Monday, November 29, 2010

Provoking the Powerful, Imperiling the Powerless

The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, has replied to the Wikileaks imbroglio with an opinion piece in a Pakistani newspaper. Two choice quotes:

Diplomats must engage in frank discussions with their colleagues, and they must be assured that these discussions will remain private. Honest dialogue - within governments and between them - is part of the basic bargain of international relations; we couldn’t maintain peace, security, and international stability without it. I’m sure that Pakistan’s ambassadors to the United States would say the same thing.


US diplomats [also] meet with local human rights workers, journalists, religious leaders, and others outside the government who offer their own candid insights. These conversations depend on trust and confidence as well. If an anti-corruption activist shares information about official misconduct, or a social worker passes along documentation of sexual violence, revealing that person’s identity could have serious repercussions: imprisonment, torture, even death ... An act intended to provoke the powerful may instead imperil the powerless.

Read the whole thing here.


Rob Pugh said...

"Honest dialogue ... between governments and their citizens - is part of the basic bargain of... democracy."

Fixed that for you ;)

Or the US and Yemeni governments can continue to obfuscate and conspire re: the origins and nature of ongoing airstrikes... or we can continue to cozy up to the real supporters of Islamic militants - SA - as they encourage us to attack Iran while we continue a decade long war in a country with little to do with it as we support Karzai's brother's drug racket while we keep throwing US citizens in jail in our War on [some] Drugs [users...]

TSB said...

In fairness to my man Munter (and his PAO), he was speaking only of relations within and between governments. I'm all for honesty there.

As for honesty between governments and their citizens, personally, it's my strong preference that we run our own society according to our own constitution and let other nations run their affairs their own way.

Government is not a philanthropic activity. I've never believed our foreign policy should seek to impose our beliefs and mores (alternatively: promote freedom and democracy, take up the White Man's burden or the Mission Civilisatrice, nation-build or peace-keep, or whatever the formulation of the moment is) on other nations. That's partly out of laissez faire philosophy, but also partly out of respect for other cultures; I wouldn't want to be the object of some other nation's improvement project, so I wouldn't impose mine on them.

Concerning Yemen for instance, our government and theirs have a mutual interest in playing aerial whack-a-mole with AQ figures. If their Grand Vizir, or whomever, chooses to tell the public that he doesn't know much about that, and they choose to pretend to believe him, that's okay with me. I don't see a justification for our insisting they do anything else, and I'm not even 100% certain that I know what's best for them.

I say we ought to demand honesty at home, and let the foreigners be as foreign as they want to be. What happens in Yemen, stays in Yemen!

Rob Pugh said...

In my less snarky moments I agree, ["What happens in Yemen, stays in Yemen" indeed.] Where I differ, I'd guess, is this underlying assumption amongst 'western' democracies about the role of the media. Yes, I can see where Wikileaks would make things less comfortable or more difficult amongst politicians. What annoys me to no end seems to be this assumption amongst Beltway tribes [politicians & media] that it is in any way the job of the media to make politicians lives more comfortable or easier. The best free press holds government accountable with, you know, the truth. But that may be too naive for even an early morning rant.

I'd also firmly agree with a laissez faire outlook, but can't square that with the US browbeating other governments when we decide to kidnap, render and torture [the wrong people] on foreign soil. Or when we invade countries [the antithesis of hands-off] a country with the most tenuous of connections to Islamic extremism, while snuggling up to Saudi Arabia in the name of realpolitic.

Bah, too early on a Tuesday. Need more coffee. Thanks for letting me rant :) Really enjoy the blog, even when opinions differ. Cheers.

TSB said...

What makes me curious is why (some of) the news media picks and chooses who it wants to make uncomfortable. The NYT is running the Wikileaks material, but a year ago it refused to run purloined e-mails from East Anglia University climate researchers. This is what they said then:

"The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here."

Hey, either make everybody uncomfortable or else admit that you pick sides.

Rob Pugh said...

"What makes me curious is why (some of) the news media picks and chooses who it wants to make uncomfortable."

Likewise, it makes me curious why the government makes noise about Assange being tried for treason, whereas when the VP's office - and let's be honest here, probably the VP - exposes the id of covert agents, it's politics as usual.

"I say we ought to demand honesty at home..."

Indeed, so when we render for torture the wrong German, we should be accountable, not pressuring the German govt to leave our CIA folks alone.

"...either make everybody uncomfortable or else admit that you pick sides."

That'd be nice, but it seems you're demanding more of the media than you are the government. That seems... off.

TSB said...

Well, the government doesn't pretend to not have a side, so I can't call them on hypocrisy.

But, yes, we ought to have honesty at home. Cheney, you know, didn't identify what's-her-name to Robert Novak. Richard Armitage did, and then he did it again to Robert Woodward. It turns out the Special Prosecutor knew that all along, but focused on Cheney’s staff instead. Nothing happened to Armitage, and he kept quiet while the whole flap raged on and on for months. Even this movie that just came out about the Plame affair omits Armitage entirely.

We need a lot more honesty in politics. Is that ancient Greek guy with the lamp available?

Rob Pugh said...

"Well, the government doesn't pretend to not have a side, so I can't call them on hypocrisy."

Well, if they don't have an even handed rule of law approach, where in one case people are demonized, and on the other it's let slide... you can, actually ;)

Fair point on Plame/Cheney. I tend to misremember what with Libby's convictions and stonewalling that it was never actually shown they had anything to do with it - *winkwink* nudgenudge* - and Armitage was culpable. And unpunished, of course. I knew that, forgot it. Fair play to you/I'm an idiot.

Sadly, at last check, Diogenes was being eaten by dogs outside the city walls.

TSB said...

That is really too bad about Diogenes. Those old Greeks were hardcore. In Washington he'd probably be indicted, resign to spend more time with his family, and then write a book and get a minor cable TV show.