Wikileaks is embarrassing – but not serious
By Benedict Brogan Politics Last updated: November 28th, 2010 Telegraph
The Wikileaks story is great fun. The embarrassment of others always is. But however much the Guardian, the New York Times and Julian Assange assure us that this represents a shattering blow to every assumption we hold about foreign relations, the fact remains that it’s a collection of little substance that will do nothing to reshape geo-politics. The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian ‘nurse’? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan’s nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom. Perhaps something better will pop up, but nothing I’ve read since last night’s surprises.
So the news value of this story is the embarrassment it’s causing. And embarrassment can in some cases be devastating. Countries with no tradition of openness or internet-led subversion will find it mystifying that the American government has allowed this to happen. It may at the margins damage relationships. And of course it will do nothing for the credibility of the Obama administration. Those concerned are issuing indignant statements condemning Wikileaks and its oddball boss. This rather reinforces the case of those who say Wikileaks is simply not serious. Effective diplomacy involves all the transgressions Wikileaks is exposing. Embarrassment is just the consequence of exposure. Perhaps the more sophisticated response is to stand firm, to assume a degree of worldiness from those involved in the world of diplomacy (who will for example enjoy seeing the US Secretary of State squirming about her UN spying operation, but only because theirs hasn’t been exposed as well), and to accept that occasional embarrassment is an occupational hazard in a 21st century marked by vast quantities of information circulating in all too accessible digital form.