December 14, 2010

Why WikiLeaks Helps Diplomacy

"Tyrants tremble when they see their people with their tongues wagging."

-Italian satirist Gregorio Leti

It becomes increasingly difficult to take any of the talking heads seriously when they openly call for the assassination of a private citizen for the high crime of... embarrassment. Because, frankly, that's all the latest document dump on Wikileaks has done: embarrassed the U.S. State Department and some of the ambassadors involved.

Thus far, that's the sum total of the "damage" caused. So Canada "discovers" that we are regarded as touchy, insecure, passive-aggressive and with a tendency to knee-jerk anti-Americanism? Is there anyone out there who cares to dispute that? Heck, anyone with 20 minutes and access to the internet could discover that; and anyone with a sense of history and basic knowledge of humanity could figure it out just looking at a map! These are all tendencies we share with the other "small neighbours" of the world: New Zealand, Portugal, Ireland... Small economies beside much larger ones can be a little twitchy. Sorry about that.*

(Not to make light of hurting American diplomat's feelings, but it ends up that 20 hours with a television is actually how this conclusion was reached by the State Department. No, really.)

The cables from Mexico revealed a deep concern with the drug war going on there, especially in the border states, and whether the army can succeed in those ongoing battles.

Where things get interesting is seeing what the reaction will be in nations that lack a free press: the knowledge that other Middle Eastern nations don't support Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmahinejad has him scrambling to paint the entire thing as a set-up by the American government in an effort to discredit his leadership. Why would he do that? Because he knows that there's no way to stop the information from getting to the self-same population that he's been telling the exact opposite to.

I don't see any harm in revealing to the world that China is getting sick of the antics of North Korea, and that the younger members of the Party see little return from supporting North Korea, as their economic interests are minimal there when compared to Central America, the United States, and Africa. Bringing this out into the open does nothing but strengthen negotiations with North Korea, highlighting the madness and isolation that is Kim Jong-il. If this report makes it to the North Korean people, his position is weakened even more.

In those nations that do have a free press, what is being talked about? Mostly gossip: the worst that could be said about the relationship between most European countries and the Unites States has already been said by some newspaper or other. Describing German Chancellor Merkel as "risk averse" or French President Sarkozy as an "Emperor without clothes" is hardly shocking news.

Likewise, few surprises are coming from diplomatic cables in Central America: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is "crazy"; the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan have made association with the U.S. a political hot potato in Brazil; and the State Department wants to know how Argentina's new President Christina Fernandez relaxes after a long day.

The worst nation to get "hit" was likely Turkey, who's Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan is mentioned as being in an isolated bubble, an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisers"; and who's foreign minister is called "exceptionally dangerous".

In all of this, what is actually known is out and in the open. Diplomacy that relies on playing into a leader's delusions is only effective until either the leader or his delusions change, and frankly that is going to happen sooner or later. The only thing that can have any lasting power is negotiation based on reality: anything else is doomed to failure.

*Did I mention passive-aggressive?

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posted by Thursday at 4:03 pm

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