No news dominated the headlines in the USA as the WikiLeaks story last week when the website released confidential U.S. State Department materials. The latest release is the third in recent months, following disclosures of two caches of U.S. government cables about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The leaked diplomatic cables offer an uncomfortable view into the back corridors of American diplomacy and have been aptly described a ‘diplomatic 9/11’ for the State Department, which is embarrassed for being caught off-guard. Secretary Clinton has been on a four-country swing through Central Asia and the Persian Gulf to repair the fallout from the WikiLeaks disclosures.
The leaked documents are a treasure trove for anyone interested in knowing how the U.S. diplomacy works. They show the extensive and increasingly successful manipulation by the U.S. for pushing a consensus to confront Iran’s nuclear program. It is not Israel alone in that region that is against Iran but also the Gulf States like the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The leaks reveal the hypocrisy of the totalitarian regimes in the Arab world that are uncomfortable of being seen as collaborators furthering pro-American agenda. For instance, the Yemeni leader Saleh in a January meeting with U.S. General Petraeus urged the U.S. to continue its anti-al-Qaeda operations inside Yemen, while he would seek to find political cover at home by falsely claiming that ‘bombs are ours’ and not America’s.
The cables showed U.S. officials exploring ways to remove the highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani nuclear site in a way that would not spur a political backlash against President Zardari. The leaked cables also detailed a secret U.S. intelligence gathering campaign at the U.N. where the U.S. diplomats were asked to collect biometric information on key U.N. officials. The leaked cables also reveal that the USA and South Korea have discussed plans for collapsing the North Korean regime. Leaked cables showed British politicians trying to keep Parliament in the dark over the storage of American cluster bombs on British territory, despite an international ban on the weapons.
The leaked cables show the derogatory ways America’s allies referred to diplomatic partners. The French President Sarkozy is described as ‘thin-skinned and authoritarian’ ruler who is ‘an emperor with no clothes,’ German Chancellor Merkel as ‘risk averse and rarely creative’ Teflon politician, Russia’s Putin as ‘vicious alpha-dog,’ Turkmenistan’s Berdymukhamedov as ‘not a very bright guy,’ and the Afghan leader Karzai as ‘extremely weak.’ The list goes on, sure to embarrass diplomats, anger foreign officials, undermine international relationships and complicate communications.
When asked to comment on the leaks, the U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called these ‘embarrassing’ and ‘awkward’ but said the damage will be moderate. The Secretary Clinton and her State Department officials have been busy trying to limit the diplomatic ‘embarrassment’ and possible strategic losses by calling dozens of foreign governments.
Long gone are the days of open diplomacy when President Woodrow Wilson advocated ‘open covenants of peace, openly arrived at.’ Interestingly, it was the same Wilson who abandoned his own advocacy for openness when he went to Paris in 1919 to create the League of Nations and shaped the Treaty of Versailles.
Now governments – liberal and illiberal democracies alike, let alone the totalitarian regimes – are more into secrecy when it comes to diplomacy. What the diplomats say in public may only be half-truths, or worse yet, lies. They also equivocate or speak with forked tongues that allow them to deny today what they meant yesterday. The greater the equivocation skill the larger the image of the diplomat as a successful one!
The WikiLeaks disclosures have been praised by many who believe that they will allow the public to hold the government more accountable and thus improve American foreign policy. There is a merit to this line of argument when one reflects upon the mere fact that our world would have been a better place to live in if people were more informed of the secret decisions made by their governments. There would not possibly be a World War II or the emergence of Adolf Hitler if people knew that the Versailles Pact could provide the very seed for such later events. Would there be an Israeli-Palestinian conflict today if there was no Hitler and no World War II in which many Jews perished? Would the Arab world know about the secret Sykes-Picot Accord of 1916 that mapped out the partition of post-Ottoman Middle East between Britain and France had it not been for the Bolsheviks who in 1917 opened up the Czarist archives?
