Home / General / “Diplomatic Shockers.”

“Diplomatic Shockers.”


Wow. Iran’s neighbors are threatened by its rise! Many governments think Pakistan may not be able to secure its nuclear arsenal! The US attempts to use its leverage with its allies to achieve its political objectives! China has engaged in a cyber-campaign against Google and other American companies! Yemen approves of US’ targeted killings on its soil (but claims otherwise to quell domestic opposition)! Also, governments routinely spy on United Nations officials!

Who knew all this stuff, eh? Thank the stars for Wikileaks.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

P.S. Want to know what I did learn from this that I wouldn’t have assumed? The US State Department talks among itself far more about human rights than it does about terrorism.

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  • hv

    Ms. Carpenter, you may wish to reexamine the measures you are adopting to avoid confirmation bias with respect to WikiLeaks.

  • Emma

    Why were they all top-secret, then? If everybody already knew everything? And how can people be harmed by it, if everything was already known?

    • JJ

      Nothing was “top secret”, the highest level, to my knowledge, was “secret”.

  • Dave

    Oh, come on, Charli. At least give wikileaks some credit for putting lives at risk.

  • Plop

    The early coverage of the current Wikileaks dump lists several stories that are newsworthy. Yemen covering up US drone strikes and the extent of the diplomatic costs of Gitmo relocation are newsworthy (despite Prof. Carpenter’s exclamation points) because they increase domestic knowledge about the extent and cost of US military actions. Additional stories, like the behavior of officials surrounding the Kahlid El-Masri abuse and corruption in the Afghan government, show what fighting the war on terror entails.

    Political science research fairly consistently shows that media coverage can drive domestic public opinion, and that public opinion influences foreign policy decisions. Even a diplomatic cable Wikileaks dump increases media coverage of the costs and abuses involved in US military actions. For those of us who dislike the current conduct of the GWOT, this is a Good Thing.

    Additionally, the dump (. . . I love this term) may decrease the secrecy and rampant classification involved in government dealings more generally. There are arguments on both sides about the efficacy of the dumps in decreasing secrecy and the costs involved, but Prof. Carpenter (and recently her Duck of Minerva co-blogger Dan Nexon) seem reluctant to acknowledge the benefits involved in decreasing secrecy. While it may very well turn out that the dumps aren’t effective, or that the benefits of decreased secrecy don’t outweigh the costs, simply not acknowledging the benefits isn’t good analytic thinking.

    • JJ

      I also thought the bullet point in the BBC article was interesting:

      Germany being warned in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for US Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in an operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was abducted and held in Afghanistan

    • Robert Farley


      Although we should also at least take note that the neocons are cackling with glee about this set of revelations. If we’re going to evaluate this based on political criteria rather than on the “shock” value of the specific releases, then we at least have to take serious the position that the leaks will move the debate in a non-progressive direction.

      • Plop

        Agreed. But the point of Prof. Carpenter’s post was that there was nothing to see here, and that Wikileaks wasn’t providing any benefit with this dump. Independent of the specific newsworthy stories and the possibility of changing classification practices, the possibility of a shift in public opinion, I think, is a clear benefit.

        I obviously don’t know how the media will portray the leaks and how the public will view the information, but I’d be surprised if the cackling neocons got a public opinion swing. There may be fodder for an existential threat of the week, but those are picked up and forgotten. Specific revelations like drone strikes and behavior regarding detainees, I think, have a more lasting impact among people that didn’t know they were occurring.

        I’m more scared of how the neocons will use the information in an institutional context. I’m not sure which government agencies weren’t aware of all this information, but those that didn’t may be subjected to a flurry of crazy Kristol-ite proposals.

        • Robert Farley

          I guess I’m far from convinced that the the public is less aware of drone strikes in Yemen than it is of Arab attitudes towards Iran.

        • the point of Prof. Carpenter’s post was that there was nothing to see here, and that Wikileaks wasn’t providing any benefit with this dump.

