4 December 2010
The ongoing revelations of WikiLeaks have been great fun and a welcome antidote to the somber end of Fall. It’s been like People Magazine meets Foreign Affairs Magazine.
Ignore all the screams from official Washington about violations of security. Bureaucrats the world over hate like crazy to see their blunders, double-dealing and incompetence exposed to public gaze.
But far from the “9/11 of diplomacy,” as the over-excited Italian foreign minister proclaimed, so far the WikiLeak revelations don’t offer much that is new – at least to this veteran journalist and intelligence observer. Much amusing gossip, yes, but no bombshells – yet.
Most decent people may be shocked by reading about Washington’s heavy-handed treatment of friends and foes alike, its bullying, use of diplomats as junior-grade spies, and snide remarks about world leaders.
The 19th century American cynic Ambrose Bierce aptly defined diplomacy as, “the patriotic art of lying for one’s country.”
However, WikiLeaks has given the public a sharper view of Afghanistan as a cesspool of corruption and drug-dealing.
Naïve Canadians, who believed government agitprop that they were building democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, were particularly shocked and dismayed.
It was also interesting to see US diplomatic cables showing many of Pakistan’s politicians and senior generals revealed as little better than obsequious house servants for Uncle Sam. More Pakistanis will now believe their nation has indeed been virtually occupied by the United States.
As the old calypso song goes, “They’re working for the Yankee dollar!”
For cynical professionals, WikiLeaks showed business as usual. They reaffirm that great powers really want obedience, not international cooperation or improved relations.
Having almost joined the US State Department, I can attest that the cables released by WikiLeaks were written by career diplomats who almost always follow the State Department’s current party line. These cables are official bureaucratic reporting, not independent fact, as most people believe. They tell Washington exactly what it wants to hear.
For a diplomat, telling Washington it’s wrong is a sure-fire way to get transferred to the US Embassy Ulan Bator, Mongolia, or Monrovia, Liberia. Or face the end of one’s career. That’s why I decided not to take up a job offered me on State’s Mideast desk.
I’ve seen US and British diplomats fired or sidelined who dared speak the truth or oppose the party line. When Hillary Clinton tells you Uzbekistan is a flowering democracy, you better believe her and keep repeating this canard.
That’s why so far there have been no big surprises from WikiLeaks. Note the total absence of any criticism of Israel in spite of the fact that it is so deeply involved in making US Mideast policy.
US Arab allies were also treated with kid gloves. Not a peep to date about rigged elections in Egypt, human rights violations by Israel, torture by Morocco or about Algeria’s exceptionally brutal regime.
It’s all Iran, all the time. Yes, Arab rulers fear and hate Iran and they bad mouth it constantly. But they do not speak for their people, merely for US-backed ruling oligarchies that are petrified Iranian-style popular revolution will come to their nations.
But there’s also something about WikiLeaks that smells nasty to me. I sense the leaks have been heavily censored, or cherry-picked before the public saw them. Much seems to be missing.
For example, the New York Times, one of the recipients of the entire leak package of thousands of cables, appeared to use them selectively to push its pro-war position in Afghanistan and press for war against Iran. The `revelations’ brought cheers from the Israel lobby which has been beating the war drums against Iran.
The massed neoconservative-dominated US media and Congress have jumped on the bandwagon, simultaneously blasting WikiLeaks for “treason” or “terrorism” and demanding it be silenced – while gleefully using parts of the leaks to promote war against Iran. US media and Congress seem to have forgotten about free speech.
Some of America’s dimmer Republican politicians called for charges of “terrorism” against WikiLeak founder Julian Assange. Terrorism has become America’s catch-all charge for annoying or rebellious activity, much as the Soviets used to charge people with being “enemies of the state.”
The uproar over the leaks comes as the combined 16 US intelligence agencies are reportedly preparing to release a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) unanimously concluding Iran is not building nuclear weapons. Interesting coincidence, to say the least.
Washington sources say this NIE reconfirms the 2007 finding that Iran had ceased all development of nuclear arms four years earlier. Before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, CIA and UN reports that Saddam Hussein’s regime had no weapons of mass destruction were ignored or covered up by the White House, which was racing toward war.
Now, a fierce struggle over the next NIE is raging in Washington between groups urging war against Iran and the US intelligence community and Pentagon. There are still officials in Washington who put America’s national interests first and resist bending to political pressure or financial inducements.
The upright Adm. Dennis Blair, the last US national intelligence director, was ousted because he refused to endorse claims Iran was making nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama appears to have ducked this explosive issue. Politically wounded and unable to fully control all the levers of presidential power, Obama seems unwilling or unable to stand up to Israel’s powerful partisans as the war drums beat ever louder.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks is at least doing in part what America’s elected leaders and supposed free media should have been doing: telling citizens what’s really going on. Let’s see what other squirmy secrets will be exposed when the next rock is turned over.
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2010
This post is in: Intelligence