November 29, 2010

Oh noes! WikiLeaks show “undiplomatic” side of US diplomacy

The latest release of WikiLeaks’ cache of US government documents shows the undiplomatic side of things:

The documents obtained by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, some of which describe allies and adversaries in starkly blunt terms, could undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to improve ties that have frayed with some key countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

As reported by The New York Times and other media, the cables at times deride or mock foreign officials, calling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a “feckless” partier and describe Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “weak” and “easily swayed.”

Below are highlights of the embarrassing comments from the new WikiLeaks documents.

— One July 2009 cable from the State Department’s intelligence bureau, posted by The New York Times, contains instructions to U.S. diplomats for collecting intelligence on the United Nations.

The directive, from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urges diplomats to collect biographical information on U.N. personnel, including such personal data as telephone, cellphone, pager and fax numbers and e-mail addresses; credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers, work schedules, and Internet and intranet “handles” (or nicknames).

Here we go: a perfect example of government duplication of effort. Everyone knows it’s cheaper to buy this information from Facebook!

Other “worldshaking” revelations include:

The newspaper says one 2008 cable characterizes the relationship between Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, and its Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a partnership in which Medvedev, who has the grander title, “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.”

It also says a cable describes Italy’s Berlusconi as “feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader.” One cable from Rome to Washington describes Berlusconi as “physically and politically weak” and asserts that his “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest.”

In other words, pretty much common knowledge.

Update: William A. Jacobson thinks this is the Jimmy Carter moment for Barack Obama:

The U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran on November 4, 1979, was the start of 444 days which came to define Jimmy Carter. The U.S. government was revealed to be powerless and the President weak. Those among us who were alive and conscious during those days have embedded the feelings of helplessness.

There have been many comparisons of Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, focused on the economy. But the continuing leak of documents by Wikileaks has become for Obama what the Iranian hostage crisis was to Carter.

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