Ambassadors and politicians are rousing themselves from a tryptophan- and gluttony-induced food coma to comment on WikiLeaks's latest revelation: a cache of a quarter million secret American diplomatic cables. Now that the cat's out of the bag about Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi's bromance and everyone knows Yemen's been taking the credit for American bombs, officials are fretting over the impact this will have on international relations. Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini says the leak will become the "9/11 of diplomacy" and "blow up the trust between states." Senator Lieberman urged the White House to "use all legal means necessary" to shut down WikiLeaks, declaring it "a shared threat to collective international security." Meanwhile, Roger Cressey, a former U.S. counterterrorism official, is calling for Julian Assange's head. "Whoever was behind this leak should be shot, and I would volunteer to pull the trigger," he said, warning about the potential to damage relations with key allies in the fight against Islamic militancy. But other experts remain dubious about the fallout — pointing out that being polite in public and snide in private has long been a pillar of foreign diplomacy.
Former British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer told Reuters, "This won't restrain dips' [diplomats] candor." Professor Michael Cox, an associate fellow at Chatham House, a London think tank, took it one step further, saying:
"But as to whether it is going to cause the kind of seismic collapse of international relations that governments have been talking about, I somehow doubt. Diplomats have always said rude things about each other in private, and everyone has always known that."
Yeah, c'mon. Kim Jong-il had to know people were calling him fat. And did Muammar Qaddafi really think no one noticed his "voluptuous blonde" Ukranian nurse?
In some cases, it seems like Cox's theory is right. Despite the fact the cables showed U.S. officials calling Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai "extremely weak," Waheed Omer, Karzai's spokesman, said relations between Afghanistan and the U.S. were still intact ... for now. "There is not much in the documents to surprise us, and we don't see anything substantive that will strain our relationship, but there is more still to come."
If WikiLeaks's latest data dump is the equivalent of distributing photocopies of America's Burn Book, would that make Hillary Clinton the Regina George of international relations? One of the most damning cables was a directive from Clinton asking the diplomats she oversees to gather intelligence like frequent-flyer and credit-card numbers from their foreign counterparts. The cable, "simply signed CLINTON," also requested "biometric information," which typically includes fingerprints, signatures, and iris recognition on "ranking North Korean diplomats." We can't wait for the part where Clinton calls Kim Jong-il while South Korea is on mute.
Analysis - WikiLeaks shows 21st-century secrets harder to keep [Reuters]
Leaked cable suggests American diplomats told to gather intelligence [CNN]
Updates on the Reaction to U.S. Diplomatic Cables Released by Wikileaks [NYT]