Washington moved into damage-control mode this week, as news organizations published explosive excerpts from a trove of 251,287 stolen State Department cables published by the website WikiLeaks.
The website, which has published archives related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past, claims that the cables are evidence of U.S. duplicity. Even as they comb through the massive archive, foreign policy hands thus far haven't found too many smoking guns, though there are plenty of tawdry tidbits, like revelations about Muammar Qadhafi's "voluptuous blond" traveling companion.
In any case, the release is nothing short of a tidal wave for the diplomatic community. The cables themselves include frank assessments from diplomats which could hamper future cooperation from friendly capitals and undermine the nation's reputation abroad, U.S. leaders contend. "This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday. She added that the government "deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange justified the publication with claims that the archive shows that the United States is duplicitous in its dealings with the world. "This document release reveals the contradictions between the U.S.'s public persona and what it says behind closed doors -- and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what's going on behind the scenes."
And there is plenty in the cables that is both surprising and new, from reports that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may have terminal cancer to a senior Saudi official urging the United States to strike Iran to "cut the head off the snake."
But for all the hand-wringing about the airing of embarrassing dirty diplomatic laundry, the cables are also notable for what they don't contain: extensive evidence of U.S. duplicity or inconsistency. Indeed, like the previous publication of hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the most surprising revelations is much evidence that goes contrary to what the public already knows, foreign policy watchers say. Blake Hounshell, editor of Foreign Policy Magazine notes that the newly-published cables actually show that the State Department is "remarkably consistent in what it says publicly and privately."
Here are five examples from the cables that confirm conventional wisdom.
Corruption in Afghanistan is widespread.
The U.S. regularly deals with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who "is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker," one cable notes. The New York Times reported last October that Ahmed Wali was on the CIA payroll.
Also, the Karzais do not have a monopoly on corruption in the country: Another cable notes that Afghanistan's former vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year carrying $52 million in cash, "without revealing the money's origin or destination." The vice president has publicly denied taking cash out of the country.
Israel is urging the United States to take a tougher line with Tehran.
While it was surprising to see so many Arab leaders advocating for a U.S. strike against the Iranian nuclear program, it wasn't shocking to see Israeli leaders advocating in private what they've long pushed for in public, a harder line against the regime in Tehran. A report from August 2007 even showed Mossad Chief Meir Dagan pressing U.S. diplomats "for more activity with Iran's minority groups aimed at regime change." In the meeting, Dagan "acknowledged that pressure on Iran is building up, but said this approach alone will not resolve the crisis. He stressed that the timetable for political action is different than the nuclear project's timetable," according to the cable.
Fears remain over the security of Pakistan's nuclear materials.
Though the raw cable has not yet been published, the New York Times, which was given the cables in advance of their publication by WikiLeaks, reports that in 2007, the United States "mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device." Since 2001, the U.S. has been publicly pushing Pakistan to adopt more stringent controls over its nuclear weapons and the infrastructure used to produce them, lest the weapons or radioactive materials fall into the hands of terrorist groups.
The United States offered foreign nations incentives to accept detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Few thought that foreign nations accepted detainees from Gitmo out of sheer benevolence. The newly-released cables, however, show just how far the White House was willing to go to offload the prisoners. The tiny island nation of Kiribati, for instance, was offered a package of incentives worth millions to accept several Chinese Muslim detainees cleared for release. Belgium was told that accepting detainees would be a "low-cost" way towards attaining more prominence in Europe. Officials from Slovenia, the New York Times reports, were offered a chance to meet President Obama if they agreed to resettle detainees.
President Dmitry Medvedev "plays Robin to Putin's Batman"
The cables include richly detailed reporting from diplomats abroad, but the picture they provide of many world leaders is in agreement with public perception. Putin, Russia's former president, has earned the nickname "Alpha Dog" by U.S. diplomats, a moniker that will likely please a man prone to inviting photographers along on his hunting trips and judo matches. "While few will be surprised that the west considers President Dmitry Medvedev the junior partner," writes the Moscow News about the WikiLeaks release, "his identification as Robin to Putin's Batman will raise eyebrows."