I've only had time to look at a handful of the Wikileaks cables, but while many may just confirm certain widely held theories, they also provide tremendous insight into the day-to-day analysis of Embassy officials and a fascinating record of conversations with world leaders, security chiefs, senior politicians and diplomats across the Middle East. It's a treasure trove for any journalist or analyst to understand US positions and compare them to public positions, but even more of a find for doing the same for Middle Eastern states.
There is so much information flowing around about US policy — and often, a good deal of transparency — that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what's happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one.
I'm quite shocked, to a greater extent than the Iraq leaks, about the diplomatic damage this will do. It's still early days, and much of this will be recuperated for the regional media wars. Part of me loves the anarchist side of Wikileaks. But there's obviously more than "information wants to be free" at stake here: Wikileaks is also a project against American power projection around the world, or US imperialism. I suspect this is driven in good part (at least for the person or people who leaked or hacked the cables) by hatred of US policy under the Bush administration. A type of information blowback, if you will. This kind of leak is just not supposed to happen, and will probably have consequences we can barely start to imagine. I think it will also contribute, in the Middle East at least, to the growing perception among the various regimes that the US is an unreliable partner that has trouble restoring its pre-Bush credibility.
It's only normal that American politicians, as well as the Obama administration, have condemned the leaks. But listening to US politicians on the radio says that Wikileaks "is not being patriotic" betrays a complete misunderstanding of what's at stake here, and an assumption that foreigners should be patriotic to the US. They don't: they're not American. The disconnect here is between an American perception of the US as world leader and non-American rejection of this, probably in good part to a loss in moral authority in the last decade.
Wikileaks may be irresponsible, but it's also a manifestation of a shifting world order. We just don't know what it's shifting into yet.
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