01 December 2010

Writing - Wikileaks

I was pleased to see the New York Times selected a quick little comment of mine as the highlight among 892 comments first day or so of publication by them of extracts from the Wikileaks revealed US diplomatic cables. 


In case that link goes astray, here is my comment (I have corrected spelling of Harlod to Harold here):




HIGHLIGHT (what's this?)
Dennis Argall
Australia
November 29th, 2010
5:31 pm


As a former Australian foreign service officer, accustomed in the past to working closely with US foreign service officers, often sharing each other's cables, I have enjoyed reading cables you released on 28 November. While my government has been doing the obligatory tut-tut, as a private citizen now I believe that the exposure of these texts in this way will redound to US benefit.


It will not hurt those mentioned to hear what is thought of them, especially when State is not guilty of saying it publicly. It will not hurt others to know your officials are hard to fool.
It will be to the general good for the public, including journalists and academics, to see the quality and insight of diplomatic traffic. There is a serious problem in academic as well as media discussion in that so much of it is divined and theorised from inadequate peripheral information. Now it is possible to see how officials build policy and strategy layer by layer, in dialogue with their own government and officials of others.
Do be conscious, in reading it all, though, of the observation of the late Sir Harold Nicholson, doyen of the UK foreign service and writer on diplomacy, that in all the foreign ministry documents in all the world that he had seen, he had never seen a record of conversation in which the person taking the record did not win.
Be open at the Times to fresh perspectives on US power - you suggest the US has lined up Arab states on Iran but it is possible also to see a USA being played like a trout by very powerful and smart Arabs.
If this information elevates debate on the issues, if there is any increased respect for the business of diplomacy, that will be good, for the US and the rest of us. The role of the US in the world is not being 'challenged' so much as being changed and reduced, quite rapidly. More than ever before, it is not possible for the US to say 'this is my role' any more than it is possible to retreat to isolation and indignation. There are real jobs to be done, which cannot be done by people drunk on tea.