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Daily View: Wikileaks release

Clare Spencer | 09:23 UK time, Monday, 29 November 2010

Wikileaks website from 28 November 2010


US State Department assessments of governments and statesmen, including from Hamid Karzai, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy have been published by Wikileaks. Commentators discuss whether this is a serious blow to diplomacy or just embarrassing.

Libby Purves argues in the Times [subscription required] that Wikileaks threatens to destroy the role of diplomats:

"[T]he likelihood is that the vast majority of material being hurled into the limelight by the insouciant Mr Assange will not reveal any actual treacheries or scandals. It will consist mainly of what diplomats call 'frank assessments'.
"And while the UK can probably forgive and forget a few frank assessments - OK, ripe insults - about Gordon Brown's social skills. David Cameron's inexperience or who the hell is this Clegg guy, there is real fear that the touchier countries around the world will be outraged. Especially in the Muslim nations, where it seems to be all right for pretty senior voices to refer to us as kuffar, dogs, infidels, etc, whereas the slightest reservation about anything Islamic is considered an atrocity second only to the Crusades.
"...If diplomats no longer dare to send undiplomatic, unvarnished truths to their governments on encrypted cables, the world's peace will be in more danger."

Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy calls the leaks troubling:

"US diplomats should be able to share their assessments candidly with the folks back in Washington without fear of waking up and finding their cables splashed across the front page of the New York Times. People who take great risks to share sensitive information with embassy officials won't come forward if they worry that the Kremlin, or the Mugabe regime, is going to punish them for their candor. And sometimes too much media attention can get in the way of quiet progress, as in the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Max Boot in Commentary magazine condemns newspapers' involvement with the leak:

"There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West's major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days."

In contrast Benedict Brogan argues in the Telegraph that the leaks are embarrassing but not serious:

"The Wikileaks story is great fun. The embarrassment of others always is. But however much the Guardian, the New York Times and Julian Assange assure us that this represents a shattering blow to every assumption we hold about foreign relations, the fact remains that it's a collection of little substance that will do nothing to reshape geo-politics. The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian 'nurse'? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan's nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom."

Writing on the website Arabist Issandr El Amrani says that while this may not reveal anything new for the US, the leaks are still significant:

"There is so much information flowing around about US policy - and often, a good deal of transparency - that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what's happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one."

The chief executive of Index on Censorship John Kampfner makes a prediction in the Independent about how Wikileaks will prompt changes in the law:

"Once this latest flurry is over, prepare for the backlash. Mr Assange's industrial-scale leaking may lead to legislation in a number of countries that makes whistle-blowing harder than it already is. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the Wikileaks revelations is not that they have happened, but it took someone as mercurial as Mr Assange to be the conduit. Rather than throwing stones, newspapers should be asking themselves why they did not have the wherewithal to hold truth to power."

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