While one expects nations—like persons—to keep secrets, he would nonetheless expect them to pursue their interests with decency, in a way that is worthy of the respect and trust of those with whom they deal. In many ways, this is the burden of diplomacy. Indeed, this will not be appreciated by countries that treat their diplomats as no more than glorified shopping guides for traveling politicians and their spouses. But the work of diplomats, who are the public face of their people in the countries to which they are sent, is crucial to maintaining peace and harmony in the world.
From the embassy cables released by the WikiLeaks website, one can conclude that a good number of America’s diplomats fulfill this function in a way that does credit to their jobs and their government. But, when these cables are read by the very people who are the topic, the consequences can be unpredictable.
Out of politeness, America’s allies will likely dismiss these incidents as insignificant. No formal diplomatic protest will be lodged by anyone, except by politicians who like to perform before the peanut gallery at home. Still, the US would be greatly mistaken if it takes this to mean that all is well among friends.
This is one time when America’s diplomats may need to summon all their skills in cultural interpretation if they are to get past this crisis. In many places in the non-Western world, as they may know, trust is everything. Lacking the hard information they need to make rational choices, people in these societies tend to rely mainly on their instincts—that is to say, on the relationships of tacit trust they build with other people—to make decisions. It is this kind of trust that has become the first casualty of WikiLeaks’ disclosures.
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