Monday, November 29, 2010

Yet Another Reading Assignment

I am starting to suspect that Wikileak's real goal is not so much to unearth classified material to hold governments accountable but to divert attention and effort by focusing everyone to read and read and read.  I refuse to submit to this strategy!  Besides, it is the end of term and I have a paper to write for a workshop next week, so I will let others do the hard work:

  • Dan Drezner says: "There are no big lies.... If this kind of official hypocrisy is really the good stuff, then there is no really good stuff.  U.S. officials don't always perfectly advocate for human rights?  Not even the most naive human rights activist would believe otherwise.  American diplomats are advancing U.S. commercial interests?  American officials have been doing that since the beginning of the Republic.  American diplomats help out their friends?  Yeah, that's called being human. ."
    • He reinforces a claim made elsewhere that the real downside of this is to dampen the information sharing innovations that the US State Dept made after 9/11.
  • Marc Lynch says:  "I don't think that there's going to be much revision of the American foreign policy debate, because most policy analysts have already heard most of what's in the cables, albeit in sanitized form. The cables still generally confirm the broad contours of what we already knew: many Arab leaders are deeply suspicious of Iran and privately urged the U.S. to attack it, for instance, but are afraid to say so in public. I haven't seen anything yet which makes me change any of my views on things which I study -- the cables show Arab leaders in all their Realpolitik and anti-Iranian scheming. I never thought that Arab leaders didn't hate Iran, only that they wouldn't act on it because of domestic and regional political constraints and out of fear of being the target of retaliation, and that's what the cables show."
  •  The Taliban will be reading the leaks closely to determine who is working against them."A spokesman for the militant movement said it would scour the files for the names of Afghanintelligence sources who had given the Nato-led coalition information on the insurgents.  If found and captured the informers would be tried and punished by the Taliban's shadow system of courts which extends throughout Afghanistan. The spokesman would not say what punishment the movement would exact, but Taliban fighters routinely behead, hang or shoot dead those considered to be spies or associated with foreign troops"
 Sure, there are some interesting things leaked: that the US tried to deal with the problem of loose nuclear materials in Pakistan; that South Korea and the US have done some thinking about a North Korean collapse; that the US has been desperate to get anyone to take some of the Gitmo detainees off of American hands; details of Afghan govt corruption, that China has been systematically behind heaps of hacking, that Saudi Arabia has a mixed record on counter-terrorism; that the US tried and failed to get Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah, and so on.  Oops, none of these things are terribly surprising or revealing, except for the details.  Am I surprised that the US has been thinking forward a little bit about North Korea falling apart?  Only because I have a dim view of the US ability to plan, but, otherwise, it makes heaps of sense. 

Obviously, many of the devils are in the details.  There are delicate tradeoffs to be made between newsworthiness and endangering people needlessly.  Wikileaks has simplified things by not caring.  It would have more credibility and value in my mind if it did some hard work to release stuff carefully rather than just regurgitate whatever they have been given.  Thus far, the "news" suggests that the leaks are doing more harm than good since there is little here that merits endangering people.  Perhaps with more reading, we can develop more confidence that this spewing is worthwhile.  As someone who spews about anything and everything (fun to overhear my mother try to make sense of my blog during the Thanksgiving weekend), I know whereof I speak.

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