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Damage limited after Wikileaks revelations

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Damage limited after Wikileaks revelations

European papers focus on gossip in U.S. State Department documents

  • Wikileaks Editor in Chief Julian Assange
    bbwbryant/FlickrWikileaks Editor in Chief Julian Assange

LONDON — After a 72-hour build up that would have been the envy of any professional publicist, the latest trove of secret documents from Wikileaks has washed up in Europe. So far the impact has been negligible.

The set of a quarter of a million documents from the State Department was published simultaneously in four European journals — Britain's The Guardian, France's Le Monde, Spain's El Pais and Germany's Der Spiegel — as well as in the New York Times.

So far the main headlines have focused on American diplomats' gossipy assessments of political players around the world. The gossip is decidedly at the level of a slow day on Gawker.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is described as an emperor without any clothes. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is described as risk averse and rarely creative. Russian President Vladimir Putin is an "alpha dog." In reaction to these assessments the average news-aware citizen would probably say, "Well, duh."

That didn't stop Der Spiegel from describing the leaked documents as, "an event that is no less than a political meltdown for United States foreign policy ... ." The Guardian gave over its front page to the story under the banner headline: "250,000 leaked files that lay bare US view of world."

The British papers that didn't get the scoop hyped it even more. The first part of the ultra-right-wing Daily Mail's headline screamed, "The Diplomatic 9/11." But the paper focused on the core concern of its readership, the Royal family: "Prince Andrew Caught in Wikileaks Scandal as Biggest Security Breach in History Reveals U.S. Contempt for the World."

Apparently, the documents include a cable that says Andrew, the United Kingdom's special trade representative, indulges in "inappropriate" and "rude behavior" when abroad.

Somehow the furor of the front pages didn't ruffle Britain's Foreign Office, which offered two sentences of official comment: "We condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the U.K. They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the U.S. have said, may put lives at risk." And, "We have a very strong relationship with the U.S. government. That will continue." France's foreign affairs department similarly reaffirmed its commitment to strong ties to the United States.

The U.S. Embassy in London didn't seem to be under siege from reporters this morning either, nor was it scrambling to spin the impact of the leaks on America's diplomatic business.

Beyond the gossip, the most interesting point contained in the cables, most of which were sent over the last seven years, was the confirmation that leaders of the Arab world are deeply fearful about Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and have urged the United States to strike at Iran's burgeoning nuclear facilities and "cut off the head of the snake" in the words of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

The political leadership of the Sunni world has long had concerns about the growing influence of Shia Iran. But the cables make clear that the leaders have been urging the United States to do precisely what Israel has been urging the United States to do: rain missiles down on Natanz and other Iranian nuclear facilities rather than hope for diplomatic negotiations with the Iranian government to get it to give up its push for nuclear weapons.

This raises the question of how the Arab leadership would respond to an Israeli attack on Iranian facilities — an option the Israeli government says it will not back away from.

Other points of interest include cables detailing the Chinese government's concern over the increasingly dangerous and intractably weird behavior of the North Korean government. With tensions on the Korean peninsula higher than at any time since the Korean War, it will be interesting to see if this concern affects China's actions in the coming weeks.

In Der Spiegel, the cables relating to Turkey — Germany has a large Turkish immigrant population — have received prominent play. The institutional biases of the State Department are on display. American assessments of the Turkish government are harsh. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is described as surrounded by an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisers." They call Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu "exceptionally dangerous." It's not the most diplomatic way to describe the leaders of the NATO member that has the second largest army in the alliance.

More Wikileaks revelations are promised in the coming days. But it is hard to imagine them doing much to damage America's international interests. If anything, they are likely to further damage the already fraught relations between the State Department and the Defense Department. The leaks are believed to be part of a trove a documents leaked by Bradley Manning, an American soldier who worked as an intelligence analyst. Manning is currently in solitary confinement awaiting a court-martial.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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