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WikiLeaks Reaction in Europe: Dismay, Concern but Not Much Alarm

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LONDON -- As news of the massive leak of secret U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks spreads like wildfire around the world, American politicians have reacted with outrage. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) wants to shut down Wikileaks, the brainchild of Julian Assange. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) wants it declared a terrorist organization. Over in Europe, however, where some of the leaked documents have the ability to do some real damage, reactions have been considerably more varied.

There is, understandably, some shock and concern that the information was so widely available within the various echelons of the U.S. government in the first place. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper -- which has published many of the Wikileaks revelations -- said Monday that numerous British diplomats he'd consulted with were "astonished" to learn that more than 2.5 million U.S. government personnel and soldiers, many of them extremely junior, were cleared to access such highly sensitive material. As he put it, the diplomats "had no sense that what the King of Saudi Arabia says in private could be read by a 22-year-old soldier in Baghdad."

Whether this free flow of diplomatic information within the U.S. government permanently damages U.S. relations with Europe is debatable. But Ruprecht Polenz, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union Party and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German federal parliament, thinks that it will. As he put it, "The U.S. must now move to reassure allies that they can be trusted. Otherwise, partners might not continue being open with them."

There is also the question of the image that these leaked documents project about American power and resolve abroad. According to staff writers at the German daily Der Spiegel -- which, along with The Guardian, France's Le Monde and The New York Times, is also releasing the documents this week -- the image that emerges from them is not one of an America that has "the world on a leash."

Rather, you see a "superpower that can no longer be certain of its allies." (This is a reference to countries such as Pakistan.) "Often enough, the lesson . . . is that the Arab leaders use their friends in Washington to expand their own positions of power." Or, as a Guardian columnist put it somewhat starkly: "The impression is of the world's superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden."

The leaked cables may also have some potentially significant policy implications. Take Israel. Alastair Campbell, a senior adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, argues that the cables could open the way for a tougher stance against Tehran among Western governments. As he posts on his blog: "I was left with the impression that anyone in the US system pushing for a hardening of the policy position vis-a-vis Iran would be able to build a lot of support for such a move."

Julian Assange, WikileaksAnd, indeed, Israel, is said to be quite delighted with the content of the leaks. These disclosures "don't hurt Israel at all -- perhaps the opposite," Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser to ex-prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, told Israeli radio. "If there is something on the Iranian issue that, in my opinion, happens to help Israel, it is that these leaks show that Arab countries like Saudi Arabia are far more interested in Iran than they are in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Pakistan, on the other hand, is decidedly less delighted with the content of the cables. Former Pakistani spy chief Hameed Gul has seized on cables indicating a U.S. desire to block Pakistan's nuclear program. Speaking to the Guardian, he said: "This confirms that the Americans haven't given up their pursuit, to try to snatch Pakistan's nuclear capability." (Already, Washington's new ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, offered a semi-apology for the cables in a newspaper.)

But the reactions to the document dump in Europe and elsewhere were not uniformly alarmist. Silvio Berlusconi, for example, apparently came in for some of the harshest criticisms from American diplomats stationed in Italy, who described him as "feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader." But upon reading these descriptions about himself, the Italian leader reportedly had "a good laugh."

Nor did the Brits appear to take the blunt disclosures about their government -- often negative -- terribly personally. There were secret cables covering everything ranging from Gordon Brown's perceived weakness and the coalition government's likely short-lived nature to "inappropriate behavior" by a member of the royal family and the sex life of one current government minister. But speaking to BBC Radio 4's "Today" program on Monday, former British Ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer called the leaks were far more embarrassing than damaging, as most of the facts were already widely known.

In this regard, perhaps the most trenchant commentary on the leaks so far came from the British Daily Telegraph's deputy editor, Benedict Brogan. For Brogan, the great lesson of all of this is that "occasional embarrassment is an occupational hazard in a 21st century marked by vast quantities of information circulating in all too accessible digital form." In other words, diplomacy in an information age is inherently prone to embarrassment.

You can say that again.

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Leon Stark

What little I got from the public discussion of the leaked communiques is that they sound like the snarky tweets of a a bunch of high-schoolers about each other, and a bunch of "Teacher, (so-and-so) is picking on me!" There were a few things that were trenchant, like the Saudi's concern about Iran and their ambitions, Pakistan and their questionable politics (which leads me to offer that American and NATO soldiers take over guarding the border between the two countries so they can concentrate on the issues at hand), and some other slightly embarrassing remarks about who can expect what from whom. A lot of what is labeled "Secret" is really to avoid embarrassment! To borrow from someone from a couple of generations past, Will Rogers, "Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip." "We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others." "Now if there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs." Will we NEVER learn?

