Little will change
ON the sleepy Sunday following the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, WikiLeaks released nearly quarter of a million diplomatic dispatches issued between US diplomats and Washington. As with the prior releases of documents this year, WikiLeaks provided the material to media outlets around the world; from the and to and. The US State Department had been squeamish for days in anticipation of the release, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally contacting foreign governments to provide some pre-emptive coddling. State Department legal advisor Harold Koh issued a statement declaring the release a dangerous act that was likely to endanger many lives. A terse missive from the White House condemned "in the strongest terms the unauthorised disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information".
Yet for all the breathless agony that followed the release and the sensational headlines that glibly touted the documents as perpetuating a "global diplomatic crisis" the cables themselves provided little to substantiate the claims of a catastrophe that had accompanied their release. Indeed, browsing the database of cables is much like perusing the private diary of a superpower, a largely voyeuristic pleasure that affirms existing beliefs with the juicy details that add colour and character to otherwise boring diplomatic machinations. Of note to Pakistanis is the provision of documentary evidence of American consternation over Pakistan's nuclear programme and the possibility of highly enriched uranium in Pakistan's research facilities falling into the hands of terrorist groups. Adding a hint of spice to this bland snippet is a cable detailing a US diplomat's frustrated musings over whether a rickshaw driver loitering outside the US embassy was surveilling the facility for an attack or merely waiting for a customer.
The details are engaging and even embarrassing, exposing as they do the vulnerabilities of a superpower that the world loves to hate. However, beyond an exercise in gleeful gossip, this latest release provides little to promote the accountability and transparency that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has touted as the reason for their release. Guardian New York Times
Excerpts published by the and reveal bargaining with countries like Bulgaria to take on Guantanamo detainees. Others reveal suspicions of corruption after a meeting in Kandahar with President Hamid Karzai's brother who is widely believed to be involved in the drug trade. Yet another reveals extensive computer hacking efforts by the Chinese and American efforts against them. All are entertaining, perhaps marginally damning; none, however, provide any of the sort of information that is likely to change the status quo in international relations.
When WikiLeaks first emerged under the international media spotlight in August with the information the leaks provided about Afghanistan and Iraq it was touted as a game changer. In reality, little changed in the aftermath of the initial leaks. The American public, already fed up with the war in Afghanistan, merely shrugged, sighed and continued to worry about the American economy.
The Obama administration, resolute in maintaining its schedule for withdrawal from Afghanistan, stepped up the use of drones and began to pursue negotiations with the Taliban. Unlike revelations of old, such as news of the massacre of civilians at Mei Lei during the Vietnam War, the information propounded in the documents did not bring Americans to the streets in protest. The plug on the Afghan war, Americans seemed to conclude, had already been pulled. other
If there is a punch in the current cache of documents provided by the enterprising hackers of WikiLeaks, it lies in the kind of confidences that world leaders are willing to bestow on US diplomats around the world. Most notable among these are the dialogues of Arab leaders, from Saudi King Abdullah to Emirati princes to Egyptian officials all collectively egging the US to pursue an attack against Iran, a fellow Muslim state.
Declarations about the solidarity of the Muslim world seem to have evaporated in these vitriol-filled denunciations which characterise Iran as a snake that must be decapitated by the US. Captured in detail, these statements provide a lurid glimpse of the self-serving pandering of leaders who are quick to don the garb of piety for political purposes but care little for the ravages of war that would be visited on Iranian Muslims if their requests were honoured.
What makes the WikiLeaks revelations impotent is not their content but the context in which they are revealed. Just as details of the atrocities committed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to elicit any significant anti-war sentiment in the US, revelations of the hypocrisy and duplicity of countries like Saudi Arabia are unlikely to stir Muslim masses around the world from reconsidering their blind adulation of all things Saudi.
Muslims masses, easily provoked into protests against the US, are unlikely to reconsider their position in the light of choices made by countries like Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia all of whom appear to have opted for the covert support of Israel and the United States against Iran. In a world where the clash of civilisations defines everything and people pick and choose their truths, even documentary evidence to the contrary is unlikely to dislodge these cherished hatreds.