Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"It Revises Upward My Personal Opinion of the State Department"

NPR's Morning Edition interviewed Garton Ash, a British historian, today on his impressions of the wiki-windfall of leaked diplomatic reporting. He had complimentary things to say about that reporting.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Some of these dispatches, they have a novelistic quality, a literary quality.

Prof. GARTON ASH: Again, I'm very impressed. There's a wonderful and hilarious account of a Dagestani wedding attended by the president of Chechnya with his gold-plated automatic stuffed down the back of his jeans. There's extraordinary stuff in there. But that's, in a sense, the icing on the cake, to change the culinary metaphor ... The real substance is the serious political reporting.

-- snip --

MONTAGNE: Does any of it that you've seen so far in these cables change fundamentally your view of how the world works?

Prof. GARTON ASH: Well, it revises upward my personal opinion of the State Department. In other words, what I've seen about how they report and how they operate is really quite impressive. Secondly, what emerges very, very clearly is that if this were a person, it would be a traumatized person - someone who'd gone through a great shock, and that shock was, of course, 9/11. And the way in which security and counterterrorism concerns permeate almost every aspect of U.S. diplomacy in whatever country it is, is for me very striking.

You can listen to the four-minute interview here.

I've noticed similar comments from other interviewees recently. So you can't say nothing good ever came out of this mess.


Update - Just saw another example:

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange crowed yesterday that the State Department "is going to have a hard time of it trying to spin" his organization's ongoing document dump. U.S. diplomats, he said, will "find their very privileged position in life undermined by having their lies revealed."

Presumably, he wasn't talking about the latest tranche of documents, which cover the 2005 civil unrest in the French banlieues and the subsequent U.S. perspective on France's integration (or lack thereof) of its Muslim minority. These cables show the U.S. diplomatic corps grappling reasonably with how to bring American resources to bear to improve this endemic problem in French society.

-- snip --

In short, these are the most sensible, boring cables that I've come across yet. And I'm at a loss why Julian Assange thinks that they will do anything but increase the American public's belief that its government, by and large, acts responsibly on the international stage

Read the rest here.


Rob Pugh said...

Here as well -

"For all the State Department's understandable security concern about the recent disclosure of classified telegrams from its embassies by WikiLeaks, there are elements in this exposé that can actually improve how Americans and the rest of the world view US diplomacy and, most important, the United States itself. As the cables demonstrate:

--American diplomats can write. If you read the missives -- and, granted, no way I could read them all -- they provide strong evidence that Foreign Service officers (FSOs) construct solid, logical, and detailed analyses that (if not always correct) are thoughtful and carefully crafted. Compare them to the instant, superficial reporting of the mass media, and you can see the importance of diplomatic dispatches not only for giving Washington the background and nuance to a given situation, but also for providing a reliable historical record of major global events.

--American diplomats are not naive, an all-too-frequent characterization of US officials by their foreign counterparts. FSOs, as their candid, sometimes critical portraits of their overseas contacts suggest, strive to be subtle judges of character; of course, they are not always right, but they are intelligently seeking to understand, as best they can, the nature of their foreign interlocutors, and their reporting demonstrates it. Far from permanently embarrassing the U.S., the WikiLeaks disclosures may, in fact, result in increasing respect overseas for American diplomats, as their communications to headquarters (now made public, regrettably or not) demonstrate they seek to be insightful observers, and are not gullible country bumpkins who believe everything they hear.

--American diplomats are not inhuman automatons but have a sense of irony and humor. To cite one example, the Moscow US Embassy's characterization of Putin and Medvedev -- Batman and Robin -- is not only funny, but may end up in the history books as a "catch-the-moment" way to describe this odd, sinister duo.

On the negative side..."

Rob Pugh said...
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