Christopher Dickey writes:
The first and most lasting casualty of this massive avalanche of documents classified “confidential,” “secret” and “noforn” (not for foreign governments to see) is going to be precisely the “transparency” that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he advocates. “Transparent government tends to produce just government,” he opined in July after an earlier dump of military dispatches about Afghanistan. But the fact is, transparent diplomacy is nothing but press releases.
The problem the State Department faces now is not just the difficulty of having frank conversations with allies or secret negotiations with enemies who think—who know—it leaks like a sieve. It will also be harder to have frank exchanges within the United States government itself. To avoid this kind of massive leak in the future, documents will get higher classification and less distribution, and a lot of the most important stuff may not be committed to the keyboard at all.
As a former US ambassador in some of the Middle East’s most sensitive posts wrote me (privately) this morning: “The consequence will be even less written reporting and communication—a disaster if you ever want to reconstruct what happened. It is already bad and now will be even worse. Everyone (or those in the know) will be passing info verbally. Ever play that whisper game as a kid?” He means the one where you pass a message from mouth to ear and discover it’s utterly distorted at the end of the chain. “Yep!” he wrote, that’s what internal communications are going to be like.
For everyone who believes that the truth will set you free (and I do), transparency is something that has the flavor of being inherently good. But to understand that diplomacy and transparency mix together as well as oil and water, one merely has to remember that diplomacy hinges on negotiations.
If you’re buying a car, do you want the seller to know what you earn or how much money you have in the bank? Haggling — and that’s what every negotiation ultimately is — is all about being able to control what you want to reveal and what you want to conceal. Walk into a negotiation as an open book and there won’t be any negotiation.