Daniel W. Drezner

Robert Gates gets the last word on WikiLeaks

I’ve expressed skepticism about whether WikiLeaks will actually lead to greater foreign-policy transparency. That said, l’affaire WikiLeaks has generated just a smidgen of greater candor from at least one U.S. policy principal. Here’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the fallout from the cable dump: Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at ...

I've expressed skepticism about whether WikiLeaks will actually lead to greater foreign-policy transparency. That said, l'affaire WikiLeaks has generated just a smidgen of greater candor from at least one U.S. policy principal. Here's Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the fallout from the cable dump:

Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel." …

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

I’ve expressed skepticism about whether WikiLeaks will actually lead to greater foreign-policy transparency. That said, l’affaire WikiLeaks has generated just a smidgen of greater candor from at least one U.S. policy principal. Here’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the fallout from the cable dump:

Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel." …

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think — I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

Many governments — some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

Hat tip: Jack Goldsmith.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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