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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pulp diplomacy: The reality behind the mirage

Published: December 3, 2010
Section: Opinions

Phrases like “cut off the head of the serpent” are rarely pedaled in the days of modern diplomacy. In fact, the only time one hears of such phrases used by representatives of sovereign nations usually occurs with diplomatic outliers like Iran and North Korea. Living in the world of political correctness, when a single governmental representative says anything that directly disparages a state, it becomes a large scandal, even when the criticism is largely true. The idea is that in diplomacy nations ought be civil in the public’s eye to avoid inciting any anger. Even when two nations are enemies—such as the United States and North Korea, both are careful to avoid pushing the other country too far diplomatically. I realize that North Korea often lashes out at the United States but in the end, it is always diplomatically pliable (although one more provocative move prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back).

It was not always this way. When the Soviet Union was around, the United States and the U.S.S.R. would commonly express their hatred for each other in the open over diplomatic airwaves. The language of destruction was sprinkled in with the radioactive dust from the nuclear weapons tests. Today, if a nation were to test a nuclear weapon, it would nearly be considered a declaration of war. Naturally, before the Cold War, nations were even bolder in their diplomatic language as nations would commonly brush up against each other in wars large and small. Yet now we live in a gentrified world where the fiery rhetoric of yesteryear occurs behind closed doors. While they smile for photo ops together in public, privately, diplomats seethe. War is to be avoided at all cost and diplomacy is the law of the land. And in the land of diplomacy, everyone is generally civil to each other for the public, scowling only when the cameras turn away.

The Wikileaks scandal, above all else, has given us a glimpse into a world that we could previously only theorize about. Suddenly, the shimmering mirage that appeared before us has lifted and we have discovered that much of what was once assumed has been merely a shadow play. Take the example of Iran. Before Wikileaks was released, the denunciation of Iran’s nuclear program was largely believed to be based almost solely in Israel. The United States used some rhetoric and tried to get sanctions against the rogue state but it was believed by many to mostly be an attempt to appease Israel. An attack against Iran was believed to be the catalyst that would unite the entire Middle East against the United States and Israel. Yet after the Wikileaks cables were leaked, we now know that, at least in the United States’ view, virtually all of the Arab world is scared to death of their neighbor in the east and many Arab countries are just as eager to derail Iran’s nuclear program as Israel. Gone in a day are months of speculation based on cracks in the façade that is world diplomacy.

Furthermore, the Wikileaks scandal has confirmed what many of us had already gleaned from the few glances we have had at political reality. For example, the political disaster that is the Afghani government has been confirmed to be just as corrupt as suspected. While it is vaguely depressing to discover that for the most part, the worst assumptions about the Afghani state are mostly true, at least now it is in the open. Many other well known bits of classified information, such as Israel’s distrust of Iran, and the United States’ perception of many countries around the world have been confirmed as well.

Julian Assange, the shadowy and now wanted founder of Wikileaks, has uncovered a gigantic can of worms when it comes to the release of these cables. The diplomatic world, so used to the soothing civility of diplomatic language, is in shock over the leak of the truths behind the boring platitudes. Suddenly many countries have found that sentiments meant to be expressed behind closed doors only have found their way into the open. Diplomats and governments all over are scrambling to see exactly where they truly stand with their contemporaries. Yesterday’s throwaway comment in a confidential meeting has become today’s front page news.

The most pressing question before us as we move forward is not whether Julian Assange should be prosecuted or how to protect ourselves from these leaks in the future. In the end, leaks like this are bound to happen in the world of modern technology. It only took one rogue private working with confidential files to deliver the largest dump of declassified intelligence since the Pentagon Papers. The real question moving forward is how the diplomats will replace their masks and what realignments will be made in the ashes of the old veneer. Is an Israeli-Arab alliance against Iran possible considering they are both aiming for the same objectives? Will the United States try to remove Hamid Karzai from power? Finally, how will these leaks affect the ability of America to use soft power t get things done? It is hard to convince countries to enter into negotiations with you when they risk finding their confidential musings on the front page of The New York Times.

In the end, the only clear winners of this entire scandal appear to be the wonky public at large. Millions of readers like myself who follow the news are still sorting through the cables which illuminates the world in which the media could only shine the occasional flashlight. I am not in favor of further leaks of sensitive information but, like most of my peers, I will not hesitate to peruse any future leaked information in order to better understand the true nature of the world around me.