- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
It is premature to determine the ultimate winners and losers from the most recent WikiLeaks episode. That said, here in Washington jumping to conclusions is very often the only exercise we get. So, here goes.
1. The United States of America
How do you go from being the targeted victim of an unprecedented information attack to being the victor? Simple: Be revealed to have been working hard behind the scenes to do the right thing. The United States is as imperfect as any nation and guilty of countless missteps as the past decade has shown with great clarity. But if there is one over-arching message to the Wiki-spill it is that for the most part, in most places U.S. diplomats and senior officials have been doing an admirable job. For more on this, see the estimable and wise Les Gelb’s piece yesterday for The Daily Beast.
2. American Diplomats
The United States’ first diplomat, Thomas Jefferson, said that he "never believed there was one code of morality for a public, and another for a private man." Diplomacy necessarily involves secrets and deceptions, but an acid test of diplomacy and diplomats is whether what is done privately stands up to public scrutiny. So far the leaked cables for the most part show professional diplomats doing their job with intelligence, wisdom, candor and even humor. Bill Burns wrote incisively wherever he was stationed. Anne Patterson spoke truth to power while at the center of what may be the world’s toughest diplomatic assignment.
3. The Newspapers Who Published the WikiLeaks
Ka-ching. WikiLeaks is not only the gift that keeps on giving, it could go on giving for a long time. Release 250 or so cables a day and they could keep going for 3 years. But guess what, it’s not just good business, it’s actually good journalism. Provided they behave responsibly as, for example, The New York Times and the Guardian seem to have done, this is a coup for ink-stained wretches everywhere.
4. Advocates for Intelligence Reform
Let’s see: If a 22-year-old moon-faced Army private with a blank Lady Gaga CD in his hand can download a mountain of classified documents and make them public, I wonder how many other slightly more sophisticated actors have been siphoning out more important secrets more discretely over the past several years. The custodians of the U.S. system of document classification and its intelligence knowledge management system has got to be more embarrassed by this fiasco than Muammar Qaddafi’s plastic surgeon. In fact the custodians, like Qaddafi’s Botox man, have all got to be asking themselves: Is that really the best you can do?
So, who knew, when Thomas Hobbes wrote that life was "nasty, brutish and short" that he was also describing the best State Department cables? Perhaps the reason is that in a nasty, brutish world, a certain clear-eyed realism is required. I’m not talking about the chardonnay-sipping academics who characterize themselves as realists to dress up their impulse toward appeasing bad guys (or worse). I mean realists who recognize that in a world as corrupt and double-dealing and dangerous as the one described in these cables, you need actors who behind the scenes are demonstrating that they know the score and are going to do what it takes to protect national interests. Ideally, those actors are also going to help make the world a safer place in the process and as far as that is concerned, see points one and two above. (Speaking of realists, maybe Barack Obama has more realist in him than we knew. He sure doesn’t seem to be too starry-eyed about the likelihood his own "engagement" rhetoric was going to work.)
6. Voluptuous Blonde Ukrainian Nurses
Botox aside, Qaddafi seems to be doing something right. Perhaps being a ruthless dictator isn’t so bad after all. Actually, let’s be honest, we all have within us a ruthless dictator yearning to be set free … so as to be able to hire phalanxes of buxom blonde attendants to cater to our every need. (Choose your own demographic, you get the point.)
And the Losers:
1. Julian Assange
The wikiweasel-in-chief is now on the lam. Interpol wants him not because he is trafficking in stolen classified document or because he is recklessly putting lives at risk, but because he is wanted for sex crimes. Meanwhile, the champion of openness is giving interviews from secret locations calling for Hillary Clinton to resign while inadvertently revealing the tireless efforts of the U.S. State Department to actually try to solve world problems while other "great powers" do little or make them worse. So, let’s tally it up: The WikiLeaks mission is a fraud (it’s not about openness, it’s about attacking the United States) and it’s a failure (he’s actually making the United States look better) and the sleazebag mastermind is going to end up in the slammer. All in all, a pretty bad week for Assange … who will be well played in the movie by Paul Bettany (once they get around to making the movie.)
2. America’s Non-Ally Allies
See today’s New York Times story on Pakistan, see the leaks on the Karzai brothers, our one-two punch of AfPak frenemies comes out of this document dump looking scarier than ever. Not that this should come as a big shock. But it leaves one wondering: If we know we can’t count on the people we are counting on … er, what’s Plan B? Is this all going to come down to swallowing hard and accepting military rule in Pakistan … perhaps with a thin veneer of democracy… and some thugocracy in Kabul … so long as they promise to keep their problems local?
China wants to sit at the big table of international leadership but doesn’t want to do any of the hard work to get there. If North Korean missile parts are making their way to Iran via China, if the Chinese are using Iranian sanctions negotiations to cash in for themselves while simultaneously actually reducing pressure on Iran, they are revealing themselves not leaders but free-riders within the international system. Not only do they want the benefits of participating in the global economy without the responsibility for helping to preserve it or the international community, but they seem to think it’s okay to stir up trouble and play footsy with rogue states just like they did when they were a middle-tier power on the way up. The message: So long as they are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.
4. Embarrassed Foreign Officials … and Candor
Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Qaddafi, Kadyrov, Merkel, Cameron, the list of foreign leaders who are stung by State Department snark is a long one and getting longer every day. But as awkward as it must be this week to deal with the tittering classes, there’s a silver lining. U.S. diplomats are sure to be a little more cautious in their cables for some time to come. Their days doing the Zagat’s ratings of international dignitaries have been brought to an unceremonious close. Or at least, that’s the conventional wisdom. My sense is that since candid takes on who’s who is essential for diplomacy, they’ll continue via one back channel or another.
5. The U.S. Department of Defense
DOD has always looked down its nose at the way the State Department handled secrets. So all this is a bit, um, awkward. State’s computers simply wouldn’t allow the kind of siphoning off of classified material that the military system seemingly invited. They’ve also taken months to actually step it up and fix security…though they are moving double-time now to make up for lost time.
6. Senator John Kerry
You know those aspirations to someday be secretary of state? Well, they’ve been dealt a double blow. Not only has the WikiLeaks blowback made Hillary Clinton’s State Department look better (the U.N. assertions are a red-herring … all diplomats throughout history have always tried to find out as much as they could about their counterparts…and which is why the initiative to do so predates this administration) … but when you offered up the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem during a trip to Qatar and endorse the notion of Hamas as a peacemaker, you probably made it a little tough for yourself come possible nomination time. Not that you didn’t mean well. It’s just, well, it’s going to be a politically awkward. You know what I mean?