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.
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.