Sunday, November 28, 2010

WikiLeaks, Saudi Arabia, and Staying Alive

WikiLeaks is in the news again. More documents were dumped, more people's lives have been endangered, and it's anyone's guess what'll happen next.

Good News/Bad News

First, the good news: National leaders around the world aren't as daft as one might fear.

Now, the bad news: Thanks to WikiLeaks' document dump, diplomatic relations between countries whose leaders are moderately sane and competent will be more difficult. Like it or not, there's a reason why diplomats don't broadcast what one leader wants another leader to say.

Worse, maybe, WikiLeaks may have helped some of the not-so-nice regimes around the world identify troublesome folks. Who will now quite likely be killed or squirreled away somewhere.

Freedom of Speech

Sweden isn't Sudan.

Which reminds me of a tired old joke. Two men, a Russian and an American, were discussing the relative merits of the United States and the Soviet Union. (This is an old joke.) The American said, "I live in a free country: I can stand on the front steps of Capitol Building and say 'I think the American President is an idiot.' " The Russian replied, "Ha! Soviet Union is a free country too: I can stand on the front steps of the Kremlin and say 'I think the American President is an idiot.' "

Seriously? I've made this point before: Not all countries are alike. Some have governments that put up with a certain amount of criticism. Others have a habit of making malcontents disappear. Or be sent somewhere for 'reeducation.'

Free Speech Restrictions: It's Not Necessarily Who You Expect

It'd be nice if all countries let folks speak their minds: but "nice" and the real world don't always overlap.

The former Soviet Union and Burma / Myanmar / Myanma aren't the only places where freedom of speech is restricted. Even some of the 'nice' countries have - in my opinion - regrettable sanctions against free speech. ("Libel Law Reform in UK: This Hasn't been Done Yet?!," A Catholic Citizen in America (November 13, 2010))

Saudi Arabia, Iran, and a Snaky Metaphor

Good news/bad news again.

First, the good news: The Saudi king realizes that Iran is a threat:
"...'Cut off the head of the snake,' the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008....
Now, the bad news: Saudi Arabia has lots of folks who give financial support to outfits like Al Qaeda.

"Devastating:" Yeah, I Think That Covers It

Here's what one fellow had to say about the latest WikiLeaks action:
"...'This is pretty devastating,' Roger Cressey, a partner at Goodharbor Consulting and a former U.S. cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said in an e-mailed comment.

" 'It will constrain foreign leaders from being upfront and honest in their conversations with American diplomats and it will also make U.S. diplomats hesitant to put in diplomatic cables what they really think, for fear of it being leaked.'..."
Like I said, there's a reason why diplomats don't broadcast what their leaders want said to another leader.

"Loose Lips Sink Ships"

My guess is that The New York Times and other news media have an explanation for (re)publishing WikiLeaks material this time. Offhand, I can think of a few more-or-less reasonable justifications:
  • 'The people have a right to know!'
    • Yes: but now?
  • 'WikiLeaks dumped this stuff on the Internet - we're just making a print copy'
    • Fact is, The New York Times and all are doing little but chronicle what's already happened
  • 'If we don't publish, someone else will'
    • There's something to that
    • The New York Times is in the business of selling newspapers, after all
That's not an exhaustive list of possible explanations, of course.

One reason I'm writing this post - and providing an excerpt of a Reuters article - is that 'the cat's out of the bag.' Those secret documents aren't secret any more.

The damage has been done: what remains is to sift through the wreckage and see if there's anything to be learned.

If that "loose lips sink ships" quote sounds familiar: You know your WWII history. Or read my May 11, 2010 post.

'Enlightened Self Interest'

Whatever effect it has on relations between countries whose leaders want to cooperate - it's something of a relief to know that so many world leaders have a grip on reality.

It's one thing for someone to argue that a criminal who kills in the course of a bank robbery is no criminal - that the robber is a warrior in the people's struggle with plutocratic oppressors and their lackeys. Or whatever excuse is fashionable at the moment.

When one of these idealists is in the bank that's being robbed, and urges the robber to kill everyone - including the idealist? That person is, in my opinion, heroically dedicated to some philosophy. Or seriously disturbed. Possibly both.

The Saudi king's remarks about Iran show, I think, that the House of Saud has at least one fairly sensible member. I don't envy Saudi Arabia's leadership, by the way: they seem to be caught between religious crazies in their own country, Iran, and a not-entirely-sensible lot of neighbors.

Compared with being in that position: dealing with a Minnesota winter is a piece of cake.

Now, an excerpt from the news item that set me off this evening:
"Saudi King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran's nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of U.S. diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.

"The more than 250,000 documents, given to five media groups by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, provide candid, tart views of foreign leaders and sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation filed by U.S. diplomats, according to The New York Times.

"Among the revelations in Britain's Guardian newspaper, which also received an advance look at the documents, King Abdullah is reported to have 'frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program.'

" 'Cut off the head of the snake,"' the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008.

"The leaked documents, the majority of which are from the last three years, also disclose U.S. allegations that China's Politburo directed an intrusion into Google's computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported.

"The newspaper also said documents report that Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and that the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the U.S. military for years, was the 'worst in the region' in counter-terrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December.

"The newspaper said many of the cables name diplomats' confidential sources, from foreign lawmakers and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning: 'Please protect' or 'Strictly protect.'

"The White House condemned the release of the documents, saying their release could endanger the lives of people who live under 'oppressive regimes' and 'deeply impact' the foreign policy interests of the United States and its allies.

" 'To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

" 'By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,' he said.

"Security analysts tended to agree that the release of the documents was a severe blow to U.S. diplomacy, undermining the confidentiality that is vital for foreign leaders and activists to talk candidly to U.S. officials...."
Related posts:In the news:


Bill in Chicago said...

The Saudis aren't just writing the checks. They have consistently been the ones pulling the trigger, as well:

Also, as for the Saudis recognizing Iran as a threat, the Wahhabis hate Shiites, whom they view as traitors to Islam no better (and no less worthy of death) than us Infidels. I'm sure there is nothing they would like to see more than the Infidels and the Heretics killing each other while they sit back and laugh their asses off (with the blood of 9/11 on their hands).

Brigid said...

Wrong word, or missing a word, or something: "all are doing little by chronicle what's already happened"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Wrong word. "By" should have been "but." And now it is. Thanks!

Brian H. Gill said...

Bill in Chicago,

The Reuters article's syntax, "Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda," may be taken to mean either persons in the House of Saud, citizens of Saudi Arabia, or residents of the country.

With a population of somewhat over 25,000,000 (, I think it's reasonable to assume that not all Saudis are members of the royal family - and that there is some diversity of opinion in the country. None-too-loudly expressed, considering the sort of government they've got.

As for the House of Saud preferring that outsiders fix their problems: You're probably right.

I'm not privy to the personal opinions of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and so don't know to what extent his foreign policy is dictated by religious views.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.