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What WikiLeaks Revealed: Our Diplomats Aren't Dopes

If there is one thing the United States has going for it in a time of economic malaise and multiplying foreign threats, it is our luck. As with the other calamities President Obama has invited to our doorstep by his dithering and weakness, the political warfare being waged by WikiLeaks against the U.S. is failing to achieve the objectives of the enemy combatants running the organization.

There is an old saying, attributed by some to Bismarck, that “God looks after drunks, fools and the United States of America.” Many of the events of the last two years bear this out. An Islamist tries to blow a plane out of the air over Detroit last Christmas and is stopped just in time by heroic passengers. An Islamist sets a car bomb in Times Square that investigators say could have killed hundreds or thousands, and its detonator ends up failing. WikiLeaks sets out to smear U.S. diplomats who instead end up looking rational, well intentioned and perceptive. Somebody still likes us up there.

So once again, despite an Obama White House caught with no idea of how to defend America, we have muddled through. Most of the steel WikiLeaks is trying to put on target is falling short—at least in this latest offensive.

What are the objectives of WikiLeaks? Based on its dissemination of classified U.S. war logs and this recent release of cables, it is safe to infer that WikiLeaks wants to weaken America, prevent the U.S. from conducting foreign affairs effectively, cause us to lose the war in Afghanistan and get those who helped us secure Iraq killed.

Its method of doing this is political warfare disguised as “whistle-blowing” and a high-minded quest for government transparency. It has been aided by leftwing news organizations like The Guardian (London), Der Spiegel (Hamburg) and The New York Times, to which it has given privileged, early access to its releases in order to amplify the negative.

But the latest release is not having the impact WikiLeaks wanted.

Revelations WikiLeaks thought would be shocking are most often known to people outside of government who follow foreign developments. For example, it certainly is no surprise to anyone who tracks the Middle East that almost all other states in the region believe Tehran is working determinedly on nuclear weapons or that they want this stopped. So it is also not particularly shocking to learn from WikiLeaks that the Saudi king reportedly wanted Iran bombed.

Overall, the cables describe a complex and dangerous world where the U.S. works in good faith to defend freedom. The long-standing fantasies of the left, like the U.S. waging war as a means to steal petroleum, that's it simply wants to do the bidding of Israel, or generate profits for companies like Halliburton, are absent.

WikiLeaks and many in the media also have failed to grasp the limits of cables—which are being given more credence by the press than they deserve. Foreign governments know better.

Cables themselves are somewhat of an anachronism of a bygone time, when diplomatic posts were the main source of information on foreign countries and their governments. Thanks to the proliferation of news this is no longer true. 

Cables occasionally convey important information to “Main State” as headquarters is called, and Main State issues policies and guidance to “posts” as embassies and consulates are called. 

But the vast majority of cables are routine and unremarkable, are colored by the world view of the Foreign Service officers who write them, and will never be seen by anyone more senior than a desk officer at Main State.

Cables often convey readouts of meetings and conversations, whether or not the data from those is true or believed to be true. They contain factoids—not intelligence. 

Thus cables reportedly indicating that China is willing to part ways with its North Korean ally and acquiesce to a unified Korea under democratic control are almost certainly misleading. These most likely represent misinformation provided intentionally by Chinese officials to Foreign Service officers to mask Beijing’s true inclinations on North Korea—namely that it loses no sleep over a nuclear program that it believes will never target China, could care less about the ruthless oppression to which Kim Jong Il subjects his people, and much prefers fellow dictatorships on its borders to U.S.-allied democracies.

But Beijing probably knew its misinformation would be reported dutifully to Washington by China hands in the Foreign Service who are cultivated to believe the myth of Chinese cooperation. It would fall to more seasoned analysts and policy-makers in Washington to discern fact from fiction, and they ideally rely more on real intelligence, rather than what Beijing tells us.

It is also worth noting that mechanically, all cables are “signed” by the chief of mission at the post that sends them, regardless of the actual author. This is true of Main State, where cables being dispatched always end with the printed name of the secretary of state—who often has never seen the cable in question. This is important because some media outlets have reported incorrectly that cables signed “CLINTON” represent personal directives from the secretary. This is true only in the rarest of cases. 

Thus a recent headline from McClatchy Newspapers saying “Clinton probed Argentine leader’s ‘nerves,’ ‘anxiety,’ ‘stress’” is probably misleading or false. This directive was probably cleared through the relevant bureaus at Main State, but likely was never seen by Ms. Clinton, who would simply spend all of her time reading mundane and mostly irrelevant correspondence if she actually reviewed and signed out each cable. --Foreign governments also understand this.

Notwithstanding that there is less than meets the eye with many of these cables and that the impact will be less calamitous than WikiLeaks hoped, it remains that this organization is waging political warfare against us, trafficking in stolen classified documents and likely getting many of our friends imperiled or killed. We still ought to put an end to the organization and designate its leaders as enemy combatants. But we can take some consolation that the latest WikiLeaks assault has not quite gone the way our enemies hoped. 

We can also be proud that our diplomats are hardly the evil caricatures fantasized by the left and the blame-America-first crowd abroad and here at home.

Christian Whiton is a former U.S. State Department senior adviser and is a principal at D.C International Advisory. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion.

Christian Whiton is the president of the Hamilton Foundation.  He was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration and a policy advisor on the Giuliani and Gingrich presidential campaigns. He is author of “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War” (Potomac Books 2013).