Exit Strategies

The Empire Embarrassed

Wikileaks released another 250,000 classified documents over the weekend, this time from the Department of State. Since the details concern the everyday workings of U.S. diplomacy, the leaks have much greater potential for scandal than the previous series on Iraq and Afghanistan. Few of the files are currently available at the organization’s site (due to denial of service attacks from you-know-who), but major media outlets have deigned to provide us the most “shocking” revelations:

  • Saudi King Abdullah and other Gulf potentates have been exhorting the White House to attack Iran. The Israelis have already seized this opportunity to justify their own pressure campaign on Washington.
  • Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is just like Hitler.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered the collection of biometrics and other intelligence on foreign diplomats working at the UN in New York.
  • Pakistan teeters on the brink of chaos and its nuclear arsenal isn’t fully secure (Surprise!).
  • Clinton views the friendship between Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin with deep suspicion, and wants tabs kept on their business ties.
  • Putin is an alpha dog, and Russia a “virtual mafia state”. It is well known the Kremlin uses mob assets overseas for its own purposes, but this allegation is especially rich coming from the United States of Goldman Sachs.

While there are doubtless many interesting details to be sifted through in this batch, such as U.S. and Turkish double games in Iraqi Kurdistan or Russian-Israeli bargaining over weapons sales to Iran, there don’t appear to be any earth-shaking disclosures emerging from its substance. These are, after all, State Department cables mostly at the secret level of classification that reflect the conventional wisdom of the American foreign policy establishment. They are written by FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) who graduated from mid-level and elite universities, tend to read The Economist for inspiration and think all the right thoughts on matters cultural and political. Such people generally have a high opinion of themselves and their capacity for free thinking, all the while stringently observing the doctrines of political correctness as they work to bring the light of democracy to the world.

Prominent, but perhaps not unexpected, in the documents is the gossipy and frivolous tone of their content. Diplomatic telegrams have long relayed these sorts of minutiae, though now we have the generation raised on E! Television, Bravo and TMZ composing them.

What’s been unveiled isn’t so much the stuff of espionage novels as People Magazine for diplomats and policymakers. So Russian President Dmitry Medvedev plays Robin to Putin’s Batman, Berlusconi stays up too late with the ladies, and Azeri leader Ilham Aliev’s wife has received multiple facelifts. The secrets exposed by the leak pale in comparison to the utter vapidity and decadence of the class at the helm of the self-proclaimed “last, best hope for mankind”. Washington suffers embarrassment from such a massive hemorrhage of sensitive information, but what’s most embarrassing is the emptiness of it all. The Postmodern Empire is like Oakland- there’s no there there.