December 1, 2010

IN OTHER WORDS, THE SECRECY WORKS AGAINST AMERICA'S INTERESTS:

Dictators, Democracies and WikiLeaks: What non-democratic regimes tell us is very different from what they tell their people. (Elliott Abrams, 11/30/10, WSJ)

In most cases, cables are marked secret not because the U.S. requires it but because those speaking to us—the foreign leaders across the table—do. They are not keeping secrets from us, but from two other groups: their enemies and their subjects.

Regarding their enemies, foreign leaders need secrecy for self-protection. The weak plead with us to save them, but to their enemies they also plead—that they are not enemies, that they too dislike the Americans, that they all have common interests, and so on. The WikiLeaks disclosures make that game harder now.

We find the king of Bahrain telling American officials privately that the Iranian nuclear program "must be stopped," while in public he carefully avoids any comment that might anger Iran's aggressive leaders. The ayatollahs may have suspected what the king, a Sunni, was saying in private. Now they know, and they may decide to create trouble between him and his restive Shiite-majority population. The danger and possible damage are clear.

The second and most important reason foreign leaders ask for secrecy is that they are protecting themselves from their own populations. Dictators and authoritarians don't tell their people the truths they tell us; their public speeches are meant to manipulate, not to inform. Instead of educating their citizens, as one might have to do in a democracy, they posture and preen on state-owned television stations and in state-controlled newspapers. Their approach is striking: Tell the truth to foreigners but not to your own population.

So in Yemen, for example, we see President Ali Abdullah Saleh discussing action against al Qaeda and insisting, "We'll continue to say the bombs are ours not yours." He is seeking to avoid the charge that he is cooperating with a foreign, non-Muslim power which is killing Yemenis, that he is handing his country over to the infidels.


Our place is with their people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 1, 2010 5:40 AM
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