Monday, December 06, 2010


"The “revelations” in the latest download from WikiLeaks strike me as surprisingly dull. You would have thought that, in 250,000 pages of diplomatic cables, there would be insights that were a bit more startling than the suggestions that Angela Merkel is cautious, Silvio Berlusconi is vain, Nicolas Sarkozy is thin-skinned and David Cameron is a bit of a lightweight. Tell me something, I didn’t know.

It may be that, as people trawl through the data, they come across something genuinely interesting. For the moment, however, the only thing that made me raise even half an eyebrow was the suggestion that the Saudis and the other Gulf Arabs are pushing the Americans to bomb Iran. The Israelis have been saying that this is the Saudi position for ages - but, hitherto, I’ve always taken that with a pinch of salt, since it is obviously in Israel’s interests to make that case. So it is a bit surprising to find out that the Saudis really do seem to want a strike on Iran.

Other than that, I’m distinctly underwhelmed by WikiLeaks. But perhaps I’ve missed something fascinating".

Gideon Rachman, "The Dullness of Wikileaks," 29 November 2010, Financial Times, in

"More dangerous even than popular ignorance are certain forms of popular knowledge. The professional diplomatist, having spent his life studying the psychology and conditions of foreign countries, is very chary of basing generalizations upon hastily observed phenomena. The elector shows no such hesitation. A summer cruise to Dalmatia, a bicycling tour in the Black Forest, three happy weeks at Porto Fino, and he returns equipped with certain profound convictions regarding the Near East, the relations between Herr Hitler and his General Staff, and the effect of the Abyssinian venture upon Italian public opinion. Since his judgement is based upon feelings rather than upon thoughts, he is at the mercy of any chance encounter or accidential conversation....Even such accidents as bad weather or a missed railway connection may permanently influence an elector's attitude towards foreign affairs. Such effects are not the least disturbing symptoms of democratic irresponsibility."

Sir Harold Nicolson, Diplomacy. 1939, pp. 94-95.

"An Ambassador is a honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."

Sir Henry Wotton, circa 1604.

I have no particular wish to add to the torrential storm of comments provoked by the WikiLeaks story which erupted last week. Gideon Rachman’s comments in the Financial Times on the subject more or less express my own opinion on the matter insofar as it concerns the quality & importance or lack there of, of the documents which were stolen by the miscreant, now thankfully imprisoned for his misdeeds and crimes. With that being said, what can one point out that notwithstanding the longstanding American naivete on the subject matter, there is no such thing (President Woodrow Wilson to the contrary) as ‘open diplomacy’. One can either have diplomacy as traditionally understood, or one may have ‘openness’, one by the very nature of things cannot have both unfortunately. At least not in this world. Ultimately, diplomacy works best, when least discussed or indeed reflected upon. The best example to my mind was the diplomacy of George Bush the Elder & James Baker, who in 1990, studiously and secretly worked for the reunification of Germany, while remaining almost completely in the background. Making it appear that the Germans and the Russians were making all the running, and that the Americans were being left behind by events. When in fact as we now know, the opposite was in fact true. As I well remember the attacks that both gentlemen received in the New York Times, by the Times then chief European the correspondent, the bien pensant, Roger Cohen. The point of this story simply is that the careful diplomacy of German reunification, which au fond required that the Bonn not Washington nominally lead the process, would have been completely upset if the true state of affairs were in fact known at the time. And, nothing in the intervening years has changed very much to alter the above state of things. Ultimately, if diplomacy is to work at all it must remain a species of imperii arcanae. Anything else reduces the art of diplomacy to merely xenophobic cheer leading and exercises in hurrah patriotismus. If we need to re-institute a sort of lettre de chacet, to deal effectively with people of the ilk of Monsieur Julian Assange so be it. I can easily see worse things happening in modern day life.


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