No, we don’t need to go that far back in our history book to learn the value of openness. What chance was there to invade Iraq if the American public knew the whole truth and nothing but the truth that there was no weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? What likelihood is there that America would be seen as a partner-in-crime to the Zionist state if the American public knew the whole truth about Israel’s outrageous influence over American policy-makers thereby undermining peaceful resolution of the conflict? How about the whole truth about Iran’s nuclear program? Can American public be mobilized to support an all-out sanction and repeat of the war crimes in the Iranian soil if it knows that there is no ‘smoking gun’ in Iran, not even the desire to acquire one?
On the contrary, leaks like this simply make those in power retreat further into the shadows to defend themselves and their positions. For instance, previous WikiLeaks releases have already driven the Pentagon to limit cross-agency sharing of information.
One lesson is that foreign officials will less likely speak candidly to U.S. emissaries knowing that their words may later be leaked out.
The suspected leaker is Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning, a low-ranking Army intelligence analyst, who has been in custody in Virginia in a pre-trial detention for the last few months for improperly accessing a State Department cable on Iceland and providing it to WikiLeaks. Reportedly he had taken 260,000 State Department cables, although he has not yet been charged in connection with the last three WikiLeaks releases.
What is striking is that if such a vast storehouse of secret information could be accessed by a low-ranking army analyst there is little doubt that freelance hackers and foreign spies can do just as much. Let’s face it. We live in a digital age when information is easily accessible, including our personal data. We are all at the mercy of zealous hackers. Thus, silencing the WikiLeaks won’t be able to address the underlying problem with vital information that needs either safeguarding or sharing.
Already efforts are underway to silence WikiLeaks. Its website has been under repeated cyber attacks. Its founder Julian Assange has been placed on Interpol’s most-wanted list for an alleged sex crime in Sweden, which he strongly denies of committing. New York Congressman Peter King, a Republican hawk on the House Committee on Homeland Security, has called for Mr. Assange’s arrest for violating the U.S. Espionage Act. It is worth noting here that as recently as 2009 the U.S. government dropped an Espionage Act prosecution against two lobbyists for AIPAC, the American-Israeli lobby, after a rebuke by a federal appeals court. Nonetheless, the pro-war politicians consider Mr. Assange an ‘enemy combatant’ with ‘blood on his hands.’ The Obama administration also wants to stop the whistle-blower website. Secretary Clinton has described the WikiLeaks disclosure ‘not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests’ but also ‘an attack on the international community – the alliances and partnerships.’
On December 1, Amazon.com, which initially had allowed its server for disseminating the documents, yielded to pressure from the U.S. government to cut off WikiLeaks. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), a war-monger who heads the Senate Homeland Security Committee, congratulated Amazon for its decision. After staying six hours offline, the website has found a new host and is back online as WikiLeaks.ch. The Pentagon said Wednesday that it could take down WikiLeaks if it wanted to, but to that point had decided against it. The Online payment service provider PayPal says in a company blog it has cut off the account used by WikiLeaks to collect donations. A State Department official warned students at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs this week that talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger job prospects.
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government and the pro-war politicians dislike WikiLeaks: it has told the truth about their wars. To them, WikiLeaks is a rogue organization that has exposed official wrongdoing and countless war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving as a very important channel of information the U.S. government has tried to keep hidden from its own citizens.
WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization that is dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. In this age of embedded journalism when citizens are deliberately lied to by their respective governments and are tired of listening to and reading one-sided stories fed by merchants and promoters of war, the organization has done a superb job in publishing authentic material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of its sources anonymous. Truly, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks are doing the work that journalists and the media used to do in the USA: speaking truth to power and backing it up with proof and documentation instead of yellow journalism. They have allowed us to see the dirty and evil side of war, and deterred the war party to foment future wars, at least for the time being.
WikiLeaks must be allowed to remain free and provide critical information that public has a right to know. Gestapo-like conduct and McCarthy-era gagging are simply unacceptable in a society that promotes itself as an open society.