I've long been of two minds about Wikileaks and what it does. This is not an area of simple truths, but of competing demands and trying to find a balance.
When Wikileaks released their Afghanistan documents,
I wrote of my reaction to the political reaction.
Then came Cablegate.
On the predominant hand: the value of diplomacy and diplomatic immunity is so high that it's hard to overstate their importance. Cool heads prevent wars, save incalculable lives and generally preserve peace. I understand that Britain used to have an unofficial policy that the diplomat assigned to a nation would have the opposite viewpoint to the official British viewpoint; so when America was reviled, a lover of America would be assigned as the British diplomat to the USA, but when America was loved, a more cynical diplomat would be assigned. In diplomacy, it's always about balance, whether between nations or within a nation in choosing a stance.
The lines of communication are always open. Even when the diplomats are morons. The incident of the Portuguese ambassador to the Third Reich smuggling refugees to safety until the British diplomat complained of his behaviour comes to mind — not one of Britain's more glorious moments during the second world war, but perhaps highlighting the policy I described above, of countering official policy with an appropriate choice of diplomat. It's just that during WWII it took a particularly dense personality to not be opposed to the Third Reich and that incident highlighted just how stupid they can be.
Anything that threatens the ability of diplomats to do their work and preserve peace is suspect.
Against this, I believe that a Democracy only works with an informed and educated electorate, able to make decisions freely based on all available evidence. Anything else is just a plutocracy masquerading as democracy, with the elites holding the information from which power flows and manipulating the media. From control of the media comes control of the people, who'll duly vote as shepherded to do, while believing themselves more free than others.
The sheer size of both the amount of data held by the USA as sensitive, not for public consumption, and the number of people with access to that data creates a new class division, between the information haves and have-nots. When 1% of the population has access to so much pertinent information that 99% of the population does not, that 1% controls the nation.
In trying to decide if, on balance, I was for or against the Wikileaks disclosure of the cables, I decided that I was grudgingly against it, because of the value of diplomacy. So in speaking to others, I would end up criticising Wikileaks.
And then, Tunisia.
It “turns out that” when an oppressed nation gets credible information about just what is happening at the top it acts as a focus, directing the anger to coherent action.
The value of leaking the cables in spreading democracy and freedom and is becoming more apparent. I was wrong.
The arguments about the importance of diplomacy still stand. But I am now put in mind of the fable stories about being so careful to preserve prestige/leverage/money/whatever against future use, that the prestige/leverage/money/whatever is never used and the protagonist falls into being a silent accessory to Evil, always waiting for a better time.
The USA's diplomats face a long and rocky road to re-establishing the trust and confidence of others. I do not envy them their path, for they did not leak the cables. But I am happy that good is coming of the leaks, democracy is spreading and their insightful analyses were not written in vain.
I just hope that the USA's elected representatives of the people, and the appointed diplomats, have the wisdom to find a role in the world as a country which is admired for the democracy and the assistance to fledgling democracies, rather than a reviled role. If it should transpire that oil is going to be more difficult or more expensive to obtain from the middle east in the near to medium term future, then please let it not lead to reprimands, backlashes and more wars, but instead goad us into energy independence.
-The Pensive Troll