In U.S. elite media, the main revelation of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables is that the U.S. government conducts its foreign policy in a largely admirable fashion.
Fareed Zakaria, Time (12/2/10):
David Sanger, New York Times (12/5/10):
David Brooks, New York Times (11/30/10):
New York Times editorial (11/30/10):
Christopher Dickey and Andrew Bast, Newsweek (12/13/10):
Bob Garfield, NPR's On the Media (12/3/10):
Anne Applebaum, Washington Post (12/7/10):
These conclusions represent an extraordinarily narrow reading of the WikiLeaks cables, of which about 1,000 have been released (contrary to constant media claims that the website has already released 250,000 cables). Some of the more explosive revelations, unflattering to U.S. policymakers, have received less attention in U.S. corporate media. Among the revelations that, by any sensible reading, show U.S. diplomatic efforts of considerable concern:
--The U.S. attempted to prevent German authorities from acting on arrest warrants against 13 CIA officers who were instrumental in the abduction and subsequent torture of German citizen Khaled El-Masri (Scott Horton, Harpers.org, 11/29/10; New York Times, 12/9/10).
--The U.S. worked to obstruct Spanish government investigations into the killing of a Spanish journalist in Iraq by U.S. forces, the use of Spanish airfields for the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program and torture of Spanish detainees at
Guantánamo (El Pais, 12/2/10; Scott Horton, Harpers.org, 12/1/10).
--WikiLeaks coverage has often emphasized that Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh reassured U.S. officials that he would claim U.S. military airstrikes in his country were the work of Yemeni forces. But as Justin Elliot pointed out (Salon, 12/7/10), the United States has long denied carrying out airstrikes in the country at all. The secret attacks have killed scores of civilians.
--According to the cables, U.S. Special Forces are actively conducting operations inside Pakistan, despite repeated government denials (Jeremy Scahill, Nation, 12/1/10).
--The U.S. ambassador to Honduras concluded that the 2009 removal of president Manuel Zelaya was indeed a coup, and that backers of this action provided no compelling evidence to support their legal claims (Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy, 11/29/10). Despite the conclusions reached in the cable, official U.S. statements remained ambiguous. If the Obama administration had reached the same conclusion in public as was made in the cable, the outcome of the coup might have been very different.
--The U.S. secured a secret agreement with Britain to allow U.S. bases on British soil to stockpile cluster bombs, circumventing a treaty signed by Britain. The U.S. also discouraged other countries from working to ban the weapons, which have devastating effects on civilian populations (Guardian, 12/1/10).
--The U.S. engaged in an array of tactics to undermine opposition to U.S. climate change policies, including bribes and surveillance (Guardian, 12/3/10).
--U.S. diplomats in Georgia were uncritical of that country's claims about Russian interference, a dispute that eventually led to a brief war (New York Times, 12/2/10). U.S. officials "appeared to set aside skepticism and embrace Georgian versions of important and disputed events....as the region slipped toward war, sources outside the Georgian government were played down or not included in important cables. Official Georgian versions of events were passed to Washington largely unchallenged."
--U.S. officials put forward sketchy intelligence as proof that Iran had secured 19 long-range missiles from North Korea--claims that were treated as fact by the New York Times, which subsequently walked back its credulous reporting (FAIR Activism Update, 12/3/10)
All of these examples--an incomplete tally of the important revelations in the cables thus far--would suggest that there is plenty in the WikiLeaks releases that does not reflect particularly well on U.S. policymakers.
In its "Note to Readers" explaining their decision to publish stories about the cables, the New York Times (11/29/10) told readers that "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy."
The paper went on:
The "duplicity" of other countries can be illuminated by the cables, while the U.S.'s secret wars are evidence of "diplomacy." That principle would seem to be guiding the way many U.S. outlets are interpreting the WikiLeaks revelations.