It will take weeks to trawl through the 250,000-plus diplomatic cables released to the world by WikiLeaks, but one thing we know now: America’s relations with the rest of the world will never be the same.
They won’t be the same because the release speaks volumes about the vulnerability and sheer incompetence of a government that cannot even keep its own internal communications secure. That such an enormous cache has been made public – basically the secret history of American diplomacy for the past decade or so – mocks our inflated view of ourselves as the last superpower, or, as the French put it, the “hyper-power.” The hapless hyper-power is more like it.
There are endless fascinating details to be savored, such as the behavior of a member of the British royal family deemed “inappropriate” by American diplomats, and US-Israeli discussions of dual citizenship and its relation to technology theft, but – so far – the smokiest gun to come out of all this material appears to be held by Hillary Clinton.
The US Secretary of State’s intelligence-gathering diktat to our embassies worldwide, uncovered by WikiLeaks, has shocked the international community with its weird insistence on collecting biometric data – including DNA samples, iris scans and fingerprints – on foreign officials. In a missive sent to US embassies worldwide, Hillary ordered staff to obtain credit card information, computer passwords, personal encryption keys, and details of network upgrades. A part of this was a massive spying operation aimed at UN diplomats, including those of our Western allies, but there was also an order to gather similar dossiers on British MPs.
One has to ask – what is Washington intending to do with the biometrics of, say, UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon? Or some British MP? Why do we need the frequent flier number of Ghana’s UN ambassador?
That Hillary would risk embarrassment to the US of this magnitude – after all, the chances of being caught (as we were) are pretty high – in order to collect this degree of information, is little short of appalling. Yet it is hardly surprising – after all, we’re talking about Hillary Clinton here, the control freak par excellence.
The dossiers were to be collected by US embassy personnel and passed on to the CIA, the FBI, and other intelligence agencies, presumably to be entered into Siprnet, the “secret” US government database to which even newly-recruited low-level intelligence officers such as Bradley Manning – generally believed to be the source of the original leak – have ready access. So when Ban ki Moon’s credit card number and password is lifted by some low-level functionary, and used to pay for a wild weekend in Reno, we’ll know who to blame.
The Italian foreign minister called this “the 9/11 of diplomacy,” and it is indeed a massive strike at the credibility and gravitas of the US government, which is, today, an international laughingstock. Yet it has nothing of 9/11’s deadliness: contrary to the crybaby protests of US government officials, which absurdly claims that “countless” lives have been put in danger by WikiLeaks, the release of this information poses a threat to nothing but the dignity of US officials, who say one thing in public and quite another in private, and whose foibles are now exposed for all the world to see. As in the case of the Iraq war logs and the Afghan communiqués, not a single human being will perish on account of the latest leak.
Leave it to Andrew Sullivan, whose obsequiousness toward the Obama administration surpasses even his adulation of the Bush administration during his “war-blogger” phase, to put a positive spin on how the State Department comes out in all this:
“Overall, I have to say that this brief glimpse into how the government actually works is actually reassuring. The cable extracts are often sharp, smart, candid and penetrating. Who knew the US government had so many talented diplomats?”
Candid the cables certainly are: French President Sarkozy is described as having a “thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style”; Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is portrayed as a late-night partier who is “feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader”; and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is described as “weak” and “unstable.” A particularly facile comment to the effect that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is “Robin” to Vladimir Putin’s “Batman” underscores Sullivan’s conflation of blog-writing with serious analysis. “Smart” and “smarty-pants” – they aren’t the same thing. Remarks about the First Lady of Azerbaijan’s plastic surgery – apparently her face has achieved near-total immobility – may delight the catty Sullivan, but are as unhelpful as they are juvenile. No wonder they hate us!
We’ll be chewing on this cud for quite a while – there’s a lot of material in this WikiLeaks document dump – but of one thing we can be sure: the US government’s shameless attack on WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange, its founder, will continue and even escalate. Under pressure from the US, the Swedes have reversed their earlier reversal of an indictment for “rape and sexual molestation,” and have issued an international arrest warrant for Assange. They have also denied his previous application to live in Sweden. The whole thing is an obvious set- up, with two women – one with a very dicey political history, and a obsession with “revenge” – taking advantage of Sweden’s crazed “feminist” laws which only require an accusation and little proof to necessitate an indictment. His main accuser, a member of the “Brotherhood Movement,” which has been described as “a fringe group around Sweden’s social democrats with decidedly ‘cultish’ leanings,” is also the author of an article entitled “Seven Steps to Legal Revenge.”
That the US government would even try to discredit someone in this pathetically transparent manner, and brazenly manipulate the Swedish “legal” system to serve its own misguided ends, isn’t just morally reprehensible – it’s evidence of an astonishing incompetence. Who do they think they’re fooling?
Over the coming weeks, as more of the tragedy and absurdity of American foreign policy is exposed in the WikiLeaks document dump, we should take a moment to give thanks to the man who made it all possible, and who sits in a jail cell, alone and bearing the tremendous burden of knowing he’ll not be free for quite some time. Bradley Manning is an American hero, whose hatred of government corruption and duplicity led him to give us this great gift, which is the real story of how and why American foreign policy is such a complete disaster on every level.
Indolent allies pressuring us for war on every side (the Israelis, of course, and the Arabs, too, apparently agitate for war with Iran 24/7), corrupt “leaders” on the take, and the limitless arrogance of US officials, who barge around the world collecting “intelligence” and promises of fealty while trash-talking foreign leaders behind their backs – the portrait of American foreign policy in the making revealed to us by Private Manning isn’t a pretty picture. Nor is it reassuring. What it demonstrates, most of all, is the complete inability of the US to keep a lid on its rapidly-declining overseas empire, which is continually threatening to come apart at the seams – and the vast incompetence of a national security bureaucracy that is riding a tiger and barely holding on for dear life.