The One Big Secret Wikileaks Really Did Reveal

 

Pretty much the whole world has been forced grudgingly to acknowledge one thing: Our diplomats possess a remarkable reserve of unrecognized literary talent. The Caucusus Wedding cable has justly become an instant classic. But really, it’s one gem after the other. The lapidary description of Turkey’s main opposition party as “no more than a bunch of elitist ankle-biters” couldn’t be a better use of nine words.

I’m as surprised as everyone else to discover the prose mastery of the State Department. Who knew? Can you imagine how the authors of these cables must be thrilled? One day they’re laboring in unacknowledged obscurity, the next the whole planet is writing about their literary genius and comparing them to Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. (If you think any diplomat’s outrage over the harm done to our national security would prevent him from taking delight in that, I have important news for you about human nature in general and literary vanity in particular.)

Here’s a view of the literary caliber of the dispatches from Turkey’s Hurriyet (which I should stress is no friend of the government, not least because the government is trying to tax it out of existence):

If anything, we have been impressed by the depth and breadth of American diplomats’ grasp of Turkish nuance, Ottoman history, Islamic philosophy and the country’s political and social complexity. One editor, however, thinks they should round out their reading with more of the pro-government press.

We must confess surprise at the quality of English and the often humorous tone of diplomatic cables which we would have expected to be jargon-filled, acronym-laden and tough to read.

The description of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “whose rhetorical skill, while etched with populist victimhood, redolent with traditional and religious allusions that resonate deeply in the heartland, deeply in the anonymous exurban sprawls…” is almost poetic.

Some in the main opposition Republican People’s Party, of CHP, will no doubt chafe at being described as “no more than a bunch of elitist ankle-biters.” But the imagery is vivid. As is the observation that “Tayyip Bey believes in God… but doesn’t trust him.”

We all know that leaking classified information is terrible. Taking that as given, I’m so far thinking that overall this will benefit the United States. About a million global conspiracy theories have just suffered a nasty confrontation with reality. Of course, a new one has immediately emerged in Turkey to compensate–to wit, that the United States leaked the cables deliberately to cast itself in a positive light. But that should tell you something.

The headlines here read, for example US cables claim Turkish PM Erdoğan has eight Swiss bank accounts. Cables like this–SUBJECT: DEALS WITH IRAN BENEFIT PM ERDOGAN’S FRIENDS–are now being widely discussed. You need a very capacious conspiracy theory to account for those in a way that makes America look like the villain. (Mind you, I have absolute confidence in Turkey’s talent.)

Not that Turks didn’t know everything in these cables already. It’s all pretty much common knowledge. Thus far, almost every Turk I’ve asked about “Vicky Licks” has shrugged and said the same thing: “We knew all of that.” Some of them have in the same breath earnestly explained to me that the US leaked the cables deliberately to make Turkey look bad.

But that’s Turkey. We’ve all got our flaws. Turns out that “unable to write” isn’t really among the flaws of US diplomats–although “unable to keep a secret” obviously is. Anyway, who am I to talk. I’m genuinely surprised and pleased that we write so well; if you can’t keep a secret, I say, at least leak it in style.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Claire, have you read Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and the World Order by Charles Hill? I think you’d like it. The book is full of these delightful images of the great statesmen of the past–Paul Nitze, Henry Kissinger, Charlie Hill himself–flying across the world reading Shakespeare, Austen, and the others, in a desperate attempt to gain some wisdom into the great diplomatic problems of their time.

    The point of the book is that you must read literature to understand and craft the world order, because mastering statecraft and diplomacy requires knowledge of human nature, and no one held more insight into the human condition–what drives people to make the choices they do–than our poets and novelists and playwrights.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @RobertBarraudTaylor

    Agreed! I’m really pleased by the literary level of the cables, and also by the reasonably critical attitude held towards just about everyone. There’s a lot less clientitis in the cables than I ever would have believed. I’m not saying that there still doesn’t need to be an American Interests Desk at the State Department, but nevertheless it provides an amazingly positive view into the diplomatic corps. Julian, this I did not expect.

    As for the leaking, well, that can’t be laid at the foot of State alone, for once, but at the insane way that the government is using SIPRNet. Maybe we should revert to dip pens, linen rag paper and diplomatic couriers. It’s a lot more secure.

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  3. Profile Photo Member
    @TripedisCanis

    Besides its literary quality, the other thing I find encouraging about these is that this is the raw material of the “human intelligence” side of foreign relations; something that has been criticized vis-a-vis the GWOT. It is gratifying to see that some State Department personnel are making the contacts and building relationships in areas of the world where friends on the ground are far more valuable than eyes in the sky.

    If exposing failures was the goal of this wikileaks extravaganza, I think it is back-firing.

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  4. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR

    Speaking of surprises, I’m surprised and encouraged that there’s not more embarrassing vitriol–of high literary caliber or not–aimed at Israel.

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    @EJHill

    The State Department has always been the dumping ground for the uberconnected. Produced kids shows? Have an ambassadorship to France. Help run Citi Group into the ground? That’s OK. You raised a ton for the Democrats and you’re from Chicago. London will fit you fine.

    It’s also convenient to slice off potential political foes. Is that Republican Governor of Utah popular and effective? Is China far enough away?

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  6. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Pseudodionysius

    The Wikileaks remind me of a great piece of diplomatic wisdom from the philosopher-king Stanley Roper to Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company. Mrs. Roper was droning on and on about how if women ran the world there would be no wars. Mr. Roper shot back with:

    “Ya, the countries would just nag each other to death.”

    Here’s to stylish nagging.

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    @outstripp

    I have a vague memory of being in the Vientianne airport in about 1974 when the US Ambassador was passing through. All I remember was that he was carrying Gravity’s Rainbow.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire
    Scott Reusser: Speaking of surprises, I’m surprised and encouraged that there’s not more embarrassing vitriol–of high literary caliber or not–aimed at Israel. · Nov 30 at 6:11am

    Yes, I noticed that too. E.J. Hill, that’s generally true of Ambassadorial appointments, but career State employees are there because they passed the Foreign Service Exam, which is meritocratic.

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    @

    Yes well that’s one talent that elite Ivy League institutions still value and foster. Too bad they don’t care as much about the content. I might in fact argue that well-written and persuasive writing is why the left continues to thrive in spite of a lack of any empirical evidence their policies work.

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR
    Trace Urdan: Yes well that’s one talent that elite Ivy League institutions still value and foster. Too bad they don’t care as much about the content. I might in fact argue that well-written and persuasive writing is why the left continues to thrive in spite of a lack of any empirical evidence their policies work. · Nov 30 at 6:39am

    True. And the dolts on the Left are swept under the rug by the press, while our dolts are given center stage–all the more reason why we must expect from conservative leaders hyper-competence in communication skills, and choose them based on that expectation. Very important for 2012.

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    @BillWalsh

    When last I checked (when I wandered the halls of Foggy Bottom as a lad), the average incoming FSO has a master’s degree and speaks one foreign language. The FSO Corps is a pretty neat bunch of people. They have their faults, as any subculture does, but overall, they’re a terrifically interesting and fun bunch of people to talk to.

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  12. Profile Photo Inactive
    @LadyKurobara
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: We all know that leaking classified information is terrible. Taking that as given, I’m so far thinking that overall this will benefit the United States.

    I agree. And I am enjoying the irony. Despite their lying mission statement, WikiLeaks obviously exists for only one reason — to discredit the US and undermine our international standing.

    That means that the huge leak went for naught. Julian Assange may have actually helped us and made himself a global pariah for nothing. And his life is still at risk. Such delicious irony.

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