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Brief Wikileaks Addendum

[ 22 ] November 28, 2010 |

I generally agree with Charli that there’s not much to particularly shock about the latest set of revelations (while also acknowledging that I haven’t gone through everything).  I think that this is primarily going to be of interest to diplomatic historians, who normally don’t get this kind of stuff for years and years and years and years.  If any political scientists actually studied stuff like diplomatic cables, it might also be of interest to them.  For my own part, I was mildly surprised by the directness of Saudi entreaties to the US to attack Iran, and also by the degree of contempt that the US diplomats seemed to hold for the current Turkish government.  Most of the rest appears to be primarily embarrassing to the foreign governments in question.

In terms of political impact, I’m deeply skeptical that this release is going to be “good for progressives,” so to speak.  The neocons are quite literally cackling over the revelations of anti-Iranian attitudes in the Arab world, as well as a variety of cables critical of Russia and Turkey.  I’m also pretty skeptical that this release will incline the United States government to make more information publicly available in the future.  Bureaucracies don’t seem to react to attacks in that manner; I suspect that the State Department will rather act to radically reduce access to such material in order to prevent future leaks.

Finally, having just worked my way through a negotiation simulation, I am kind of fascinated by the idea of “open” diplomatic communications.  Diplomats lie to each other habitually, and also lie to their (portions of) their home governments.  Nobody takes this too seriously, because no one expects diplomats to tell the truth.  If Wikileaks and organizations of its ilk are really able to peel the layers of secrecy off the diplomatic world, it could potentially have far ranging effects on how nations relate to one another.  Or maybe not.

See also Marc Lynch.

…and Henry Farrell on the value of lies in diplomacy.

Comments (22)

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  1. JJ says:

    If Wikileaks and organizations of its ilk are really able to peel the layers of secrecy off the diplomatic world, it could potentially have far ranging effects on how nations relate to one another.

    I think I’m almost as concerned about the free speech consequences of such organizations as Wikileaks, as they seek to push the boundaries of “open society”, how far will the government fight back and what are the implications to the free flow of information, cyber law, and censorship.

    • Robert Farley says:

      I’m concerned that states are going to stop writing things down; every document that is created and not destroyed in short order is one that can be discovered and leaked. And that might have consequences for how government does business. Less importantly, it makes research tougher for historians.

  2. BW says:

    Re Turkey, have you been reading Dani Rodrik lately? Rodrik is obviously not the most unbiased observer (his father-in-law is a Turkish general who’s been attacked by the administration) but if even half of what he says about fabricated coup plots is true, the AKP government is guilty of some pretty serious stuff.

  3. Twisted_Colour says:

    revelations of anti-Iranian attitudes in the Arab world

    How is this surprising? The Arab world can hardly be call pro-Iranian.

    I agree that neocons will cackle, but neocons cackle when they see pretty lights, take a dump or walk into walls.

    • scythia says:

      More to the point, I’m not sure we should adopt the “good=pisses off my ideological opponents/bad=pleases my ideological opponents” frame.

      It hasn’t seemed to improve the analytic skills of movement conservatives, I don’t know why we’d expect it to help ours.

    • David M. Nieporent says:

      It’s surprising to the people who think that Jews Zionists Likudniks are the only reason the U.S. would consider attacking or going to war with Iran.

    • NonyNony says:

      How is this surprising? The Arab world can hardly be call pro-Iranian.

      This. NPR was going on this morning about how shocking it was that the Saudis were pushing openly for the US to attack Iran in these documents and I couldn’t help thinking “by what stretch of the imagination is it shocking that the House of Saud hates Iran?” This isn’t exactly news, nor is it news that US allies in the region are also worried about Iran.

      Primarily Sunni Arab states are worried about a primarily Shiite Persian state having a hegemony over the region. That isn’t news, and the idea that they might want their biggest gun ally (the US) to do something about it isn’t really news either.

      I guess it might be news to people who think that “Muslim” means “Arab” and that all Muslims are out to conquer Christendom or something. But I’d really hoped that the last decade or so of immersion in the Middle East had educated at least the media in this country to the point where they could understand how wrong that worldview is.

  4. hv says:

    Diplomats lie to each other habitually, and also lie to their (portions of) their home governments. Nobody takes this too seriously, because no one expects diplomats to tell the truth.

    I believe this also. It means that there is very little benefit from allowing diplomats to have a ton of secrecy. As advocates of openness, I would love more discussion of this principle. Who cares if you find out the next day our diplomats were mostly lying or pretending to like you? No big whoop.

    • Robert Farley says:

      “It means that there is very little benefit from allowing diplomats to have a ton of secrecy.”

