Friday, December 3, 2010

Fareed Zakaria on "the scandal that needs fixing"

Fareed Zakaria via | WikiLeaks Shows the Skills of U.S. Diplomats 

A remarkably broad consensus has formed that WikiLeaks' latest data dump is a diplomatic disaster for the U.S. While there are debates over how the Obama Administration should respond, everyone agrees that the revelations have weakened America. But have they? I don't deny for a moment that many of the "wikicables" are intensely embarrassing, but the sum total of the output I have read is actually quite reassuring about the way Washington - or at least the State Department - works.

First, there is little deception. These leaks have been compared to the Pentagon papers. Which they are not. The Pentagon papers revealed that the U.S. engaged in a systematic campaign to deceive the world and the American people and that its private actions were often the opposite of its stated public policy. The WikiLeaks documents, by contrast, show Washington pursuing privately pretty much the policies it has articulated publicly. Whether on Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or North Korea, the cables confirm what we know to be U.S. foreign policy. And often this foreign policy is concerned with broader regional security, not narrow American interests. Ambassadors are not caught pushing other countries in order to make deals secretly to strengthen the U.S., but rather to solve festering problems.
When foreigners encounter U.S. diplomats and listen to their bland recitation of policy, they would do well to keep in mind that behind the facade lie some very clever minds.
If we're looking for bad government policies, perhaps the place to look is not in the cables but in the new data-sharing craze. The leaks are, in some ways, an unintended consequence of Washington's finally getting its information act together. For more than a decade, one often heard complaints that the U.S. government was a dinosaur in the information age. The 9/11 commission charged that various departments' computer systems could not share information. Well, the government solved that problem, allowing Defense Department computers to reach into the foreign service's cable traffic.
Turns out, that may not have been such a great idea, especially when this information-sharing ethos was taken one step further during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. "We should be providing soldiers with all the intelligence and information possible," the argument went (and no one can ever say no to the Pentagon in Washington). So we have ended up with a private at an Army base in Iraq able to download secret readouts of conversations between the Secretary of Defense and the French Foreign Minister. If Private Bradley Manning had not gone to WikiLeaks, he would have found some other outlet to disseminate the data. Our anger at WikiLeaks should not obscure the fact that it is Washington's absurd data-sharing policy that made this possible. That's the scandal here that needs fixing.

Read the whole thing here.

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