- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
As you’ve probably heard, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual stepped down from his post in Mexico City over the weekend following his WikiLeaks-based falling out with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. In noting his departure, we thought it would be worth looking back over the arc of the U.S. State Department’s slow-rolling PR catastrophe — now rounding out its fourth month — and tallying the casualties. The results are here.
The WikiLeaks unfortunates are a pretty varied group — the expected array of diplomatic officials and WikiLeaks associates, plus a few politicians, a CEO, a university administrator, and a dictator — and it’s hard to draw much of a trend line through the circumstances of their respective scandals. The first and last of them were both genuine scandals: A German party official passing documents to American embassy officials, the prime minister of India’s party allegedly buying votes with chests full of rupees.
But what strikes me as most noteworthy is how un-noteworthy most of the cables that got a lot of these people in trouble really were. U.S. ambassadors were pulled from their posts for noting that Mexico’s drug war was going badly and that Muammar al-Qaddafi was rather eccentric. The fact that Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was a fantastically corrupt ruler was not exactly news to anyone in Tunisia. Europe’s still-incomplete satellite system really is a boondoggle. There have been a few bombshells in the WikiLeaks cables — some of them literal — but these weren’t them. They were significant only because they confirmed that the U.S. government knew what everyone else knew.