Free Markets, Free People

Gates statement on Wikileaks release provides a dose of reality in foreign affairs

eriously, I really enjoyed reading what Sec. Gates had to say about why nations deal with the US and while the leaks are embarrassing and awkward, aren’t particularly significant.  I think his assessment of their impact is right on the mark:

But let me – let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.”

When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-’70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

Emphasis mine.

The reason I’ve highlighted that portion of the text is it speaks to something I’ve said for years and is an answer to those who claim we must be “liked” in the world community to be effective.

No.  We.  Don’t.

It isn’t at all important that we be “liked” by anyone  – to include our allies.  It is much more important that we be respected, feared and indispensible.  Being “liked” is simply not important in international affairs.  We can be friendly, a “friend”, an ally, and a supporter to other countries, but other countries don’t deal with us because they like or dislike us – they deal with us because of what we can do to them or for them depending on how they act toward us. 

Or said another way, they act in their own rational self interest, with “like” being so far down on the priority list that it isn’t worth mentioning.

However, whenever I hear a candidate, party or group talking about the importance of other countries “liking” us, I immediately tag them as hopelessly naïve and, if in power, dangerous to our best interests.

Gates’ statement is a bit of fresh air considering the Commander-in-Chief’s “like” priority.  Obviously he doesn’t have the final say in foreign policy decisions or our foreign policy priorities, but it is nice to see that there’s a least one adult in DC who, unlike the “reality based community” and their “reset” buttons, understands how (and why) the real world works.

~McQ

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13 Responses to Gates statement on Wikileaks release provides a dose of reality in foreign affairs

  • Exactly. It’s a mild embarrassment to the administration, without any measurable harm to American interests. Nothing for anybody on either side to get all that worked up about.

  • James Rubin seems to disagree …

    By and large, the hard left in America and around the world would prefer to see the peaceful resolution of disputes rather than the use of military force. World peace, however, is a lot harder to achieve if the U.S. State Department is cut off at the knees. And that is exactly what this mass revelation of documents is going to do.

    … or maybe it’s just a matter of what will work now.

    • I think Gate’s point is more valid than Rubin’s. Whether or not they like the leaks, whether or not they find the leaks to be of concern or are actually upset and mad about them, they’ll still understand and act upon the reality that it is in their best interest to deal with the US.

      Of course it would be helpful if the US moved to do something about these leaks (read Gate’s discussion of what they’re doing to make that happen in the cited transcript), but all in all, this isn’t going to change anything significantly as long as the US is recognized as a powerful entity with which they must deal. Right now, and regardless of the Wikileaks, that continues to be true.

  • The “Unanswered Question”  … has anybody identified the “Smart Diplomacy” fingerprints in any of these releases ?

  • Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another.

    This is too simplistic.  There are governments around the world who publicly tout their mistrust (if not outright hatred) of the United States for domestic political consumption even while they secretly cooperate with us from time to time.  Note the word “secretly”: governments in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and even France or Germany will not jeopardize their own viability by being openly cozy with Washington.  It’s one thing that “everybody knows”, for example, that Yemen quietly helps us with the WoT from time to time.  It’s quite another thing that everybody KNOWS that Yemen helped us kill particular terrorists (who are heroes to many Yemeni citizens) on particular dates.  It’s sort of like “knowing” that the guy down the street deals drugs; it’s another thing toKNOW when you see him trying to sell to your kids.

    So, yes: in certain circumstances, even unfriendly countries will cooperate with us.  I suggest that the Wikileaks affair has made it much less likely that they will do so.  Thanks, Assange, you self-righteous little pr*ck.!

    Gates’ analysis also leaves out the role of the individual.  What about the individual Pakistani or Iranian intelligence officer or diplomat who, for whatever reason, might be inclined to tell us things that we want to know?  What are the odds that he’ll do so in the future given the fact that his name might appear on Wikileaks or in the NYT?

    A final analogy: you witness a crime such as a drug deal or a gang killing or even something more pedestrian such as corporate fraud at your workplace.  It is in your interests, as a law abiding citizen, to cooperate with the police and tell them what you know so that the guilty can be caught and punished.  If you have reason to believe that your name will be leaked to the public, how likely are you to cooperate?

