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Tony Grist

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Wikileaks [Nov. 29th, 2010|10:39 am]
Tony Grist
Thus far there's been nothing in the Wikileaks revelations that comes as a huge surprise. The Saudis hate the Iranians, the US State department spies on the UN, Russia is a kleptocracy, China mounts attacks on the Web, most of the aid that enters Afghanistan goes straight into Swiss bank accounts, Netanyahu is slippery, Merkel is dull, Sarkozy a blowhard, Karzai weak and paranoid, Prince Andrew obnoxious . These aren't secrets that are being disclosed. At most they confirm our best guesses. As someone on a Guardian thread put it, "Diplomats say in private what Joe Public thinks!"

is it right that this material should have been leaked? Oh yes. People have a right to know what the governments that represent them are doing in their name. That's why democracies allow a free press. It's part of the contract between ruler and ruled. Most of the time government manages to hornswoggle and subvert the press. Once in a while the press manages to hit government where it hurts. 

Government says lives have been endangered by the leaks. That's an example of hornswoggle. These revelations are embarrassing and inconvenient to government- that's all. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-11-29 11:30 am (UTC)
I had to write to the U.K government via the ECHR. What I wanted to put was "You are fuckwits" but I had to settle for more hushed tones.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-11-29 12:44 pm (UTC)
Just as well, you never know who might be listening.
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-11-30 03:54 pm (UTC)
Stop the press. H.R.H Duke of York is a knob. Well we never knew that before;)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-01 11:42 am (UTC)
Shocking innit!

But to be fair to him, his main offence- in the eyes of the US diplomat- was to be rude about the US.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2010-11-29 05:51 pm (UTC)
The Saudis hate the Iranians, the US State department spies on the UN, Russia is a kleptocracy, China mounts attacks on the Web, most of the aid that enters Afghanistan goes straight into Swiss bank accounts, Netanyahu is slippery, Merkel is dull, Sarkozy a blowhard, Karzai weak and paranoid, Prince Andrew obnoxious.

"But during National Brotherhood Week . . ."

(This would work better if I had a Tom Lehrer icon.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-11-29 06:49 pm (UTC)
Yes :)
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2010-11-30 12:39 am (UTC)
If the messages are minor and really only cause embarrassment, why should they have been leaked? In fact, for the most part, none of this is about "what the government does in our name" but "what thoughts pass through institutional heads". The argument for keeping these secret is the same for keeping private thoughts of bank tellers secret: you don't really need to know they don't like you, just that they don't steal from you.

Besides, if what the government is doing involves William Burns writing beautiful reports about weddings in Dagestan, I'm all for it.

Frankly, I think the US comes off really well in these.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-11-30 09:09 am (UTC)
I think it's interesting for the citizen to see how government works.

And certain items- like the information about the Saudis lobbying for the US to bomb Iran- are of real significance.

I think I agree with you. These documents don't show the US as an evil, world-bestriding monster. Rather they reveal the limitations of American power.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2010-11-30 11:13 am (UTC)
I understand the cables show that, behind closed doors, the US is even more shamelessly and unreservedly supportive of militant Zionism than we are in public. While this is not exactly a revelation, it is difficult see it as anything other than monstrous.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-11-30 02:17 pm (UTC)
I've never entirely understood why the USA allows itself to be bossed around by Israel.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2010-12-01 11:03 am (UTC)
Having spent a very long time contemplating US subservience to Israel, I feel that I do understand it. The simple answer is that Americans are remarkably stupid and the Israelis take full advantage of that. Intelligent politicians, ones smart enough to figure out what Israel is up to, do get elected sometimes, but they make stupid Americans uneasy, so the Israelis take full advantage of that, too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-01 11:44 am (UTC)
The Israelis are very good at putting a guilt trip on their critics. You say a word against them and you're an anti-semite.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2010-12-02 12:07 pm (UTC)
Exactly so and given the intelligence and strength of character of the average politician, they wilt at the mere threat of being labeled, "anti-semitic". But the fact that this tactic works so effectively underlines my point, don't you think? Americans are not in the habit of looking beyond labels.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2010-11-30 12:26 pm (UTC)
I don't really see that.

To start, however, I worked in the government and I'm not surprised to see that the commentary of diplomats is a more interesting version of the commentary of bureaucrats.

I don't think the information on the Saudis is of real significance, it just makes makes totally undeniable a position which had been merely undeniable.

Like the original leak of Iraq War documents, there's nothing here of public value. It will prove useful to journalists and historians, certainly, but they're more in the business of telling stories than affecting policy.

Julian Assange has a problem in that his leaks aren't very timely. WikiLeaks comes down out of the hills long after the battle is done to shoot the survivors. Their next set of documents, form "a major American bank", will probably be nothing new to people who've been paying attention to what actual whistlebolowers have been saying for years, sometimes even decades.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-11-30 02:24 pm (UTC)
I think the shift from "merely undeniable" to "totally undeniable" is of some significance.

But I agree there's almost nothing in the documents we didn't already know.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2010-11-30 12:29 pm (UTC)
There's been an ongoing discussion in some circles of "the national security state" and how many people are captivated by the idea of secret knowledge. They see it as somehow more valuable than public knowledge, even when it is wrong or merely a duplication of public information.

That's what I see WikiLeaks doing primarily and why so many people line up to sing paeans to Assange: the document dumps lift the veil of secrecy and, in their pettiness, damage the credibility of the national security apparatus. It's more like public confessions, it's a ritual of humiliation, not evidence for the verdict.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-11-30 03:31 pm (UTC)
I don't see government as my friend. That's any government- yours, mine, anybody's- and I like to know what it's getting up to.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2010-11-30 04:08 pm (UTC)
I used to think the same thing. Then I worked for them. Governments are like major, and minor, corporations. Some are your friend. Some are your enemy. But most are like big autistic children with low IQs.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-01 11:45 am (UTC)
"big autistic children with low IQs"

I like it!
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2010-11-30 05:20 am (UTC)
You said it.

Nicked.
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