the WikiLeaks leaks leaked are that the private face of American foreign policy looks pretty much like its public face and that the officials who carry it out do a pretty good job.
Of course, many of these cables come from the current administration, and from permanent Foreign Service staff rather than political appointees.

Today’s New York Times quoted a French journalist echoing that impression:
Renaud Girard, a respected reporter for the center-right Le Figaro, said that he was impressed by the generally high quality of the American diplomatic corps. “What is most fascinating is that we see no cynicism in U.S. diplomacy,” he said. “They really believe in human rights in Africa and China and Russia and Asia. They really believe in democracy and human rights. People accuse the Americans of double standards all the time. But it’s not true here. If anything, the diplomats are almost naïve, and I don’t think these leaks will jeopardize the United States. Most will see the diplomats as honest, sincere and not so cynical.”
Meanwhile, I don’t think it can hurt for foreign leaders to know that our diplomats actually notice that they’re prickly, egotistical, or authoritarian.

Surely the debacle of the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” and “links to al Qaeda” in Iraq did more damage to America’s international standing. The US government’s reputation for being able to keep its secrets has no doubt suffered, though
  • that may not be a bad thing, and
  • critics who focus on that problem should have been as critical of the previous Vice President’s decision to blow a CIA agent’s cover as political payback, or else they have no credibility on the issue.

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