          Well my actual point was to make fun of the disconnect between the title of the CBS article and its bullet points. I wouldn’t claim there’s “nothing to see here” until I and others had combed through the archive more.

          I do continue to think that dumps like this (what word do you prefer) are not the best way to inform the public about any genuinely novel stories contained therein, as is repeatedly evident by the way that the mainstream press spins old news as new when these leaks come out.

          I am ultimately beginning to wonder if Assange’s actual target (intended or not) is not governments but the media itself. The most compelling argument I see made in favor of Assange’s modus operandi is that access to the data refocuses the media debate (and therefore the public), if only briefly. To me this seems like a critique of business-as-usual in the press – which knows most of these stories already but doesn’t treat them as the kind of news Americans want to see.

          And I agree that getting people to stay focused on foreign policy has benefits. But I don’t think the Wikileaks model is the best or most sustainable way to do that in the long term.

          • brandon

            That seems to be what Wikileaks is – the zombie id of adversarial journalism with regards to the US. With the institutional American version having been quashed, Assange & co. have created an entity that is capable of unearthing embarrassing information, but is indifferent to the concerns of “juicyness”, relevance, or “loyal opposition” that characterized adversarial journalism pre-1985 or thereabouts.

            It is hard to root against Wikileaks, though – if Wikileaks is a zombie, indiscriminate and unfeeling, the US establishment is the guy who put the body in the ground in the first place, where it waited to be reanimated. The ensuing shenanigans feel like just deserts.

          • Plop

            I do genuinely like the word dump.

            And I’m not sure you can claim a refocus of the media as a point in favor of the dumps if you critique the media’s rehashing of old stories; rehashing is probably part and parcel of refocusing. But I’m looking forward to what you have to say as you look through the documents.

      • Stitch

        the leaks will move the debate in a non-progressive direction.

        What doesn’t these days?

  • JJ

    Charli, I initially thought the same as you, that once again nothing was a giant revelation (but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t revealing). But is that the only criteria that makes one justified in leaking documents, ever? Where is the bar set? At what point do the masses cease to benefit from such leaks and begin to suffer? How “closed” should we be OK with?

    We knew from before hand that these leaks were probably not going to reveal that the US government was teaming up with aliens from Mars to combat the nuclear threat in Canada. So were you just mulling over the title for this post all day, with that advance knowledge?

  • wengler

    The dark hand of the androgynous Australian alleged-rapist Assange strikes again to disrupt the benevolent forces of good!

    A drone strike into the heart of London will quell this menace. They will understand…oh wait it appears our State Department has labeled David Cameron as “Prime Minister Poopy Pants”. Oh dear.

  • SeanH

    Gaddafi is seriously weird:

    When XXXXXXX began to search for proper accommodations for Qadhafi, XXXXXXXX informed us that the Leader must stay on the first floor of any facility that was rented for him. (XXXXXXXXXX separately told U.S. officials in Washington that Qadhafi could not climb more than 35 steps.)
    Qadhafi’s dislike of long flights and apparent fear of flying over water also caused logistical headaches for his staff. When discussing flight clearances with Emboffs, XXXXXXX explained that the Libyan delegation would arrive from Portugal,
    as Qadhafi “cannot fly more than eight hours” and would need to overnight in Europe prior to continuing his journey to New York. XXXXXXXX also revealed in the same conversation that Qadhafi does not like to fly over water.
    Finally, Qadhafi relies heavily on his long-time
    Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a ”voluptuous blonde.” Of the rumored staff of four Ukrainian nurses that cater to the Leader’s health and well-being, XXXXXXXXXXX emphasized to multiple Emboffs that Qadhafi cannot travel without Kolotnytska, as she alone “knows his routine.”

  • Apparently the proper political line this time around is that these are no big deal, but still people need to be punished.

    Isn’t it time that the Swedish police locate mass amounts of cocaine and about 180,000 kroner in Assange’s appartment.

