There is something seriously creepy about the WikiLeaks guy whose name I always mix up with Nigel Farage (I’ve always had trouble with my Nigels and my Julians); and something unsufferably sanctimonious about journalists defending publication of any leak as being in the public interest, and setting themselves up as arbiters or what does or does not compromise national security, or pose a risk to individuals.
That being said, there are three main conclusions I draw from what I have seen and read so far.
The first is that any system which means a country’s entire diplomatic traffic can be put onto a single memory stick is a disaster waiting to happen. Allied to that, far too many people had access to far too many documents anyway. The principle of greater openness for better cross-departmental co-ordination is a good one. The system was not.
Second, though there will be a huge media furore in many parts of the world, the diplomatic fallout is likely to be less significant or long lasting than the headlines are saying. The various world leaders unflatteringly described, for example, are unlikely to be too surprised by the analyses, even if they are momentarily offended or visiting Ambassadors embarrassed. Likewise worries about Pakistan’s stability or the security of its nuclear weapons programme do not exactly shock. Nor do suggestions of countries spying on each other whenever and wherever they can.
My third point, in policy terms perhaps the most significant part of the leak, relates to the venom and anger with which most countries in the Middle East view Iran. Though on one level that is not a surprise, the scale, tone and near uniformity of it did surprise me.
Reading that part of the first chapter of this particular industrial dump, I was left with the impression that anyone in the US system pushing for a hardening of the policy position vis a vis Iran would be able to build a lot of support for such a move.
Fascinating too the view of Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak last year that if Iran’s nuclear ambitions were not checked soon, they would be developed to such an extent that a military response would be impossible because of collateral damage. Part of me thought that was just the Israelis doing their usual thing of trying to push the US harder than they want to go. Another part of me thought ‘holy shit!’
Meanwhile my former colleague PJ Crowley – we worked together at Nato during the conflict in Kosovo – is in for a busy time. As the State Department spokesman, he will be all over the world’s media trying to calm things down, and put things in a broader context as the US awaits the next chapter from the dump.
He is a very good man in a crisis. My sense is that for all the embarrassment factor and the general buggeration, this is not a crisis yet.
Now if America were to follow the more extreme approach being suggested by Arab countries, there might be a different story. And likewise if they don’t, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Israel’s fears about them, may provoke a crisis in the region anyway. But we sort of knew that.