December 16 2010 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Minister Ron

The United States has the ability to over throw regimes and nations, and we can not stop a cyper terrorist and anyone who supports him. I would look into some of our not so friendly friends may have supported them. Just follow the money.

December 08 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pia72553

Exactly.this is NOT NEWS.Anyone who's ever dealt with the intelligence community must be yawning right now. Never mind this crap--we've ALWAYS held our 'allies' in contempt.And they've nevber trusted US, EITHER--FOR GOOD REASON.

December 06 2010 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

There are many agenices in the consulates and embassies around the world and they converse with the State Dpt and their own agencies through the State Dpt cable system. Today's Washington Post outlined some of what the documents said concerning other countries. Pvt. Manning did not do this for money he did it to embarass his country. Already one diplomat has been shut out of a meeting because he was told it was secret and they could not trust an American presence. So much for it not hurting us. He is now in military custody and I hope he's tried for treason.

November 30 2010 at 3:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dc walker's comment
sailorstorme

What makes you think that our troops are not lied to, when they are recruited to die for 'all the wrong reasons'? What about Pat Tillman? So it's ok to lie to us when our sons invest patriotism and loyalty to country, citizens and God?

December 04 2010 at 6:34 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

Pvt. Bradley Manning, charge: Treason. Assange, charge: Espionage. Looks simple to me.

November 29 2010 at 8:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
weathwoods

So Joe Lieberman, the senator from Tel Aviv, wants to shut down WikiLeaks. What's the matter, Joe, afraid we'll learn just how much Israel controls our foreign policy?

November 29 2010 at 8:04 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
misterrs58

Surely more good will come out of this, than bad. It can be seen as a "wake up call" for many. And a lesson for others.

November 29 2010 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
misterrs58

Sometimes it's healthy or enlightening to know what others are saying or thinking about you, behind closed doors. Sure some people fear having put their foot in their mouth, but that's to be expected. Carry on!

November 29 2010 at 6:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
castleb

The present reactions to the Wikileaks issue run the gamut from the usual blame-Obama posts to the cries of "treason" on the part of Assange and company. Two questions need some answers: How? and Why? How did Wikileaks gain possession of so many sensitive documents? WHO or what were the sources? Since the documents range over several decades, what would they be filed and with what accessibility? Common sense dictates that we look for the source of a leak we want to plug. WHY would any citizen of the United States want to pass along material that is potentially damaging to our country? Assange, we are told, is Australian. What does he hope to gain? We are not dealing with well-intentioned whistle blowers, but with amoral, valueless people--unless the motivation is self-interest, simple greed or desire for notoriety. The Wikileaks machine does not appear to be motivvated by a love for the truth or of one's fellow man. Perhaps our reaction should be a re-examination or and re-dedication to our own priorities. Do we use "truth" to build up or to destroy? Are we motivated by pure self-interest or greed, patriotism or partisanship. Each of us has the responsiblity to promote the noble values we claim to believe in. The reaction abroad, according to Ms Lloyd, is little more than "so what else is new?" She concludes with the observation of one Brit: ". . . diplomacy in an information age is inherently prone to embarrassment." Gossip-mongering, along with vituperation and shocking displays of ignorance and lack of civility, are certainly readily displayed in a forum of the "information age" such as this. To the restoration of our values as a nation and a people, we might adapt the refrain of the hymn: "Let there be peace [civility, respect for others, true love of country] on earth, and let it begin with me."

November 29 2010 at 3:49 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to castleb's comment
dc walker

Pvt. Manning took a Lady Gaga disc into work, erased it and downloaded information, that simple.

November 29 2010 at 8:57 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
swemmonds

Yet another blemish on our current President... I am not a supporter, I would however, support whatever policy he deems necessary that would put an end to wikileak for good... IT MUST B STOPPED..... It is NOT excellent reporting, it is reckless, non-productive, and borderline treasonous behavior..... I am not certain of the motives for this, other than using "Freedom of Speech", as a shield, that allows the rotten S.O.B.s to make our government look foolish, and worse, surrendering top secret info. to anyone w/ a computer... The ramifications of this have yet to be realized,suffice to say that we are at more risk today, than we were y.day.... That alone is reason enough to put a stop to it...

November 29 2010 at 3:39 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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