Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A dose of reality

I won't argue with Andrew Steele's take that the latest WikiLeaks document disclosure is probably closer to "gossip" than "whistleblowing". But I'd argue that there's room for a far more positive response than the one he seems to expect:
Today, national leaders of other countries will provide less information to Americans and the West generally, fearing it will become public.

Take Saudi Arabian, United Arab Emirate and Egyptian opinion that Iran's President is "another Hitler." These leaders will face abrogation not only from Iran but from some within their own country over siding with Israel against another Muslim country.

If the criticism becomes strong enough within government and power structures, they could have to alter their positioning publicly and privately to compensate, making concessions to Iran to demonstrate solidarity.

And that is bad for the world.

It weakens the prestige and attraction of the very democratic institutions Mr. Assange claims to be supporting, at just the time when another model of state-operating is becoming fashionable.
From my standpoint, Steele's concern raises a fairly important question: how sustainable can any institution be if it can't survive the revelation that its actors are mere people, subject to holding strong opinions and occasionally lapsing in judgment just like anybody else?

If anything, the value in the latest documents looks to be some much-needed confirmation that for all the prestige we may seek to ascribe to diplomatic institutions, they - like the military, and the police, and the other groups who have been built up as requiring public support and fealty at all costs - are ultimately made up of human beings who are both fallible and opinionated. And maybe the better course of action is to avoid blowing out of proportion the revelation of the obvious and predictable, rather than stoking outrage as an excuse to clamp down more tightly on the escape of the occasional bit of truth.

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