Monday, December 06, 2010

A Tale of Two Wikileaks

So first came the Afghan War Diary.
Then the Iraq War Logs.
And I made the case for accepting, if not being proud, that our country could absorb such a leak and emerge without walking through hellfire. The first two leaks buttressed the fact that our journalists are clever and on target most of the time – nothing new was revealed that an astute observe had not already had inklings of. In class we further discussed the implications of such a leak on military operations and safety, and I modified my position on the Wikileaks. But I was not convinced to condemn quite yet. I still saw value in the fact that such information was dropped on the US with little effect.
Then came the Great Diplo-Dump – aka Cablegate
Assange probably purposefully chose the name with “gate” in it to evoke Watergate, which brings back memories of executive overreaching and crooks. But Cablegate, in my opinion, doesn’t make the President or the State Department look bad. To the contrary, it tells the tale of honest and frank diplomats, writing home what they were sent abroad to observe. I see nothing nefarious in the cables.
But again, I am forced by new information to modify my position.
While the two war-related leaks were targeted in their scope, this recent leak has such a wide range and long-lasting effects. Eventually the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will end, and what crucial information was leaked will not really matter anymore. The effect of the cable leak is on the perception of America in the world, particularly on our ability (or non-ability) to keep secure diplomatic confidentiality. A good reputation is difficult to build, and easy to destroy.
And reputations are even more difficult to rebuild.
While the public has merely been reaffirmed of its notions, American diplomats worldwide face serious issues of trust. What the public gained does not match what it has cost, and will cost, our diplomatic endeavors. If a journalist publishes the names of his sources when asked not to, he soon finds that he has no sources. Diplomats operate on a similar basis, speaking freely to each other knowing the ground rules are strong. Now that the ground has shook, foreign diplomats may be justifiably more wary to speak frankly to the US.
What progress has been made in transparency between government agencies, breadth of discussion with foreign countries, and developing a diplomatic corps dedicated to discretion and honest conversation with their counterparts as well as with the home base has been set back. We can already say goodbye to State and Defense sharing of information, State has been burned and putting its walls back up. We shall see how this affects the way other countries talk to us, though I hope that remains a secret and we only figure it out once we’ve all become gainfully employed by the man. The diplomats, I hope, will remain strong and stuck to their values of discretion and perhaps more importantly frankness. Honest discourse with the State Dept back home is key and hopefully none of our diplomats will be intimidated by potential leak into sugarcoating their cables from now on. Honesty is most useful bitter and untainted.

So I suppose the end game is this: Reputation is everything, trust is everything. 

And mea culpa with regards to my former pride in wikileaks, accept my apologies o’ anonymous colleagues of mine. I do indeed prefer honesty and frank intra- and inter-governmental dialogue to full public exposure.Though I may still be strangely proud of our ability to handle this and move forward without overt governmental spasms.

No comments: