Books, Pop Culture and Political Humor from J.D. Rhoades, best-selling author, attorney, and award-winning newspaper columnist.
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Recently, the website WikiLeaks engaged in another one of its infamous info-dumps, releasing what it says is a collection of 251,287 State Department documents into the public eye.
Most of the documents are copies of cables that were sent back and forth between Washington and our embassies. Many of them contain, shall we say, less than flattering pictures of the people our diplomats deal with. The juicier ones, in fact, read like notes passed by mean high school girls, but with better vocabularies.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one cable states, is "feckless, vain and ineffective." The prime minister and defense minister of Kazakhstan are a couple of hard-partying drunks. French President Sarkozy is "impulsive," "mercurial" and surrounded by "yes-men." Libya's Muammar Qaddafi is an eccentric nutcase who never goes anywhere without a voluptuous blonde Ukrainian "nurse."
I read this sort of thing and I have to ask: Is any of this really new information? Qaddafi's a loon, Berlusconi's an empty suit, and Sarkozy's arrogant and impulsive. Oh, and according to another cable, the Afghan government's corrupt. I mean, stop the presses. Everyone who cares already knows this stuff.
Of more interest are revelations about our so-called allies in the Middle East. The good news is that it seems that we're not the only ones worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The bad news is that they all seem to want to leave it to us to do something about it.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, according to one cable, urged the U.S. to "cut the head off the snake before it's too late."
Hey, I've got an idea, Your Majesty: You do it. We're kind of busy right now, and the snake's in your backyard. Meanwhile, while we cast about for al-Qaida in Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, it's another well-known "secret" confirmed by these cables that it's the Saudis who are among the biggest, if not the biggest, financiers of terrorism, who hope, according to the leaked documents, that if you give the maniacs enough cash, they'll "leave the House of Saud alone."
Again, this is not really news to anyone who's been paying attention the past few years.
It also appears, much to no one's surprise, that many Middle Eastern leaders can't stand each other. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "hates Hamas" and knows Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, but won't say it because it might "create a dangerous situation" (presumably most dangerous to Mubarak himself).
The above-mentioned King Abdullah says the country of Iraq "is in his heart," but its president, Nouri al-Maliki, is not. As for Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, grumpy King Abdullah describes him as "rotten."
There have been demands (including, disappointingly, in this very paper) that WikiLeaks and its founder and spokesman Julian Assange be prosecuted. A former adviser to Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, went further, suggesting that President Obama "put out a contract" on Assange, and "use a drone or something" to assassinate him. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said the person responsible for the leaks should be executed for "putting national security at risk."
Well, now, let's hold on just a minute here before we fetch the rope.
Assange, to be sure, is an unlikable, pompous twit with an ego so massive it has its own gravitational field. He's under suspicion for rape in Sweden. Also, he has bad hair. There very well may have been a crime committed by whoever released the documents to WikiLeaks. But a capital one? So far, it seems like most of the information released is just embarrassing, not life-threatening or disastrous to our diplomatic efforts.
On a recent trip to Kazakhstan by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Berlusconi and the Kazakh leadership were quick to act as if nothing had happened. The fact is, they might be annoyed, but most world leaders are not going to sulk and jeopardize their own national interests because someone sent a snarky cable about them.
Even Iran's nutball President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off the disrespect as "psychological warfare" by the U.S. and said "such mischief will have no impact on the relations of countries."
Diplomacy has always been the art of negotiating with people you detest and who you know probably detest you, all the while pretending neither of you knows it. As one wit put it, it's the technique of sweetly saying "nice doggie" while looking around for a suitably large rock.
A bunch of leaked cables isn't going to change that.