NYT EDITORIAL: WikiLeaks and the Diplomats

 Here we reproduced the Editorial of the New York Times.

(November 30, New York City, Sri Lanka Guardian) The business of diplomacy is often messy and when private communications become public, it can also be highly embarrassing.

But what struck us, and reassured us, about the latest trove of classified documents released by WikiLeaks was the absence of any real skullduggery. After years of revelations about the Bush administration’s abuses — including the use of torture and kidnappings — much of the Obama administration’s diplomatic wheeling and dealing is appropriate and, at times, downright skillful.

The best example of that is its handling of Iran. As the cables show, the administration has been under pressure from both Israel and Arab states to attack Tehran’s nuclear program pre-emptively. It has wisely resisted, while pressing for increasingly tough sanctions on Iran.

The Times and other news media have already reported much of this. What the cables add is sizzle: Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel warning that the world has just 6 to 18 months to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia imploring Washington to “cut off the head of the snake”; Bahrain’s king warning that letting Iran’s program proceed was “greater than the danger of stopping it.”

The Israelis publicly raise the alarm all the time. Most Arab leaders never do. If they believe Iran poses a major threat, they need to tell their own people and work a lot harder to pressure Iran to abandon its program.

The cables also add insight into how the Obama administration has built the case for sanctions against Iran. To win China’s support, it got Saudi Arabia to promise Beijing a steady supply of oil. To win over Russia, it replaced a Bush-era missile defense plan with one that is just as effective that Moscow finds less threatening.

The administration may well be uncomfortable about disclosures of its wheeling and dealing to try to get governments to accept prisoners from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Slovenia was told that taking a prisoner was the price for a meeting with President Obama. We wish that the White House had been as energetic and inventive in its attempts to get Congress to shut down the prison.

We were reassured to learn that Washington has been trying to persuade Pakistan to remove nuclear fuel from a reactor so it cannot be diverted for use in a terrorist’s weapon. And that the United States and South Korea are prudently discussing how to handle the potential collapse of North Korea. Disconcertingly, there is no sign that Washington or Seoul knew about the North’s recently disclosed uranium enrichment plant.

The Obama administration should definitely be embarrassed by its decision to continue a Bush administration policy directing American diplomats to collect the personal data — including credit card numbers and frequent flier numbers — of foreign officials. That dangerously blurs the distinction between diplomats and spies and is best left to the spies.

There are legitimate reasons for keeping many diplomatic conversations secret. The latest WikiLeaks revelations will cause awkward moments not least because they contain blunt assessments of world leaders. The claim by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the leaks threaten national security seems exaggerated. The documents are valuable because they illuminate American policy in a way that Americans and others deserve to see. Tell a Friend