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On the Wikileaks cables 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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What a mess. The release by Wikileaks of nearly a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables has caused embarrassment for America the world over. Many newspapers even charge that the release will increase the danger for Westeners working in the Muslim world (see any of the British newspapers this past weekend).

While the cables are fascinating they must be approached with serious caveats. The notion that Wikileaks is an impartial organization is a joke. It clearly has a quasi-anti-U.S. stand point and is specifically anti the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Calling a video ‘Collateral Murder’ shows no signs of seeking impartiality.

But the key problem that I have with the latest release is that they are excerpts selected to have been released. We know none of the background to the cables, which ‘diplomats’ wrote them (Ambassador or a junior staffer) or how each individual release fits into the overall narrative. Moreover, surely the ones released are the most media-friendly and salacious? Hardly a judicious or balanced picture.

Having said that, they are undoubtedly a good read and, for a scholar in particular, a fascinating glimpse into what personalities are thinking and saying.

Regarding the Gulf, the key headline is that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and others in the region beseeched America to topple Ahmadinejad. What a shock. This is not news for anyone with a vague interest in the Gulf.

Overall, I don’t think that they are really a threat to US National Security or say anything massively new.

As some commentators have mentioned, this will be a real test for Arab media on how they report the leaks. So far, most media outlets appear to be grossly failing, but that too is hardly a shock.

Here are some random but interesting snippets that I’ve come across so far:

On absurd levels of corruption in Afghanistan:

When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

On the basket-case in Libya:

the volatile Libyan leader was rarely without the companionship of “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to Washington.

Interesting to note just how dangerous these types of rulers are: on a whim after public embarrassment they are prone to take extremely damaging moves simply for petty revenge.

“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had carried out the strikes.

Again, although the fact that the U.S. was bombing Yemen is hardly a secret, having it spelt out so plainly is sobering.

The buffoon-like Italian Prime Minister is (accurately) described as

feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader

Most of these quotations are from an excellent NYT piece on the topic.