Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Where's The Beef?

The real blow for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is not the pending Swedish legal action, but that his so-called revelations have had so little impact. In short, other than showing American diplomats doing their jobs skilfully and often with a great deal of insight, the Wikileaks cables are feeble stuff. Certainly some of them are embarrassing, although I doubt that foreign leaders entertain any doubts about the opinions held by other countries. But the big break through, the global game changer simply isn’t there. The big players are still the big players, and the bit players are still the bit players. It won’t be long before Assange suffers the greatest ignominy of all and the sheer boredom of these cables drives them from the lead story to somewhere just after the Nebraska corn reports.

What these leaks really demonstrate is that Assange, like many of the hackers who flock to his call, has only the most superficial knowledge and understanding of the material he is supplying. Take him away from bits and bytes and he wanders about helplessly like a blind man without his cane in a strange world populated with real people. He is the ultimate self-important conspiracy buff who could care less about actual facts. The facts only get in the way of a good conspiracy complete with black helicopters, financial maneuvering, and devious Americans plotting to control the world.

He and his mates merely used the key that someone gave them to peer into a box of other people’s mail. This act alone, the opening of someone else’s box, is their goal. What the cables actually say is irrelevant to the inhabitants of conspiracy world. The mere fact the cables were labelled secret is enough to get their juices going. Like all good conspiracy buffs the Wikileakers don’t, or rather can not, offer any analysis or context for these cables. The label ‘secret’ is supposed to be proof enough of the evil intentions of the United States. They miss the point that even an order for a tuna fish sandwich can be labelled secret these days. Unless, of course, you believe that a sandwich order with ‘mayo’ or to ‘hold the mayo’ is code for an attack on Iran. God knows what they would make of an order for a Philly Cheese Steak?

When inhabitants of this world emerge blinking into the bright light of reality we often find them totally inarticulate in any human language. I defy anyone to get through Assange’s rambling, incoherent justification for the leaks. These leaks are somehow supposed to make the world more secure and peaceful? Somehow they are supposed to ‘humble’ the United States? What is he talking about?

His failure to understand any context is a little like a master chef presenting customers only with little bits of dried fruit and claiming they were the entire Christmas pudding. Fanatics thinking this particular chef is infallible will dig right in with great gusto and proclaim that this is the best Christmas pudding they have ever tasted. Slightly more discerning customers just might question the absence of any other ingredients.

These cables, in themselves, reveal very little about the formation of American foreign policy. Yes, they are titillating, but they are just one of the thousands of ingredients that ultimately determine what course of action the United States follows. The fact that an employee of some American embassy reports that a local newspaper says Prime Minister X is a crook isn’t going to change much. He or she wouldn’t be the first crook the U.S. has been forced to deal with. He may buy a great many very expensive American toys, so for the time being he is ‘our’ crook. The views of the State Department have to compete with dozens of other sources competing for the ear of the President. Creation of foreign policy is not a neat, clear-cut, simplistic process. Sometimes countries are allowed the luxury of planning. Most times they are forced to react to events beyond their control and scramble to come up with a policy.

The one possible positive development from these leaks is that the State Department may reduce the number of items it labels secret. Remove the thrill of opening someone else’s mail, and the hackers could lose interest very quickly.

It’s counter productive to over-react to these leaks. Legal assaults on Assange will merely inflate his already huge self-esteem and make him more of a hero to the chattering classes of the world who enjoy the entertainment value of a good conspiracy. Hackers will eat more junk food and go into sugar induced hyper-drive in an effort to defeat the ‘foes’ of transparency. Good luck to them when the hack into the Kremlin files. They might need more than a good PR agent and a lawyer.

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