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Sunday, December 12, 2010




Machiavelli in Reverse

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The secrecy that WikiLeaks despises is vital to all organisations, including government—and especially in the realm of international relations.

The Economist: Read cables and red faces



Now I don't have any comprehensive or ground breaking analysis to offer on the subject, but I can't agree more on secrecy with the Economist. Secrecy is vital to all human relations. I can assure anybody that if I could tape all conversations of that person for a year and then air the records to all his colleagues, bosses, relatives and friends that person was in touch during the year, this thing would have gone way beyond embarrassment. This person would have been very likely to find himself sacked from his job, divorced by his wife and renounced by most of his family and abandoned by at least half of his friends. The expectations many people have from diplomacy or politics are absolutely unreasonable. People should compare these expectations to how they manage their personal lives and relationships.

Many smart people have already pointed out that the leaks hardly contain anything radically new. The paranoia and sleepless nights the Arab governments in the Middle East have from Iran's nuclear program did not come exactly as something unexpected. And many Russians could only yawn at what the cables had to say about their leaders. Russians are a skeptical and suspicious bunch and are used to suspecting their government of even worse misdeeds than running a mafia state. A very popular theory in Moscow at the time used to be that Russian government was behind the bombing of apartment buildings in Russia's big cities on the eve of the second Chechen war.

Yet, the fact that the leaks contained nothing new according to some smart people, does not mean that they are totally inconsequential. Ahmadinejad did not reject the leaks as fabrications for nothing. Neither did the Turkish Islamists when they were insinuating that the leaks were an Israeli conspiracy. China started blocking the site of the WikiLeaks almost from the day one and the list goes on. Not that everything in the cables is about hard facts. A lot of the information gathering carried out by the US embassies abroad goes about recycling gossips circulated in the opposition circles of a given country that nobody can confirm or disprove for sure. These are not hard facts, but obviously the leaks embarrassed quite a few governments in the world and not necessarily only the US and its allies. The leaks may have mostly leaked out something already known or widely suspected, but this does not cancel that fundamental truth that celebrating naked kings is highly conditioned on keeping children away from your parades. Some of this stuff has never been intended to capture the headlines of leading media outlets.

The most impressive revelation of the leaks, and many people are plainly dishonest in denying or ignoring it, is about the US itself. The leaks have obviously thrown the US diplomacy into disarray and inflicted a massive operational damage on its information gathering network, but otherwise the leaks contained no more than minor embarrassments for the US. Yes, it's not nice to spy after the UN officials, but this is no reason to avoid doing this. No vicious plot to dominate the world and enslave nations have transpired from the leaked cables. The cables rather reveal a very complex picture of the global patrolman and the West's biggest democracy navigating its way across a landscape dominated by the weak and fragmented Europe, oriental despots, the neo Ottomans from Turkey, the mafia tsardom of consumed by her habitual anti Western paranoia Russia and the secretive post Communists of China.

A brilliant report by Burns on Chechnya seems to be rather typical of the US approach to diplomacy and foreign policy. The report explores ways in which America can help Russia to consolidate her control over the Caucasus, despite Russia's best effort to harm herself and her endless suspicions of the West's intentions. The report was not written by a cynical person who did not believe in democracy, human rights and other usual Washington's blah blah blah. To the contrary, the most shocking aspect of the leaks is how much the US diplomats and policy makers do actually believe their own propaganda. If anything, that's the biggest surprise of the leaks.

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