Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has positioned himself as a left-wing whistleblower whose life mission is to call the United States to task for the evil it has wreaked throughout the world. But after poring through the diplomatic cables revealed via the site yesterday, one might easily wonder if Assange isn’t instead a clandestine agent of Dick Cheney and Bibi Netanyahu; whether his muckraking website isn’t part of a Likudnik plot to provoke an attack on Iran; and if PFC Bradley Manning, who allegedly uploaded 250,000 classified documents to Wikileaks, is actually a Lee Harvey Oswald-like neocon patsy.
With all due apologies to Oliver Stone (and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey), what the Wikileaks documents reveal is not a conspiracy of any kind but a scary and growing gap between the private assessments of American diplomats and allies in the Middle East and public statements made by U.S. government officials. The publication of these leaked cables is eerily reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed a decade-long attempt by U.S. officials to distort and conceal unpalatable truths about the Vietnam War, and manipulate public opinion. The difference is that while the Pentagon Papers substantially vindicated the American left, the Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right.
Here are eight of the most obvious examples from the initial trove of documents that has appeared online:
1. While the Israelis are deeply concerned about Iran’s march toward a nuclear program, it is in fact the Arabs who are begging the United States to “take out” Iranian installations through military force, with one United Arab Emirates official even proposing a ground invasion. Calling Iran “evil,” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urged the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” by attacking Iranian nuclear installations.
2. It is not just Israeli leaders who believe Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reminiscent of Hitler; U.S. officials think so too, as do Arab leaders, who use the Hitler analogy to warn against the dangers of appeasing Iran.
3. North Korea, an isolated country that enjoys substantial diplomatic and economic backing from China, is supplying Iran with advanced ballistic missile systems that would allow an Iranian nuclear warhead to hit Tel Aviv—or Moscow—with a substantial degree of accuracy. Taken in concert with the North Korean-built nuclear reactor in Syria, it would appear that North Korea—acting with the knowledge and perhaps direct encouragement of China—is playing a significant and deliberate role in the proliferation of nuclear equipment and ballistic delivery systems in the Middle East.
4. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a model Middle Eastern leader who has found the right admixture of religious enthusiasm and democracy, as U.S. government officials often like to suggest in public, but “an exceptionally dangerous” Islamist. U.S. diplomats have concluded that Erdogan’s anti-Israel rhetoric is not premised on domestic Turkish electioneering or larger geo-strategic concerns but rather on a personal, visceral hatred of Israel.
5. Tehran has used the cover of the ostensibly independent Iranian Red Crescent—a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, whose pledge of neutrality allows it access to war zones—to smuggle weapons and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force into Lebanon during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, and into Iraq, to fight against U.S. soldiers.
6. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman are more worried about Hamas than about Israel and are staunchly opposed to the expansion of Iranian influence in the region.
7. The Amir of Qatar is a dubious ally, who plays Washington and Tehran off each other. “The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100.”
8. America’s Arab allies do not believe that the Barack Obama Administration can separate Syria from Iran through any foreseeable combination of carrots and sticks. According to one cable, the UAE’s Sheik Mohamed Bin Zayed “showed no confidence that Syria could be separated from the Iranian camp” and quoted him directly as saying “If you want my opinion … I think not.” He advised that Syria would continue hedging on key regional issues (Iran, support for Hezbollah, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process) for the foreseeable future.
If these cables make many on the right look prescient, or at least in touch with reality, it is hardly a surprise that their domestic U.S. rivals are trying to spin the Wikileaks cables to their own advantage. For instance, leftwing academic specialists on the Middle East who have argued that the peace process is the key issue in the region and that the Gulf Arab states do not want the United States or Israel to bomb Iran are nonetheless celebrating the Wikileaks documents, even as their argument is now vitiated. Some university professors claim that their analysis is better than those of Washington’s Arab allies anyway. The New York Times is trying to make the case that in the wake of George W. Bush’s mismanagement the Obama Administration has managed to build a strong sanctions regime against Iran that includes Russia and China. Unfortunately, the cables prove only that Russian envoys are working to frustrate the U.S. effort by selling the Iranian position to the Arabs.
What comes through most strongly from the Wikileaks documents, however, is that U.S. Middle East policy is premised on a web of self-justifying fictions that are flatly contradicted by the assessments of American diplomats and allies in the region. Starting with Bush’s second term and continuing through the Obama Administration, Washington has ignored the strong and repeated pleas of its regional allies—from Jerusalem to Riyadh—to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Perhaps the most disturbing revelation in the documents is the extent to which both the Bush and Obama Administrations have concealed Iran’s war against the United States and its allies in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and the Arab Gulf states, even as those same allies have been candid in their diplomatic exchanges with us. U.S. servicemen and -women are being dispatched to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan where they are fighting Iranian soldiers and assets in a regional war with the Islamic Republic that our officials dare not discuss, lest they have to do something about it.
Members of the Washington policy establishment should be considerably less worried about how the foreign ministries of allied countries respond to the leaks than how the American electorate does. Even in a democracy, we accept that a key part of our diplomacy depends on concealing the truth, or even lying, in order to advance the interests of one’s own country. But it is hard to see how the public, mendacious, face of U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, serves American interests. By systematically misleading the American people, our policymakers have undermined the basis of our democracy, which is premised on the existence of a public that is capable of making informed decisions about a world that is only becoming more dangerous.