The Scarlet Pimpernel of Cyberspace
by Eric Margolis
by Eric Margolis: Korea
Gives the World a Big Scare
him here, they seek him there,
The G-Men seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven, or is he in hell?
Where’s that damned elusive Pimpernel?
(with apologies to Baroness Orczy)
The famed fictional
Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., enraged revolutionary France
by snatching aristocrats from the jaws of the guillotine. Our modern
version, a curious Australian name Julian Assange, has outraged
the United States and given its citizens a chance to see its government
at work abroad – and it’s not a pretty sight.
the screams from official Washington and angry Republicans about
violations of security. Bureaucrats the world over hate like crazy
to see their blunders, double-dealing and incompetence exposed to
But far from
the "9/11 of diplomacy," as Italy’s overexcited Italian
foreign minister proclaimed, so far the WikiLeaks revelations don’t
offer much that is new – at least to this veteran journalist and
intelligence observer. Lots of amusing gossip, yes, but no bombshells
– yet. And a rather melancholy view of an empire that seems on its
may be shocked by reading about Washington’s heavy-handed treatment
of friends and foes alike, its bullying, use of diplomats as junior-grade
spies, narrow-minded views, and snide remarks about world leaders.
But more Americans seem annoyed by the leaks than by the imperial
diplomatic hubris of their elected government.
century American cynic Ambrose Bierce aptly defined diplomacy as,
"the patriotic art of lying for one’s country."
given the public a badly needed sharper view of Afghanistan as a
cesspool of corruption and drug-dealing. Americans who believe government
agitprop about building democracy and human rights in Afghanistan,
should be particularly shocked and dismayed.
It was also
interesting to see US diplomatic cables showing many of Pakistan’s
politicians and senior generals as little better than obsequious
house servants for Uncle Sam. More Pakistanis will now believe their
nation has indeed been virtually occupied by the United States.
The new anthem
of Pakistan’s government should be the old calypso song, "Working
for the Yankee dollar!"
professionals, WikiLeaks showed business as usual in US foreign
policy. They reaffirm that great powers really want obedience, not
international cooperation or improved relations.
Even the British
came across looking more like Jeeves the Butler than our equal partners
in the hallowed – and quite spurious – "special relationship."
The French will take special delight in this embarrassing portrait
of "perfide Albion."
joined the US State Department many eons ago, I understood that
the cables released by WikiLeaks were written by career diplomats
who invariably follow the State Department’s current party line.
These cables are official bureaucratic reporting, not independent
fact, as most people wrongly believe. They tell Washington exactly
what it wants to hear.
Gone for good
are the days when outspoken senior diplomats used to advise Washington
it was badly mistaken, or present a very different view of events.
For a diplomat,
telling Washington it’s wrong is a surefire way to get transferred
to the US Embassy in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, or Monrovia, Liberia.
Or face the end of one’s career. That’s why I decided not to take
up a job offered me on State’s Mideast desk.
I’ve seen US
and British diplomats fired or sidelined who dared speak the truth
or oppose the party line. When Hillary Clinton tells you Uzbekistan
is a flowering democracy, you better believe her and keep repeating
so far there have been no big surprises from WikiLeaks. Note the
total absence of any criticism of Israel in spite of the fact that
it is so deeply involved in making US Mideast policy. In fact, we
have seen Israel’s viewpoint, particularly towards Iran, woven through
WikiLeaks – and no dissenting opinions.
policy should be built on the productive conflict of thesis, antithesis,
and the resulting synthesis. When every diplomat sings from the
same script, something is very wrong.
US Arab allies
were also treated with kid gloves. Not a peep to date about rigged
elections in Egypt, human rights violations by Israel, torture by
Morocco or about Algeria’s exceptionally brutal regime that even
proudly called itself, "the eradicators."
were depicted as snarling in private about Iran’s nuclear program.
In fact, the Gulf Arabs do not fear Iran’s nuclear policies so much
as the threat of Iranian-style Islamic revolution that would sweep
away the corrupt Arab oil monarchs, our local satraps, and replace
them by populist Islamic regimes that would not jump to Washington’s
tune or buy tens of billions of American arms they cannot use.
But what we
get is all Iranian nuclear threat, all the time. The Arab oil monarchs
do not speak for their people, any more than Egypt’s US-backed dictator,
Husni Mubarak, represents his heavily-police people. Note there
was not a peep of protest from Washington over this weekend’s crudely
rigged "election" farce in Egypt.
Turkey being a "terrorist state" were absurd. Turkey is
fast emerging as a major power under the most effective democratic
government it has ever had and should remain a key US ally.
So was the
claim that China favorably views a US-South Korean takeover of North
Korea. This is either arrant nonsense or a devious Chinese ploy
to confuse US policy makers.
something about WikiLeaks that smells nasty to me. I sense the leaks
have been heavily censored, or cherry-picked before the public saw
them. Much seems to be missing. But what these missing pieces are
remains an unknown.
the New York Times, one of the recipients of the entire leak
package of thousands of cables, appeared to use them selectively
to push its pro-war position in Afghanistan and press for war against
Iran. The "revelations" brought cheers from the war party.
But where was
information about involvement of Afghanistan’s Tajik-Uzbek Northern
Alliance, the key US ally there, in running the drug trade? Or the
influential Afghan Communist Party?
Call them the
dogs that didn’t bark.
The US media
and Congress have been blasting WikiLeaks for "treason"
or "terrorism," and demanding it be silenced – while gleefully
using parts of the leaks to promote war against Iran. US media and
Congress seem to have forgotten about free speech. Or the right
of Americans to know what their government is really up to around
Some of America’s
dimmer Republican politicians called for charges of "terrorism"
against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Terrorism has become America’s
catch-all charge for annoying or rebellious activity, much as the
Soviets used to charge people with being "enemies of the state."
or groups forcefully opposing US policy abroad is now branded "terrorist"
and added to Washington’s blacklist. I refuse to use the term, "terrorist,"
preferring instead, "anti-American," which is far more
accurate. President George W. Bush made the US detested or scorned
around the globe. After a surge of hope, President Barack Obama
failed to ameliorate America’s battered image.
Lots of anti-Americans
out there, but we can’t brand them all "terrorists" or
we will be fighting the world in a hopeless struggle.
over WikiLeaks may also well spur efforts by the hard right to impose
censorship on the Internet, which has replaced the fawning corporate
media as the people’s tribune.
the WikiLeaks furor comes as the combined 16 US intelligence agencies
are reportedly preparing to release a new National Intelligence
Estimate (NIE) unanimously concluding Iran is not building nuclear
weapons. Quite a coincidence, to say the least.
sources say this latest NIE reconfirms the previous 2007 NIE finding
that Iran had ceased all development of nuclear arms four years
earlier. Before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, CIA and UN reports
that Saddam Hussein’s regime had no weapons of mass destruction
were ignored or covered up by the Bush White House, which was racing
Now, a fierce
struggle over the next NIE is raging in Washington between groups
urging war against Iran and the US intelligence community and elements
in the Pentagon. There are still officials in Washington who put
America’s national interests first and resist bending to political
pressure or financial inducements.
upright Adm. Dennis Blair, the last US national intelligence director,
was reportedly ousted because he refused to endorse claims Iran
was making nuclear weapons.
Obama appears to have ducked this explosive issue. Politically wounded
and unable to fully control all the levers of presidential power,
Obama seems unwilling or unable to stand up to the pro-war party.
WikiLeaks is at least doing in part what America’s elected leaders
and supposed free media should have been doing: telling citizens
what’s really going on.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2010 Eric Margolis
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