Going Gaga over Wikileaks

The prospect of England being knocked out of the 2018 World Cup on home soil by Germany on penalties after a legitimate winning goal by England was disallowed has distracted me from the more serious business of reflecting on the Wikileaks scandal. Apologies.

Bradley Manning and Julian Assange

So, what are we to make of the Wikileaks saga? Do we think that leaks per se are OK? And if so, do these leaks tell us anything that we don’t already know?

Speaking as an ecclesiastical civil servant, I take a pretty hard-line on the whole leak thing. Putting confidential on a document intended for bishops invariably leads to the document being leaked. A sad reality I’m afraid. Sometimes there is nothing confidential in the document, but a paper may be labeled such because the content relates to a policy position that is still under development and is not yet ready for public consumption.

Either way the leaking of a document by a paid employee of the institution in question undermines collegiality and unnecessarily politicizes and impedes the decision-making process.  There are exceptions of course such as reporting criminal activity etc. In those situations surely the right thing to do is to bring the relevant information to the appropriate authorities and/or resign.

In the case of the 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst, Specialist Bradley Manning, the intention of downloading onto a Lady Gaga CD a quarter of a million secret diplomatic cables appears to be motivated by nothing more than  a churlish desire to be famous for a minute even if it embarrasses his own government and that of others.  

Clinton - You should see what they say about us?

Hilary Clinton is surely right when she commented earlier this week that the leaks are “not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests,” but “an attack on the international community-the alliances and partnerships,” that are essential for maintaining international peace and security.  They somehow tear at the very fabric of international diplomacy.

Much of the reporting on the publication of the cables has focused on the presumed discomfort of diplomats at seeing their private assessments and reports made public. But let’s face it we already knew that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is feckless and vain and that Medvedev is Robin to Putin’s batman. This is nothing more than public titillation that risks personalizing diplomacy into an international version of the X factor. Heaven help us!

The cables are a little more interesting when it comes to Pakistan and Iran. But even here the cables only confirm what foreign policy experts already knew. In this sense, I find it it reassuring that there is no significant gap here between what political leaders say in private and what they say in public.

When it comes to North Korea the cables are a little more rewarding. We learn that China is vexed by the irrationality of the North Korean government and would be willing over time to see a reunification of the Korean Peninsula. That’s new.

How will the leaks affect China's relationship with North Korea?

Having questioned China’s intentions last week the revelations this week affect my analysis of the situation. My worry, however, is whether in making public China’s position these leaks somehow make it more difficult for China to exert leverage over North Korea?  Lets hope not!

In short, the leaks to date give us little more than a voyeuristic insight into the inner workings of the diplomatic scene, but they tell us little that we don’t already know. 

There is no denying the embarrassment that this has caused the US. Paradoxically, though, I think the US comes out of this rather well. The cables after all show that, within the narrowing realm in which the United States (or any country) can influence others in the post-Cold War world, the Obama administration has been playing the diplomatic game fairly well.

What do you think? Was Bradley Manning right to leak? Is there anything new that you have learnt as a result of these leaks?

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2 Responses to Going Gaga over Wikileaks

  1. c2drl says:

    What are biographers and historians going to do in 30 years time. there will be no events to research and sicover new papers. No new angles to examine. Its already been done, in a hasty and tabloid way at the time on the web.

    We need to remember that previous generations of politicians, who at the time we respected, were just as bad. We just didn’t know, and that was probably a good thing. Now we have all this knowledge, but information – even less. The trouble is we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, the web is here to stay, even if we maight have to pay for access to Newspaper sites.

  2. Thanks for this. I’m interested in what you say about how the web will affect our understanding or even writing of history and what this might mean for any over-arching narrative.

    Even before the advent of the web I thought the way history was taught focused less on long term historical trends and more on specific instances in history. For example, I was taught about Nazi Germany in isoloation to the events of the 19th Century. Not particulaly helpful.

    I suspect that the web will merely contribute to the further fragmentation in our understanding of history which can’t be good news.

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