Christmas comes early in the form of some 250,000 leaked diplomatic cables from US embassies dating back to 1966. Fun for all the family. At least, that’s the theory.
In practice, however, it’s a bit of a disappointment so far. Quantity rather than quality. Although many are classified to some degree, most of the messages the media have trawled through are stunning mainly for being obvious and unremarkable. The Saudis are desperate for someone to whack Iran as soon as possible; Gaddafi is a nut; so is Ahmadinejad; Karzai, Putin, Berlusconi, Sarkozi and quite a few others have various personality flaws; China doesn’t really like North Korea that much; Angela Merkel is a tad dull and uncreative. (Unlike King Abdullah, who at least comes up with an interesting idea about implanting microchips in released Guantanamo detainees.)
Anyone can join in. Pulling up something at random, we find a report from Ambassador Jeffrey in Ankara on the shift in Turkey’s foreign policy away from Israel towards Muslim neighbours. It seems like a pretty good bit of analysis, and wouldn’t be out of place in The Economist on a good week. But that’s about it. A briefing from Harare on how ‘The end is nigh’ for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe is interesting (not least for the ambassador’s defence of his own record) even if three years later the tyrant is still in power. In a meeting with a US counterpart ahead of Obama’s trip late last year, China’s vice foreign minister He Yafei says of the North Koreans, “we may not like them, but they are a neighbor,” which we would expect, but then feels a need to ask whether the US could accept a nuclear-armed but non-proliferating regime in Pyongyang, which warrants a raised eyebrow.
A bit of wry amusement struggles to the surface from time to time. A summary of the rights and wrongs of the coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya last year concludes that everyone concerned was acting unconstitutionally, producing a situation for which no constitutional remedy existed. A bit of nostalgia, too. Rummaging deep down into the earlier cables – back in the days when they really were sent by telex – we find a recommendation from 1972 that Washington DC sell another squadron of Phantom fighter-bombers to a whiny and insecure Shah of Iran, even diverting them from the US Air Force if necessary. Iran’s current attempts to arm itself are of course one of the most common topics of the cables in recent years. Some advice on negotiating with them!
In short, international affairs buffs with a penchant for reading other people’s mail are in heaven today. Unlike a certain suspected leaker – though being an Oklahoma-born, Welsh-resident gay member of the US Army, he surely has no lack of mitigating factors to plead.