Leaked U.S. Cables a 'Credible Source' of Information in the Middle East

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By Eric Bonabeau

As I was exploring the timeline of events in the Middle East from recent months (a great visualization can be found here), it struck me that the publication of classified diplomatic cables by WiKileaks, far from diminishing the credibility of U.S. diplomacy, has actually shown how credible its analyses are -- not least to the populations of the Middle East. In an insightful article last week, Romesh Ratnesar of the New America Foundation described how the extreme nepotism found in many of the toppled or endangered regimes was detailed in some of the cables. The cables thus provided validation, in people's revolts against these regimes. Writes Ratnesar:

On June 23, 2008, a cable arrived at the U.S. State Dept. from the American ambassador to Tunisia, Robert F. Godec. Its subject was corruption, cronyism, and graft in the North African nation, as practiced by relatives of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. "Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or, yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants," Godec wrote. 

and:

Godec's cable was supposed to remain classified until 2018, but last fall it surfaced in the cache of State Dept. documents made public by WikiLeaks. To Tunisians, the revelations of nepotism were hardly shocking, but never before had they been so publicly detailed by a credible source.

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The same credible source of information also played a role in Yemen, Egypt, and more. An Infomous visualization of a Twitter search on "WikiLeaks" and "Tunisia" produces the graph on the right. The situation in some of these countries was arguably volatile (in Egypt in particular), but in an ironic twist, U.S. diplomacy's "reliable information" may have been an unlikely catalyst to the chain reaction we have witnessed.

Eric Bonabeau is the founder and chairman of Icosystem Corporation, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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