Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Exciting Leaks, but Where Are the Secrets? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Once again, ‘Wikileaks’ has showered us with a torrent of documents. This time, the leaks are more exciting; as previous documents were boring military statements, whilst the latest leak reveals government cables and extremely weighty reports from the US State Department. A few days ago, I spent much time reading them, like a child in a sweet shop, for it was a real pleasure. However, having spent the whole day reading, or rather, having run out of steam, I wondered: Have I unearthed one significant secret in these documents? No, not yet.

I did not come across a single scandalous piece of information, perhaps revealing a clandestine operation, or a diplomatic conspiracy, although there could in fact be many of them. No political opinions were revealed, different to what we already know. No one has been secretly working with Israel, none of Iran’s ‘opponents’ have been working in its favour, and enemies of the United States have not offered America any secret concessions. Nevertheless, the documents do include much new and exciting information. There is a difference between scandalous information, and information that could cause a scandal. Disclosing a military or diplomatic secret is different from leaking information that simply causes embarrassment to whoever was involved. All the documents leaked so far have been embarrassing, and nothing more. Arab positions have been exposed, yet the leaked documents only confirm what we already suspected.

Of course, I must admit that it is too early to form a conclusive opinion, whilst we are yet to finish with the first drop of leaked documents. An ocean of secret memos and cables remains to be examined, and this process will take months.

Rather than searching for a controversial secret, readers can content themselves with the fact that these documents are highly significant. At the very least, we are reading diplomatic history, 30 years prior to when such information is traditionally released by the U.S. State Department, which further adds to the significance and value of the leaked cables.

We can also learn about the language of American diplomatic dialogue, which seems to be frank and explicit, even regarding the most difficult issues. We usually only see closed doors, whilst photographers sit outside official offices. We only hear brief, official reports, or meaningless American statements. The documents can help us to ‘fill in the gaps’, by referring back to each cable, and linking it to the event it is related to.

We can also gain a clearer image of Arab, regional and U.S. diplomacy. By reading the leaked correspondence, we become acquainted with the individuals involved, and we can further understand the nature of tension and reconciliation. In reality, we have not uncovered any surprises, but thanks to the leaked information, we have become more knowledgeable, and our preconceptions have been confirmed. From reading the document regarding the Syrian President’s meeting with members of the American Senate, we can notice the same officially declared Syrian attitudes towards Iran, security and the negotiations, but in a more casual, draft format. This kind of dialogue can also be observed in the memos detailing Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz’s meeting with the US Presidential Aide for Security Affairs. The talks focused on concerns over Iran, Yemen’s security problems, and the Saudi admission that it had problems with the United States. However, the King went on to say that “the problems have not reached the bone”, meaning that they are solvable. Even the Qatari Prime Minister has used unconventional language, in a memo in which he described Iranian officials as being very “difficult”. This came as a response to Qatari accusations that the Iranians had brought up irrelevant topics, during negotiations over a joint natural gas well, being shared by the two countries.

The leaked documents provide an opportunity for those who do not work in foreign ministries, to read policies and correspondence in its true form, and not as it is reported in official statements, or by journalists.