Kevin Drum's first impression:
[S]o far I just don't see these leaks causing an epic amount of damage. Obviously feelings will be bruised by the blunt language in some of the cables though if Spiegel's excerpts are typical, the language is only slightly blunter than your run-of-the-mill anonymous carping and foreign officials might be reluctant for a while to share confidences with American diplomats. And just as obviously, the United States would really prefer that its confidential cables remain confidential. Hillary Clinton will indeed have her hands full for a while. But honestly, there's hardly anything here that I haven't already read on the front pages of multiple newspapers. Titillating, but not much more.
There is so much information flowing around about US policy and often, a good deal of transparency that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what's happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one.
I'm quite shocked, to a greater extent than the Iraq leaks, about the diplomatic damage this will do.
[A]rab leaders routinely say different things in private and in public, but that their public rhetoric is often a better guide to what they will actually do since that reflects their calculation of what they can get away with politically. ...
So here's the million dollar question: were their fears of expressing these views in public justified? Let's assume that their efforts to keep the stories out of the mainstream Arab media will be only partially successful -- and watch al-Jazeera here, since it would traditionally relish this kind of story but may fear revelations about the Qatari royal family. Extremely important questions follow. Will Arab leaders pay any significant political price for these positions, as they clearly feared? Or will it turn out that in this era of authoritarian retrenchment they really can get away with whatever diplomatic heresies they like even if it outrages public opinion? Will the publication of their private views lead them to become less forthcoming in their behavior in order to prove their bona fides -- i.e. less supportive of containing or attacking Iran, or less willing to deal with Israel? Or will a limited public response to revelations about their private positions lead them to become bolder in acting on their true feelings?
Perhaps the most worrisome news to come out the diplo doc dump is that North Korea secretly gave Iran 19 powerful missiles with a range of 2,000 miles. The missiles, known as the BM-25, are modified from Russian R-27s, which were submarine-based missiles carrying nuclear weapons. “If fired from Iran,” the New York Times notes, a missile with that range could “let its warheads reach targets as far away as Western Europe, including Berlin.” The BM-25, unveiled in a North Korean military parade last month, may be North Korea’s longest-range missile yet. Ares’ David A. Fulgham observed that its design “is showing second-stage and nose-cone design characteristics associated with Iran’s Shahab 3 missile,” indicating growing missile ties between the two rogue states.
No wonder why European leaders are suddenly so keen on missile defense. And no wonder why so many of the leaders of the Arab Middle East are increasingly freaked out by Iran’s growing conventional arsenal and nuclear program.
Max Boot asserts that "the news value of the leaks is once again negligible" and goes after the press:
There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.
[I]s there a principle that says it's OK to publish one-off scoops, but not 250,000 -- or for that matter 2.7 million -- of them all at once? The former feels like journalism; the latter seems grotesque and irresponsible, more like "information vandalism," in the words of secrecy expert Steven Aftergood. And even if responsible papers like the New York Times have a chance to review and contextualize them, there's no way they can dot every i and cross every t in the time allotted. There's just too much.
WikiLeaks breezily sidesteps these sorts of questions, arguing that the global public ought to have a right to read classified documents anytime, from any government. But that may be ex post factorationalization for a decision to publish documents the group was handed on a silver platter. It's clearly doesn't work as a general rule -- otherwise, there would be chaos. And it clearly doesn't work unless you're convinced, like Julian Assange apparently is, that everything the U.S. government does is inherently nefarious.
In addition to unmasking the intentions of Iran’s neighbors doesn’t this also cast some doubt over the claims that an attack on Iran would precipitate World War III? Make no mistake: I oppose the use of force against Iran to compel it to end its nuclear development program.
However, such an attack might have consequences far less dire than some are predicting.
Kristol advocates silence:
From now on, a policy of no comment about anything in any of these documents should be the absolute rule. No apologies, no complaints, no explanations, no excuses. No present or former government official should deign to discuss anything in these documents. No one in the executive branch should confirm or deny the accuracy of any document. No one should hasten to reassure any foreign leader of anything, or seek to put any cable in context. No one in Congress should cite anything in these documents to make a point about any issue. The entire American government and political class should simply go about its important foreign policy business, and treat these leaks as beneath contempt, and beneath comment.
Peter Spiro hears the swan song of the diplomatic cable:
It’s one thing to understand that your work will come to light 25 years hence, when you (and those you’re reporting on) will either be dead or retired, too old much to care; or else flattered to see your handiwork become the stuff of history. It’s another to have to worry about something being disclosed that might affect your ability to function in your next post (or whether you’ll get one at all). The result will be less interesting stuff on paper for the record, more stuff over the phone or scattered in the diplomatic equivalent of tweets. Diplomatic historians will be thrilled with this unexpected Thanksgiving weekend gift, but they may have a lot less to work with in the future.
I don’t recall voting for Julian Assange. As he sets himself up as the arbiter of government morality, and recklessly reveals secrets that will distort and vastly complicate international relations, and very probably cause innocent people to suffer and die, who will hold himaccountable? Who does he answer to?
I generally sense that people, overall, will be more hostile towards wikileaks after this dump. The previous dumps seemed to corroborate competing stories. This dump will just be viewed by many as an attempt to hurt the United States.
Robert Mackey is live-blogging.
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