      Depends on what we mean by “a ton”, and in any case I’m not sure that it follows. Diplomats are going to argue (and they don’t need to be American or particularly addicted to secrecy) that these mutually agreed upon lies lubricate international diplomacy. It’s unclear that Hu Jintao needs, or wants, to really know what the US ambassador thinks about him in order to pursue a trade or security agreement.

      To be sure, I am not convinced that they’re right about this, but I’m also not convinced that they’re wrong.

      • hv says:

        To be sure, I am not convinced that they’re right about this, but I’m also not convinced that they’re wrong.

        I am not convinced that you are trying to have your cake and eat it, too; but I’m also not convinced you aren’t.

  5. Plop says:

    Re: political fallout

    In the long term, it seems like an environment where Wikileaks releases information, even if not on the scale of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, will contribute to curbing abuses or accelerating the end of conflict in Irag and Afghanistan.

    Most people (and voters) have little knowledge about foreign affairs, and people tend to interpret foreign news with less ideological bias than domestic news. In this environment, the way that foreign affairs attitudes tend to change is when facts steadily accumulate to make overarching impressions. Frequent Wikileaks dumps that contain previously unknown information about the costs or negative consequences of military action will probably help create a climate more hostile to military action.

    Public opinion also changes on the basis of elite cues. The more negative information Wikileaks provides about military action, the more opportunity and cover elites have to lead public opinion against military action.

    In the short term, Kristol et al may get more air time talking about other aspects of the Wikileaks dumps. But public opinion probably won’t be responsive. In the longer term, the aspects of Wikileaks dumps detrimental to military action will probably have a larger impact.

    Absent some kind of effect on institutions, I’m not sure I see a neocon influence on foreign policy through Wikileaks dumps given the above.

    • Robert Farley says:

      Plop,

      Setting aside what I tend to think is a very… optimistic… interpretation of how information affects public opinion, it’s probably worht noting that very little of this particular dump was about military action at all…

      • Plop says:

        On the contrary: Wikileaks creates an optimistic scenario out of a situation that’s usually fairly pessimistic.

        The key part of the argument is “people with low information” and “steadily accumulating facts”. Normally, getting low information people to consistently support stopping a military action requires multiple thousands of troop deaths or a sustained perception that the war is going badly. The war on terror and the current media are unlikely to provide this kind of scenario. Since low information people are the majority of the population, this is a problem.

        Regular Wikileaks dumps, however, expose low information voters to the costs and consequences of conducting the war on terror through their content and media salience. Even the diplomat cable dumps include stories mainly about the consequences to conducting the war on terror (if you count covering up drone strikes, mistakes in the apprehension of suspects, diplomatic costs of GWOT policies, etc. as consequences).

        In this scenario, low information voters are reminded of the costs of military action at regular intervals. The more that are revealed, the closer low information voters come to a conclusion that the military action is going poorly and stop supporting it.

        It’s true this argument works better with the War Log Wikileaks dumps, but so far at least there is a fair amount of media coverage of the mistakes in the GWOT contained in the current dump. In any event, this is more of a long-term argument about the consequences of a world where Wikileaks dumps every few months are common.

        (This is mainly a “Wikileaks causes a refocus of the media” argument tarted up a little with what we think we know about public opinion. The model is mainly taken from Converse 1964, Alvarez and Brehm 2002, and Zaller 1992.)

  6. ajay says:

    In terms of political impact, I’m deeply skeptical that this release is going to be “good for progressives,” so to speak. The neocons are quite literally cackling over the revelations of anti-Iranian attitudes in the Arab world, as well as a variety of cables critical of Russia and Turkey

    I have to say that if this is an example of the real world actually backing up what the neocons think, it would be a first.

    The intellectually honest thing to say would be “if all this evidence makes it obvious that the neocons are right and everyone else is wrong, then I will become a neocon. Because I like being right.”

  7. Joe says:

    I again find this something of an expert bias. The idea that many people in the Middle East don’t like Iran doesn’t “shock” me, but there is a simplistic frame regarding the Middle East out there and most people don’t really think too much about such things. If the leaks forces stories with top line comments that causes people to think more about the “obvious,” it’s good on that level alone.

  8. mds says:

    The neocons are quite literally cackling over the revelations of anti-Iranian attitudes in the Arab world

    So, they’re going to demand that the United States act openly as the tool of “Islamic” regimes? Because the Arab world isn’t simply anti-Iranian; the Arab world wants the US to do its dirty work for it, and suffer the brunt of the consequences as a result. On the bright side, this shows that the Arab world and Israel really do have a lot in common.

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