by Joe Shea
December 1, 2010
EVEN IN SECRET, AMERICA LOOKS GOOD
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 1, 2010 -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may not appreciate their release, but the State Dept. cables I've seen on WikiLeaks are nothing new - and they make America look good.
I can't say the same for many of our friends and enemies.
While I was disappointed, for instance, that American diplomats didn't try harder to persuade Israel and Turkey - two vitally important allies - to kiss and make up, at least they did persuade the Turks to paper over the no-show of Israel at a war games exercise with other allies. As a result, Israel's non-cooperation was played to the media as merely a logistical issue, presumably reducing tensions between the two.
That was before Israeli commandos killed 11 passengers on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound aid convoy. It came as the Turks were still trying to acquire high-altitude helicopters so they could shoot Kurds from high in the sky without having to worry about them shooting back.
[Update, Dec. 10: An Oct. 13, 2009, State Dept. cable to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also shows Turkey's interest in obtaining UAVs, or armed unmanned drones, from the U.S.:
Turkey seeks to acquire, on an urgent basis, its own UAV capability. The Administration has made clear at high levels that we support this goal, and Turkey has pending request to acquire armed Reaper UAVs. Ultimate approval for armed Reapers is complicated due to MTCR obligations and Hill concerns. However, even if those could be overcome, the delivery pipeline for these systems is long, and Turkey's leaders have sought reassurance that we will not pull our intelligence support until they can replace it. We have not made this commitment to date.
The U.S. diplomat in Ankara tells the Secretary of Defense he warned Turkey even if approved by the State Dept., it would be a "long" process before Turkey got the coveted equipment. But an earlier cable, classified SECRET, from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 24, 2009, invited Turkey to interdict a shipment of UAVs made in Iran en route to Venezuela:
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If Turkey didn't mind angering Iran and Venezuela a little, they could get the UAV technology for free. Nothing in the cable suggests another disposition of the seized UAV's, but it's not known now whether they were seized or not.]
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia wants to dig under the skin of Gitmo tenants to install transponders that will give operatives the ability to track these tenants when and if they get evicted from the terrorist holding pen on Guantanamo, near Cuba. You didn't hear American diplomats saying, "Hey, that's a great idea!" - even if it is.
In fact, the American authors of these cables seem to have conducted themselves as good people throughout - and 250,000 cables, miles of them - is a lot of "throughout," over a lot of time.
As I read State Dept. cables that presented back-to-back discussions of Israeli and Turkish policy issues that arose in talks with Prime Ministers Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel and Recep Erdogan of Turkey, I was struck by how much I knew about the attitudes of both before I read the cable.
Only a few details were new; the state of their relationship was well-known to anyone who follows the arcanum of foreign policy even a little. For me, there were absolutely no surprises; it was all predictable behavior on both sides. As a foreign correspondent, in talks with diplomats, cabinet ministers and heads of state, I heard these kinds of things all the time.
The big surprise, as someone noted on MSNBC, was that those who talk about American foreign policy on behalf of the government and for public consumption had not misled us even a whit.
The authors demonstrated a sound grasp of the English language (which is pretty rare in these days of "omg" texting), of the balance of interests at stake, and showed that the talking heads at State, the Dept. of Defense, the White House and major media did not materially misrepresent the facts. Collectively, they have told us the truth, or as much as could be told. For me, the fact that the American government is not lying to its people, and that media generally does not, was well worth whatever embarrassment the WikiLeaks cables cause.
I am not one of those who believe the United States was utterly resistant to their release, as potentially sensitive they may be. I think the reason is the result.
A day or two after the document dump, Iran announced it would come back to the negotiating table to talk about their nuclear ambitions. I believe that was a direct result of the WikiLeaks document dump.
[Update, Dec. 1: AUDIO In a telephone interview with TIME Magazine editor Rick Stengel yesterday, Nov. 30, Julian Assange says "I just noticed today Iran has agreed to nuclear talks. Maybe that's coincidence or maybe it's coming out of this process, but it's certainly not being canceled by this process."]
The cables and conversations from a dozen different U.S. and foreign embassies in the Middle East showed as nothing else could that contempt and fear are the principal emotions Middle East leaders feel about the regime and person of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They called him "crazy" and worse.
Let's say you are Mahmoud and you wake up Sunday and see yourself depicted as an insane snake in the grass all across the Arab world, while you had been led by your diplomats and even personal meetings to believe you were not only well-liked but that everyone wanted you to have nuclear weapons.
Well, it may not have been that clear, but Mr. Ahmadinejad did wake up with a terrible diplomatic hangover on Monday. It was obvious even to him that he was hated, unwanted and held in contempt by his peers. And it was all because of nuclear weapons. So, acknowledging the reality of his situation, he came back to the table - WikiLeaks 1, Nuclear War 0.
Unfortunately, no one is thanking Julian Assange for that, and they should. A prophet is without honor in his own land. The messenger who bears bad tidings is slain. The voice of truth walks alone in the night. The guy who brought about this salutary result is the subject of a worldwide Interpol manhunt.
China can no longer be quite so duplicitous about its relationship with North Korea; it's characterized Kim-Il Jung as a child and itself as the adult, and I don't think that's going down well in Pyongyang.
The revelations of the cables may mean that its real feelings, as expressed to a bunch of different U.S. and allied diplomats, will have to be reflected in real action in moving forward the six-party talks that have been dragging along for a year.
The fact that China will at least contemplate a reunification of the Korean Peninsula if South Korean and U.S. military assets are not installed north of the 37th Parallel gives us all hope that the terrible confrontation we have feared in secrecy may now be resolved in public. And you can thank the jeered, condemned, fugitive Julian Assange for that, too.
What is important for every American to know is that learning the truth liberates people, ours and theirs.
So the content of these cables were not secrets; they were press releases for the good deeds, common sense, hard work and strong ethics of our American diplomats. They have served us very, very well.
In the haste to condemn Julian Assange, though, something very vital has been obscured, and I want to bring it back to light right now. It comes from the Gospel of John, and it has been the bedrock value of good men for endless centuries. It sets out our situation in just a few timeless words:
"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."