Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Perhaps I'm just getting old

I have a general rule of avoiding political talk on my blog. Because that kind of thing rarely interests me; because I don't want to be plagued by trolls who feel it is their responsibility to identify my every flaw; and because I have friends across the political spectrum. As J. Frank Dobie once said: "a sense of values is perhaps best imparted by those who feel them intensely but never mention them."

But this whole WikiLeaks thing (a) is a bit tedious, isn't it? The first thing that strikes me is that they are rather anti-climatic. North Korea is fucked up. Iran is fucked up. Exceedingly wealthy non-elected leaders are often pricks. Did we not know this?

The question I have, though, is: did we need to know this? Diplomatic cables are voices, not policy. The voices help to shape policy, yes, but do not determine it. In bigging itself up and attempting to justify fucking up more than 40 years of diplomatic relations, the WikiLeaks site claims: "This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors."

But, well, no, that's not true, is it? There is no hypocrisy here. The leaks simply reveal single voices of people who are not policy makers, but rather those offering their opinions and observations to the people who shape policy. Which is what we expect. Policy is not made in a vacuum, it is made by compiling the information given. The leaks actually just reveal that the State Department is functioning as it should. People send information, the State Department weighs the veracity and value of that information, and policy is formed. Via the leaks, we are seeing only the raw data and not how it was used or prioritised.

Stupid fuck-head Bradley Manning is not a hero for (allegedly) leaking the cables, he's an ass-hat. This hasn't exposed corruption, it's exposed the workings of a perhaps lumbering but functioning diplomatic machine. And in so doing, it has only made things more difficult for the United States. Firstly, it's likely that a number of diplomats named in the cables will become ineffective; paranoid individuals from other countries will no longer want to deal with them. So a huge swathe of diplomats will have to be replaced, costing the United States the wealth of experience and knowledge those people had.

But even after that occurs, those people from other countries will remain wary and untrusting -- fearful that their reputation or safety could be put in jeopardy by confiding in the United States. So, fewer voices. Good job, Bradley Manning. Way to go. In an uncertain world you've (allegedly) limited the number of voices the U.S. will get to hear, likely affecting the honest voices most. This puts the world's most powerful economic and military force in a situation that may loosen its grasp of what's actually happening in the world; what could possibly go wrong?

(a) I linked to the Guardian there because, unlike the New York Times, it doesn't require subscription. Though, it should be noted that the British government has the power (not often used) to issue legal orders to prevent its press from reporting information deemed to be too sensitive. No doubt diplomatic correspondence would fall under that category, so it's possible that the Guardian would not cover all the leaked documents.


Chris Cope said...

I'd like to point out that whilst I feel Bradley Manning (if guilty) is an ass. He should not be executed, as suggested by Mike Huckabee in this article. I think a prison sentence and letting everyone know who he is would be punishment enough.

Robert Humphries said...

I agree. I don't see how these embassy cables are in the public interest. No earth-shattering corruption has been revealed. No crimes have been uncovered. Even the alleged spying at the UN is really not that shocking. Are we really that naïve? And when it comes to major foreign policy issues, I don't think there's anything in these disclosures that a reasonably astute newspaper reader wouldn't already have figured out. Beyond that it's just a bunch of fairly candid comments by diplomats that should be private, the essence of which would become public knowledge over time anyway. The president of Argentina is wack. Prince Andrew is a prat. No one thinks much of Charles. Big deal. We knew that. Sure, sometimes leaks can blow the whistle on corruption and crime. Assange's aim increasingly seems to be pure mischief, and he has handed the worst elements in American politics a rhetorical club to bludgeon a halfway-decent president.