Should Hillary Clinton resign as secretary of state due to the WikiLeaks revelations
? My friend Jack Shafer at Slate makes a good case
. His reason: Clinton, like predecessor Condoleezza Rice, signed orders instructing U.S. foreign service officers to spy on the diplomats of other nations. Cables went out under her name telling State Department officials overseas to collect the fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans of African leaders, to obtain passwords, credit card numbers, and frequent flyer accounts used by foreign diplomats, and to gather private information on United Nations officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Diplomats are not spies (though spies do pose as diplomats). They do collect information -- by working contacts overseas, reviewing the local media, interacting with the population of the nations where they are stationed -- often acquiring intelligence that is as valuable, if not more so, than the secrets snatched by intelligence officials. But there is a line between a diplomat and a spook. The former uses aboveboard methods to find out what his or her government needs to know about other nations; the latter resorts to espionage, wiretaps, bribery, and other underhanded means. There are many reasons for keeping the two roles distinct. Diplomats are awarded immunity and can gain certain access overseas because they are not spies.
Now that the Clinton State Department has blurred the line, U.S. diplomats, who have to contend with the assumption that any U.S. official abroad is really
working for the CIA, will have an additional burden to bear when doing their jobs overseas.
Of the many WikiLeaks revelations that have emerged in the past few days -- and more are to come in the next few months, as the renegade website continues to release batches of the 251,287 State Department cables it has obtained -- the news that U.S. diplomats have been turned into part-time spies certainly warrants thorough investigation. Obama administration officials, of course, have tried to make the leak itself the paramount issue
. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised prosecutions if "we can find anybody involved in breaking American law." Clinton has called the leak "an attack on America's foreign policy interests," claiming it has endangered "innocent people." Republican Rep. Peter King urged
Clinton to determine if WikiLeaks can be designated a terrorist organization. Sen. Joe Lieberman has called on the United States and other governments to shut down
WikiLeaks. Sarah Palin, naturally, blamed President Barack Obama's "incompetence"
for the leaks, as she erroneously equated
this episode with a website posting pages of her new book without her permission.
Yet there have not been such passionate calls for investigating the transformation of U.S. diplomats into undercover snoops. The administration's strategy -- as is to be expected -- is to focus on the easy-to-demonize messenger, not the hard-to-explain message. But Diplomatgate ought to be a top priority for the oversight committees of Congress. Still, this part of the story could easily get lost in the WikiLeaks wash, as multiple revelations appear simultaneously: Arab nations practically encouraging Washington to back an attack on Iran, U.S. diplomats describing Afghan President Hamid Karzai as "driven by paranoia," and -- don't forget this one -- Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi traveling the world with a "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse. The diplomats-into-spies news is a scandal on its own. But thanks to WikiLeaks fire-hose approach, this exposé is somewhat overshadowed by the entire documents dump.
As for Clinton, WikiLeaks' scattershot approach is probably helping her. Shafer contends,
No matter what sort of noises Clinton makes about how the disclosures are "an attack on America" and "the international community," as she did today
, she's become the issue. She'll never be an effective negotiator with diplomats who refuse to forgive her exuberances, and even foreign diplomats who do forgive her will still regard her as the symbol of an overreaching United States. Diplomacy is about face, and the only way for other nations to save face will be to give them Clinton's scalp. . . .
There is no way that the new WikiLeaks leaks don't leave Hillary Clinton holding the smoking gun. The time for her departure may come next week or next month, but sooner or later, the weakened and humiliated secretary of state will have to pay.
In many other nations, news such as this would indeed prompt resignations of high officials. The United States does not have this noble tradition. Here, government officials hold on for dear life when trouble erupts. (How many U.S. officials resigned when it turned out the Bush-Cheney administration was wrong about WMDs in Iraq? None.) So one can expect Clinton to dig in her heels, as the administration decries the leaker and ignores the leaks. (And with Obama in a weak position politically after the 2010 elections, he's not likely to shove aside a woman who's still fancied by much of his party's base.) Perhaps the coming WikiLeaks leaks will cause additional difficulties for Clinton. But given the ADD of the national media, she probably can survive the current storm. Shafer has a sound argument, but I'd settle for seeing Clinton and subordinates grilled on Capitol Hill about the spookification of U.S. diplomats. But that's probably as likely as the White House inviting Julian Assange
to a holiday party.
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