  • Steve S.

    “Who knew all this stuff, eh? Thank the stars for Wikileaks.”

    Our level of surprise at a revelation is not the standard, nor should it be. Otherwise, the raison d’etre for the entire blogosphere pretty much dissipates.

    This was a pathetic post devoid of intellectual content. Please don’t waste our time in the future.

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  • ajay

    Want to know what I did learn from this that I wouldn’t have assumed? The US State Department talks among itself far more about human rights than it does about terrorism.

    That is actually interesting, but I suspect it’s explained by two factors:

    1) IIRC, the State Department is obliged to produce annual human rights reports on various countries, so you’d expect quite a lot of traffic about that – even if much of it is of the “SO, ANY KIDNAPPINGS OF OPPOSITION POLITICIANS IN PORTUGAL YET? NO? OK THEN, THANKS GENE. SAME TIME NEXT YEAR I GUESS. LOVED THE BACALAO BTW. GIVE MY BEST TO KITTY AND THE KIDS” variety.

    2) terrorism may not feature so much in the cable traffic, paradoxically, because it’s such a central concern of the US government. It’ll be handled through direct government-to-government or military-to-military links, not through the embassy. The militarisation of US diplomacy has been going on for some time and it makes sense that it’ll be most advanced in the area of terrorism.

  • Joe

    You might be pointing to one news item but selectively citing it like this does send the message that you think the leaks as a whole are of little value. Also, this has something of a tone of certain reporters being annoyed when people in blogs etc. made a big deal about certain that was reported but w/o much fanfare or emphasis — well “everyone knows that.”

  • I’ve read all 246 cables released as of this writing – and here is my take.

    – The State Department looks more engaged and competent in these leaks than they typically look in the media or even in the movies. While there is little question these leaks will set back the trust of US diplomacy by other nations, there is the potential that American confidence in our diplomats will increase as a result of the cable leak.

    – The impact goes well beyond Washington, DC. This will ultimately embarrass a lot of folks who will not take kindly to the moral authority Wikileaks believes protects their efforts.

    – To many the details of the cables will fill in the gaps around the margins, confirming hunches or changing narratives. A good example is the airstrikes in Yemen. It is hard to believe the Yemeni air force was capable and practiced in precision bombing, so it had to be the US doing the airstrikes. This was confirmed in the first batch of cables released. I look forward to seeing the same type of information discussed about Ethiopia overthrowing the Islamic Courts, because I suspect we may learn a new story regarding Russian involvement that has long been blamed on the US – for example.

    – I fail to see a pro-politics view emerging from the cables, or said another way I fail to see how this is pro or con for progressives, for example. New information should be allowed to change an opinion regardless of ones political position. My read of the cable leaks suggests the Iranian nuclear issue adds new information regarding the concern of those who argue against Iranian becoming a nuclear power; but then again, my read of the cable leaks also suggests that the relationship between the US and China is much better than neocon China hawks would like folks to believe. New information cuts both ways, and for me anyway, provides insights into the “why” simply by filling in the margins of the discussion.

    – I think everyone will be ultimately be proven right and wrong based on the wikileak cables, depending upon the issue and what is revealed. The fools will be those who decide to ignore new information, not those who adapt and learn from it. The meaning of new information will not meet consensus anymore than the absence of new information did, but it can’t be ignored either.

  • E.

    This is simply the latest manifestation of the transition to an “Age of Transparency” where governments (along with corporations and individual citizens) will find it much more difficult to maintain a veil of “polite society” behind which they regularly perform actions that strain the bounds of legality, morality, or other social expectations. This article goes into more detail about several aspects of the Cablegate debate, including the “so what” issue with which Dr. Carpenter opened this discussion. It’s good to see that some bloggers, like Galrahn, have in fact read all 200-some cables released to date; but as the linked post suggests, this is still just a fraction of the total material, so making judgments about its usefulness or effect seems premature.

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