    • I’d contend they (who publicly tout their hatred) may “officially” refuse to deal with us while “unoffically” dealing with us as it serves their own interests. And that’s going on now. So I see nothing in the Gates statements that don’t reflect the reality of world affairs in a meta sense as they’re being conducted right now. Rational self-interest rules in the anarchy that is the world of nation states, and it is in the self-interest of those weaker than us and those who we can materially affect in any number of ways to deal with us diplomatically – even if the best they can do is to do so unofficially and through intermediaries.

      As for the individual problem I think Gates addresses that in his final sentence. There will be some “modest” effect. But, as we’ve learned over the centuries, money walks and BS … well you know the rest – long green solves a lot of “individual problems”. And don’t forget, it wasn’t the CIA that was compromised here – it was an classified/unclassified net with 3,000,000 users. You’d hardly report real hard intelligence by way of “diplomatic cable” on such a system. And besides, the State Department has an entirely separate system (called “Roger” I think) that wasn’t compromised (the Guardian article mentions it and mentions some cable traffic about the UK which was begun in the compromised system and apparently completed in the secure system, so they don’t know what the final answer was).

      • McQ - Rational self-interest rules in the anarchy that is the world of nation states, and it is in the self-interest of those weaker than us and those who we can materially affect in any number of ways to deal with us diplomatically – even if the best they can do is to do so unofficially and through intermediaries. [emphasis mine - dj505]

        “Unofficial” and “through intermediaries” are a polite ways of saying “secret” and “deniable”.  Thanks to Assange, Manning and the rest, there isn’t any expectation of secrecy when dealing with the United States any more.  Yes, countries will continue to cooperate with us, but the the potential costs to them – and, hence, to us – of doing so just went up.  A LOT.

        McQ[D]on’t forget, it wasn’t the CIA that was compromised here – it was an classified/unclassified net with 3,000,000 users. You’d hardly report real hard intelligence by way of “diplomatic cable” on such a system.

        No offense, but this is clintonian.  “Oh, it’s no big deal; it was only little secrets that everybody sort of knew anyway.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.”

        No.  It’s about SECRETS being exposed.  People, Americans and foreigners, said and wrote things that they didn’t want other people to know about.  Now, thanks to Manning and Assange and our own carelessness, EVERYBODY knows.  If we can’t be trusted to keep little secrets, why should we be trusted to keep ANY secrets?

        I suggest that it’s also an issue of respect.  We’ve just been made an international laughingstock by a disgruntled PFC and an Austrian pervert, and our humilation is made worse because we’re dithering and spluttering while we try to decide what to do about it.  We look like keystone cops, NOT a superpower.  Appearing incompetent, incoherent, and impotent does nothing to enhance our security.

  • What I find most amusing about the whole mess is the comments from random people who seem to be honestly shocked that diplomats were told to spy on other diplomats.
    Or that some governments other than the American one say one thing in while doing another. (These people are never shocked by claims that the American government is two-faced, naturally.)
    This would be purely amusing naivete, except that these same people want me to believe that they’re well-versed in the way the world works and I should take their policy ideas seriously.

  • always like gates, cept when he wanted to cancel the f22 and buy more f35s which are now going up in cost and delays, i also like his support to cancel efv and v-22, and future army combat victors. but if we are going rightfully take the axe to all these bloated and forever delayed mil programs i also want to see equal cuts in civilian sector programs as well. of course we will never see that happen….

  • Supporters of WikiLeaks around the world are downloading a file the site calls an insurance policy. The files are encrypted with a code so strong it’s unbreakable, even by governments.

    If anything happens to Assange or the website, a key will go out to unlock the files. There would then be no way to stop the information from spreading like wildfire because so many people already have copies.

  • Hidden behind the save-the-world rhetoric of the global climate change negotiations lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support; spying and cyberwarfare are used to seek out leverage.

    … leading some to …

    What really strikes us is the fact that all this Copenhagen/Cancun stuff has nothing to do with the Climate, or saving the World. It’s about political positioning, money, and plain old fascism cult promotion.