We always knew that international affairs was full of hypocrisy and double standards; now we see it on public display.
Understandably, WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has become the subject of intense American fury. Not since Osama bin Laden has anyone managed to stir up such ire.
Neo-conservative ‘mullahs’ in the US quickly labelled him a “terrorist” and wondered why he was still alive. Some called for his execution while others urged that Assange be pursued with the same urgency that was devoted to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
In America such talk is, of course, called free speech; if it came from other countries it would be condemned as an unholy ‘fatwa’ equal to the one against Salman Rushdie decades ago. Perhaps the leaked cables should be renamed “Wikiverses.”
But kudos to Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd for standing up for Assange. I wish more countries would stand up for their citizens that way.
The US marshalled its economic might to try to shut Assange down. Corporations like Visa, Paypal and Amazon quickly fell into line, behaving more like employees of the US government than the international corporations they are supposed to be.
When China insisted that Google should censor itself within China, it was accused of undermining free speech and interfering with the operations of a multinational. Secretary Clinton opined that “even in authoritarian countries information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, things are a little different.
Washington also seems to expect that everyone should support US law and join the assault against Assange. The message the Americans are now getting is that the world does not feel obliged to protect the secrets of other nations. It’s open season when it comes to state secrets.
The leaks from Singapore, of course, grabbed our attention. While there was high praise for China, Singaporean officials appear to have only contempt for other Asian countries.
Their assessment of the situation in Malaysia was particularly damning. Singapore officials including Mr. Bilahari Kausikan, the permanent secretary of the foreign ministry, infamously described Malaysia as “confused and dangerous,” while our leaders were considered “incompetent” and “opportunistic.”
Some Malaysians might, of course, share this view but it is always galling when it comes from across the causeway.
Diplomats are naturally expected to speak their minds in private but once private conversations become public, they cannot be ignored.
Was the diplomatic equivalent of a slap on the wrist that was delivered by our foreign minister to the high commissioner for Singapore sufficient to assuage national pride?
Bilahari should have been told, in no uncertain terms, that he would not be welcomed in Malaysia for the time being. Certainly the December 22nd meeting of the Joint Implementation Team should have been postponed.
After all, how can we welcome so quickly someone who is so contemptuous of us?
How things have changed but that’s diplomacy for you.
The leaks reveal many other interesting facets of international politics as well.
American ambassadors, for example, dutifully reported back to Washington an array of human rights abuses in their respective countries. Their reports detailed cases of torture, abuse and murder. Yet, there was often no corresponding outrage from Washington.
It only strengthens the view that America is selective in how it handles human rights abuses.
Iran, for example, has been rightly castigated for a long list of human rights violations, but, as the leaked reports indicate, such abuses are pretty common in many Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries as well.
It would appear that governments that are supportive of the US are given greater latitude to abuse their own people than those which do not.
If the leaked reports are accurate, they also expose the hypocrisy of the British who make much of the genocide in Sudan while doing little about the more than US$9bil (RM28bil) (1/10th of Sudan’s GDP) that Sudan’s president has reportedly stashed away in British banks.
Business is business, I suppose.
As well, the leaks reveal how embassies gather dirt on foreign leaders. One leader was caught by Dubai customs with US$52mil (RM159mil) in cash. Another leader was alleged to have eight Swiss bank accounts.
Private wheeling and dealing by leaders, high-level cases of nepotism, rape, murder, sexual peccadillos and corruption were all carefully noted.
And this mainly from overt sources, i.e. through diplomatic channels. One has to wonder what foreign intelligence agencies like the CIA must be gathering through covert and other means.
Such information could badly compromise the leaders concerned and render them susceptible to coercion and blackmail at critical times.
Think what that could mean for the independence and sovereignty of many states.
Perhaps, that which is sometimes hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough might simply be the result of common blackmail.
We like to think that diplomacy is about noble values, grand principles and great visions, but it really is about narrow national interests, itself an ill-defined set of objectives that is best known only to those who get to define it.
Diplomatically Speaking, The Star