Is the US Government Machiavellian enough to orchestrate the recent brouhaha over the so-called website WikiLeaks, is this a real embarrassment, or will it indeed be damaging as some U.S. diplomats claim?
I am not one to support conspiracy theories but when you stop to analyze the content of the information that was leaked it seem that two things emerge: first, the content of the cables were not so earth shattering as to damage national security, or harm Washington’s relations with other countries.
Second, upon further analysis, it would appear that the information revealed instead sends a strong message to America’s foes.
Much of what has been released in those cables is hardly news in any real sense of the word. Take for example the report that the US has been spying on its friends as well as on its foes and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ordered diplomats to assemble information on their foreign counterparts. Let’s get real. Friends have been spying on friends ever since man has been involved in conflict.
Espionage between nations -- both friendly and less so -- can probably be traced back to the time when the first group of cavemen realized they could use clubs as weapons. All intelligence services will, as a matter of fact, gather information on whoever and whatever they can. This is what intelligent services do. The trick is not to get caught.
Did Israel not spy on the United States, its staunchest ally, and without whom Israel would have a hard time sustaining itself. The most infamous of Americans spying for Israel is a former US Navy civilian, Jonathan Pollard, who passed classified information to Israel. Pollard is now serving a life sentence for treason. While Pollard may have become the focus point of the US-Israeli espionage dossier, other incidents have gone largely unnoticed.
One report aired by Fox News states that “According to a U.S. intelligence agency, the government of A (Israel) conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the US of any US ally.”
Indeed, since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained under the new Patriot Act or for immigration violations. Among them were active duty officers in the Israeli army.
All theatrics of embarrassment by the US Department of State aside, the release of such information accomplishes a dual purpose.
Many countries in the Middle East are more concerned about Iran’s nuclear program than they have publically admitted. The information contained in one cable states that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has asked the United States a number of times to “cut the head of the snake,” when talking about Iran and its nuclear program. Other Arab leaders from Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had similar concerns.
First, these cables demonstrate to Iran that its Arab neighbors are extremely concerned with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. And second, it forces the Arab countries in question to perhaps take a more transparent stand vis-à-vis Iran.
This information hardly places the security of the United States in jeopardy. As for the embarrassment that the State Department will have to deal with for “insulting” foreign leaders, once again, no great state secrets were revealed. The most “damaging insult” was directed at – surprise, surprise—the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is described as “an emperor with no clothes,” and with a “thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style.” Also of no great surprise are the words reserved for Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He is referred to as “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader,” who has a soft spot for “frequent nights and penchant for partying hard.” Both European leaders would probably consider those statements as complements rather than criticism. The German Chancellor might find her description somewhat harsh as someone who is “risk aversive and rarely creative.” As for Russia’s President, Dmitry Medvedev, he “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.” Once again Paris, Rome, Berlin, and Moscow are hardly about to recall ambassadors over such revelations.
Nor is the report that Hezbollah continues to enjoy the weapons patronage of Syria nor that despite a promise from Syrian president Bashar Assad to the United States that he wouldn't send "new" arms to the Lebanese militant group, the United States said it had information that Syria was continuing to provide the group with increasingly sophisticated weapons.
The question here is who leaked the information and what do they stand to gain from it? If the cables were leaked by the U.S. government, was it to prove that the United States is not the only one to adopt double standard when it comes to Middle East politics? The alternative would indeed be an embarrassment.
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani is a political analyst based in Washington.