Well OK, I’ve never met anybody who knew that there are US nukes in the Netherlands, but you can’t get everything right.
Below two of the Guardian’s best writers – and Craig Murray – offer their initial analysis of the leaked US diplomatic documents (I refuse to use the term ‘Cablegate’: it’s crap).
Gary Younge: ‘Leaks reveal how tight room for manoeuvre can be’
The behind-the-scenes revelations about American diplomacy really only shock three groups of people.
The first is those who believe the US is a force for unalloyed good in the world with a foreign policy rooted in principle rather than pragmatism. Even after the past nine years the number of those in that category is higher than many would think. For them, the problem with the US invading Iraq was not that it broke international law on a false pretext, leaving thousands dead or displaced, but that it lost. The lesson they have drawn is not that the US needs to adopt more subtle methods than bombing, torturing and invading but that not all of the world is ready for freedom. Last month, during the final debate between the Colorado Senatorial candidates, Republican, Ken Buck, said: “It’s a fundamental mistake to assume that a people as backward as the Afghans are going to be able to build the industrialised nation and the democracy that it takes to be able to achieve what we would consider a western-style democracy.”
The second group is those who believe that the US can call the shots unilaterally and need not care about whatever anyone else thinks. This has long been acknowledged by the country’s intelligence forces.
“Owing to the relative decline of its economic and, to a lesser extent, military power, the US will no longer have the same flexibility in choosing among as many policy options,” concluded the National Intelligence Council (which co-ordinates analysis from all US intelligence agencies) in early 2009.
The leaks reveal, among other things, just how tight the room for manoeuvre can be in the current period. They show the US attempting to trade a presidential visit to Slovenia in return for the Slovenes taking a Guantánamo prisoner and expose its inability to prevent Syrians arming Hezbollah in Lebanon.
These first two may appear like straw men. But in the domestic political arena it is a bold national politician who insists that the US is anything but unrivalled in might and morality. And after the Republican victories in the mid-term elections, they will now need to be bolder still.
But, finally, the third group: those on the left, who mistook American diplomacy for acts of either unalloyed evil or delusion. News of America resisting calls from the Arab world to bomb Iran simply show it is more than capable of a rational appraisal in global affairs. The diplomats in question, charged with looking after their national interests, understand that such an attack would not be in the country’s interests in the region. These were probably the same diplomats who desperately tried to dissuade George Bush from invading Iraq. The state department, lest we forget, voiced internal opposition to the war and predicted many of the things that went wrong.
If anything, what the leaks tell us is, in light of recent events, is that we should not confuse America’s domestic politics with its diplomatic engagements; nor should we assume that its foreign and military actions are necessarily guided by its diplomatic assessments.
Seumas Milne: ‘Global mobilisation of US power against Iran is an ominous thread’
The relentless global mobilisation of US power against Iran – and of Washington-backed Arab autocracies and dictatorships for an American attack on Tehran – is an ominous thread that runs through thousands of the leaked state department WikiLeaks cables published in the Guardian.
Not only do they underline the danger represented by the threat of aggression against Iran over its nuclear programme, which of course Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes only; but the repeated private demands by the Saudi king Abdullah to “cut off the head of the snake” – backed up by Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain (and, of course, Israel) – also serve to drive home the utterly unrepresentative nature of the client Arab regimes that underpin western power in the Middle East.
While the Arab rulers fear Iran and want the US to attack it, the majority of their people support Iran’s nuclear programme and believe it would be “positive” for the region if Iran did develop nuclear weapons – according to the most recent poll carried out by the US Zogby polling organisation and Maryland University in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other pro-western Arab states. Asked which countries threatened their security, 88% replied Israel, 77% the US and just 10% Iran.
No doubt Saudi and Egyptian leaders will be more careful about what they say to American ambassadors in future.
But then they’re not the only ones. Now it’s emerged from the WikiLeaks cables that Hillary Clinton has instructed US embassy staff around the world to spy on UN staff and leaders, as well as a wide range of political, business and religious figures, down to their biometric and credit card details. Plenty of others who meet US diplomats are likely to keep a closer eye on their pockets.
Craig Murray: ‘The best policy advice is not shielded from peer review’
The securitocracy has been out in force in the media, attacking WikiLeaks and repeating their well-worn mantra: government secrecy is essential to keep us all safe. It is seriously argued that ambassadors will not in future give candid advice if there is a chance that that advice might become public. In the past 12 hours I have heard this remarkable proposition put forward on five different television networks, without anybody challenging it. I was wearily familiar with these pro-secrecy arguments in more than 20 years as a British diplomat, six of them in the senior management structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Put it another way and the cracks start to appear. The best advice is advice you would not be prepared to defend in public. Really? Why? In today’s globalised world, embassies are not a unique source of expertise. Often, expatriate, academic and commercial organisations are a lot better informed. The best policy advice is not advice that is shielded from peer review.
What the establishment mean is that ambassadors should be free to recommend things that the general public would view with deep opprobrium, without any danger of being found out. But should they really be allowed to do that, in a democracy?
I have never understood why it is felt that behaviours that would be considered reprehensible in private or even commercial life – like lying, or saying one thing to one person and the opposite to another person – should be considered acceptable, or even praiseworthy, in diplomacy.
When ambassador to Uzbekistan, I was rebuked by the then head of the diplomatic service for reporting to London by unclassified email the details of dreadful human rights abuses by the Uzbek government. The FCO were concerned that the Uzbeks, who were intercepting our communications, would discover that I disapproved of their human rights violations. This might endanger the Uzbek alliance with British forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. For the FCO, diplomacy is synonymous with duplicity.
Among British diplomats, this belief that their profession exempts them from the normal constraints of decent behaviour amounts to a cult of Machiavellianism, a pride in their own amorality. It is reinforced by their narrow social origins – still in 2010, 80% of British ambassadors went to private schools. As a group, they view themselves as ultra-intelligent Nietzschean supermen, above normal morality.
Some web commenters have noted that the released diplomatic cables reflect the US’s political agenda, and there is even a wedge of the blogosphere suggesting that WikiLeaks is therefore a CIA front. This is nonsense. Of course the documents reflect the US view – they are official US government communications. What they show is something I witnessed personally, that diplomats as a class very seldom tell unpalatable truths to politicians, but rather report and reinforce what their masters want to hear, in the hope of receiving preferment.
There is therefore a huge amount about Iran’s putative nuclear arsenal and an exaggeration of Iran’s warhead delivery capability. But there is nothing about Israel’s massive nuclear arsenal. That is not because WikiLeaks has censored criticism of Israel. It is because any US diplomat who made an honest and open assessment of Israeli crimes would very quickly be an unemployed ex-diplomat.
• Craig Murray is a political activist and former ambassador to Uzbekistan