President Bush: Frank, please consider filling a post I’m creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights, surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society.
Frank: You want me to be in your cabinet?
– The Naked Gun 2 ฝ, starring Leslie Nielsen
Whatever the spin, the fact is that 1.6 gigabytes of text files on a memory stick spanning 251,287 leaked United States State Department cables from more than 250 embassies and consulates are not exactly bound to provoke “a political meltdown” – as German magazine Der Spiegel has put it – concerning the foreign policy of the world’s declining hyperpower.
Behind the multiple, hypocritical layers of spin served to the frantic 24/7 news cycle, politics is mostly a tacky reality show. And that’s what the latest WikiLeaks show graphically lays bare. A Muammar Gaddafi that applies botox and just can’t get enough of his sexy Ukrainian nurse belongs to the realm of Big Brother.
Although it would all make for great TV, it’s hardly a scoop that for US diplomats Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is “Hitler”, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “paranoid”, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is an “emperor with no clothes”, “vain and feckless” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is fond of “wild parties”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “rarely creative”, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “plays Robin to [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin’s Batman” or North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-il is a “flabby old chap” suffering from “physical and psychological trauma”.
But to believe, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does, that these disclosures constitute “an attack not only on American foreign policy interests but on the international community”; or that WikiLeaks, as President Barack Obama has put it, committed a serious crime, is to display nothing but tacky imperial arrogance. As if the world didn’t have the right to gorge itself on the kind of political junk food served to a few consumers inside the Washington palaces of power.
Clinton must have sensed that the overall sentiment after reading these cables is of a Washington suffering a nervous breakdown worthy of an Almodovar flick. For instance, a key US ally such as Berlusconi, defined as “vainglorious”, “indifferent to the fate of Europe” and dangerously close to Putin, of which he seems to be “the spokesperson”, can be regarded as a threat equal to Ahmadinejad. How paranoid can you get? The US Embassy in Moscow, by the way, describes Putin as an “alpha-dog” ruling over a Russia that is virtually “a Mafia state”; cynics would say this also applied to former vice president Dick Cheney during the George “Dubya” Bush era.
Anyone with an IQ superior to 75 might have suspected by now that US diplomats spy on their United Nations colleagues (under Clinton’s orders); that Washington conducted a bazaar to force small countries to accept Guantanamo inmates; that the Pakistani military/intelligence establishment is intertwined with the Taliban; or that paragon of democracy and human rights Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz urged the US to attack Iran.
Fear of Shi’ite Iran after all is the rule among that gaggle of unpopular Sunni Arab autocrats/dictators constantly harping and begging for the US to sell them the weapons that keep them in power.
But things do get more serious when we have the US ambassador to Turkey saying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously” and his hatred is spreading; that is a blatant lie.
Or when Pentagon supremo Robert Gates tells Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini that Iran was not supplying weapons for the Taliban – in fact nullifying a massive Pentagon-orchestrated suspension-of-disbelief campaign that lasted for months.
There’s no evidence to prove that Beijing’s collective leadership was the real power behind the cyber-attacks against Google. And when former South Korean vice foreign minister Chun Yung-woo told the US ambassador in Seoul that new generation of Chinese party leaders no longer regarded North Korea as a useful ally, how much of it is purely self-serving wishful thinking? After all, Chun is now the national security adviser to South Korea’s president.
Context is key in all these disclosures – around 220 so far. The diplomats or low-level functionaries speaking through these cables are essentially telling the State Department what it wants to hear, or bluffing their way into what has been already set in policy stone in Washington; the amount of independent, critical analysis is virtually zero.
On with the show
A much juicier perspective is to consider that from now on, most concerned global citizens will believe virtually nothing hurled at them during those cosmically boring diplomatic/government/military press conferences and photo ops.
The leaked cables prove that Europe – never impervious to self-ridicule – was already being marginalized during the Bush era, and more so now with Obama concentrating on Asia-Pacific. As for the bulk of what has been leaked so far, especially on Iran and the movers and shakers in the Persian Gulf, it is barely disguised US/Israeli propaganda.
Not accidentally, many a global headline is beating the same drum along the lines of “Israel greets WikiLeaks cables as vindication of its Iran policy”. An overall assessment of the leaked cables reveals that as much as Israel and the powerful US Israel lobby worked overtime to bring about the invasion and destruction of Iraq, it is doubling the bet to do exactly the same regarding Iran. Attention should be paid to a cable warning that “elegant and seductive” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “never keeps his promises”. As in: no halt to settlements in the West Bank, and let’s bomb, bomb Iran.
The Wiki reality show will go on for weeks as new gossip is dumped online. At least the show once again proves that the real information is on the Internet – not on global corporate media; and global citizens should make the best use of it to unmask, and ridicule, power.
It’s salutary to learn that the emperor, in secret, bad-mouths his friends and sycophants as much as his enemies. And also to learn that the emperor is no friend of democratized information. But now that the emperor is indeed naked, we should all celebrate these cable-writers, friends, enemies and sycophants for bringing us this priceless reality show – a sort of extended The Naked Gun. Pity the late, great Leslie Nielsen won’t be able to join us.