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

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/03/leaked-us-cables-a-credible-source-of-information-in-the-middle-east/72877/