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Yesterday I wrote that international diplomacy was experiencing a crisis of confidence, as the majority of the U.S. cables posted on the ‘Wikileaks’ website are a major embarrassment to politicians around the world. More importantly, the cables have put the national security of a number of countries at risk, and have made the tasks of diplomatic communication, and security cooperation to combat terrorism, more difficult. The leaks will also be a source of panic in the economic sector, especially as information indicates that ‘Wikileaks’ intends to publish specific documents about a U.S. bank.

Yet the ‘Wikileaks’ documents were even more damaging, when they revealed that international diplomacy, contrary to what some people think, is a community of gossip. Whilst some believed it was a high-class, educated, articulate community, full of insight and vision, the reality is closer to the plot of a sensationalist novel. Of course, no one is naïve enough to assume that diplomats do not monitor facts and information about their counterparts, whatever their importance, or country. For example, there is a profile, or personal record, for each leader or international official, to get to know his way of thinking, and his style. However, this does not involve gathering information about the credit card details of diplomatic counterparts, for example. The language of diplomats is supposed to be more prudent, in other words, more diplomatic.

It is true that some of the documents make entertaining reading, as one western politician said, and it may help to provide an insight into the mentality of leaders, or politicians, but we cannot learn anything constructive from this process. As the Singapore Foreign Ministry said, taking such information out of context will only lead to a state of confusion, and will not provide the full picture.

From reading the leaked memos, it feels as if some diplomats start their day reading the British ‘Sun’ newspaper, a publication specializing in celebrity scandals and gossip in British society. Some of the memos talk at length about the wedding of an oil dealer in a western country, with specific points about dancing, how to dance, alcoholic beverages, food and clothes. It is as if the reader was reading gossip in a café, and not a diplomatic memo. Worst of all are the words used to describe certain world leaders, which can be described as unusual at best.

This is not an ideal comparison, but when we compare the leaked U.S. cables with documents that have been released in Britain over the past 30 years; we find that British cables, most often, do not exceed four lines. They are written in concise, diplomatic language, which summarizes the situation without trivial matters or slander. Meanwhile, we find that the U.S. cables use condescending language, and expressions that have no place in the diplomatic dictionary.

In summary, the documents reveal that diplomacy is suffering a crisis, yet this crisis lies within the diplomats themselves. It seems that diplomats will no longer enjoy the social status they once assumed, when they were seen as elite, or prestigious. Today, they will provide a rich source of comedy material for TV shows in the west, and most importantly, in the eyes of the public. It is clear today that diplomacy, like other areas, is suffering from low levels of education and culture.

According to a specialist – a former senior official – the art of diplomacy itself was already suffering prior to the leaks, and the U.S. cables merely intensify its difficult reality. The diplomatic picture has already been greatly distorted.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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