HONG KONG — Breakfast tea or coffee has suddenly become more interesting with the flood of tittle-tattle, gossip and serious political reporting pouring out via WikiLeaks. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the American right fulminate and wish to charge WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange with espionage or even to label him a “terrorist” along with Osama bin Laden and other warmongers.
It may be embarrassing to the victims and to the American diplomatic effort to see in print some robust opinions of world leaders; but on the local streets, you’ll hear worse said about their leaders and their failings. We could run a Christmas competition asking which of the insults come from WikiLeaks and which are heard on the street, and which person matches the descriptions.
However, concerning the revelations about three of the hottest spots in the world — the crucible of civilization in the Middle East, the tinderbox of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the powder keg of north Asia, particularly North Korea — there is real reason to be worried about unpredictable consequences from the WikiLeaks’ leaks.
Should Assange and his friends be blamed for the failure of Washington to protect its lines of communication?
There is irony in revelations that the United States has spied furiously on all and sundry and has wanted to check personal e-mails worldwide, even instructing its staff to get the DNA of senior United Nations officials, while it bitches bitterly when its own clumsiness is revealed.
If Assange got hold of all this traffic, who else might be plugged into the top secret cable network? You don’t hear of leaks of Chinese secrets about their ambitions to put a military base on the moon or to buy up the Dow Jones or FTSE 100 companies. You don’t hear Chinese comments about what the cut and color of Clinton’s pantsuits or the state of her hairdo say about her mood or how President Barack Obama’s alpha-brain gets in the way of his emotional ability to deliver the political goods.
It may be that there is a higher level of U.S. ultra-secret diplomacy, analysis and problem-solving going on with finer minds and greater political clout than those revealed by WikiLeaks. If not, the documents show a wounded superpower wandering round in a fog about what is really going on in North Korea, China and AfPak, and powerless to achieve the solutions in which it believes for the Middle East and AfPak.
In the Middle East, attention has been concentrated on Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s demand that the U.S. cut the head off the Iranian snake and other colorful expressions that make Arab leaders sound like fully paid up Israeli hawks when it comes to Iran.
But at this very moment — when former President George W. Bush is promoting his autobiography and proclaiming that it was good to eradicate the evil Saddam Hussein even though no weapons of mass destruction were found — the leaks quote the Saudi king’s perceptive comment that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had handed the country to Iran as a “gift on a golden platter.”
Other comments about the Middle East reveal the depressing truth that everyone has long known — that Obama, no more than Bush, has the skills or clout to cut through Israeli prevarication and obstruction and the muscle of the U.S. Jewish lobby to bring Arabs and Jews together to secure the peace deal that would allow Washington to move on to pressing problems elsewhere in the world, as well as remove one excuse for terrorism in the name of Islam.
The AfPak region is a quagmire, but difficult to walk away from. It is a breeding ground for terrorists. Would anyone trust the Taliban, if they regained power, not to continue their crusade to oust the infidels and seek to link with like-minded Islamic forces in nuclear-armed Pakistan? Former U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson provided some graphic and frightening reporting of the bleak prospects on the Pakistan side of AfPak.
Obama made a mistake in accepting the flawed re-election of the corrupt Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his gang. The U.S. has not responded to Karzai’s claims that it was normal for his office to be given thousands of dollars in paper bags, perhaps because billions of U.S. dollars in aid went unaudited to who knows what warlords, drug runners or terrorists.
Members of the American Tea Party would be well advised to read the leaks — rather than just baying for Assange’s blood — and contemplate the mess that America and the West is in.
The real powder keg is North Asia: What may the unpredictable Pyongyang regime do next? Suggestions in the WikiLeaks’ documents that China may be prepared to accept a united Korea led by the South in alliance with the U.S. smell suspiciously of wishful thinking.
Is that based on solid knowledge of what the Chinese leadership really thinks or wants? How might Kim Jong Il and son, and their military henchmen or rivals, react to the leaks? It may also be wishful thinking that a united Korea, whether it comes about in five or 40 years, would lean toward a clearly ailing U.S.
Some Chinese officials may be tired of their North Korean “spoilt child,” which takes 40 percent of Beijing’s foreign aid and guzzles 50,000 tons of its oil each month, but they know that saying so openly would risk a temper tantrum in Pyongyang. So China duly told a visiting North Korean delegation that their relationship had withstood “international tempests” and it refused to condemn Pyongyang for its recent aggression.
Most worrying is that Beijing and Washington have clearly both failed to understand that the whole world is in peril without a set of ground rules to curb rogue regimes. China has selfishly and shortsightedly supported tinpot dictators in Africa for their valuable commodities to keep its economy going full steam. The U.S. cannot protest too loudly given its wretched history of propping up doubtful regimes all over the erstwhile Third World.
Beijing’s vigorous support for nuclear Pakistan, its skirting of sanctions against Iran and its blind eye to North Korea’s nefarious trading activities are more dangerous and potentially explosive. Nothing from WikiLeaks offers comfort that there has yet been a meeting of minds with China on these vital issues.
Kevin Rafferty, formerly in charge of the Financial Times’ coverage of Asia, is editor in chief of PlainWords Media.