Monday, November 29, 2010

The Fragile Community

The New York Times published an op-ed written by David Brooks on November 29, 2010. In this article, Brooks bemoaned the release of the diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. To persuade his readers that releasing that material is a bad idea, Brooks makes a silly argument comparing diplomacy to a bunch of conversations.

According to Brooks, diplomacy is really just a bunch of conversations. Apparently, we depend on these “human conversations for the limited order we enjoy every day.” These conversations are “built on relationships.” And due to that damned WikiLeaks, “this fragile international conversation is under threat” because “the quality of the conversation is damaged by exposure, just as our relationships with our neighbors would be damaged if every private assessment were brought to the light of day.”

Once again, a writer for the New York Times is arguing against government transparency. Isn’t our media grand?

It is ironic that Brooks would bemoan the leak of all these diplomatic cables but nevertheless have this really exceptional amount of trust in our government when in fact I believe that the West – probably either Britain or America or both – made Bradley Manning give these diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks in the first place. Brooks says that both U.S. government agencies and countries will be less likely to share information with each other after WikiLeaks. That is, in fact, one of the reasons why America and Britain decided to leak this information in the first place – to reduce the amount of intelligence sharing between agencies and between nations.

David Brooks claims the diplomatic conversation is “not devious and nefarious.” In fact, according to him, the conversation is similar to the one that occurs in public, except the conversation between the diplomats “maybe more admirable.”

As an example, Brooks cites the “conversation” between the Israeli and Arab diplomats. According to him, in the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, those diplomats act sympathetically towards one another. That may be admirable, but given the relationship between those two and their true feelings, the fact that they are acting sympathetically towards each other implies that they are lying to each other.

After WikiLeaks, Brooks believes that Arab leaders might be less willing to cooperate with us on Iran because “Arab leaders feel exposed and boxed in.” I really doubt that. I don’t know why feeling exposed and boxed in would prevent them from acting against Iran. Those Arab leaders would act against Iran because that is what they want to do in the first place. The fact is the rest of the world – including the West – seems much less interested in acting against Iran than those Arab leaders.

Continuing with his screwball analogy, Brooks argues that the “level of trust” determines the “quality of the conversation” while the direction of the conversation “is influenced by persuasion and by feelings about friends and enemies.”

Trust and feelings about who are your friends and enemies are determined much less by the relationship between those diplomats and much more by the actions of their countries and the extent to which those countries are willing to help each other. The willingness of nations to work together is based on the belief that such action will be mutually beneficial. The trust between nations is based on their ability to carry out their mutually agreed responsibilities. Leaking those diplomatic cables does not change this situation.

Brooks claims that our noble diplomats maintain the world order by having these wonderful trusting relationships with each other. On the contrary, most diplomacy is a failure and a waste of time. Those diplomats have been unable to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians for over a half a century. Those diplomats have been unable to unify the Korean peninsula for about as long a time. Those diplomats, though they have been able to chop Sudan in half (which is hardly anything to brag about), still have not solved neither the border issues nor the oil revenue issues. Nor have they been able to prevent the slaughter of over two million people in DR Congo. Nor have they prevented three decades of civil war in Afghanistan. Nor have they prevented the death of nearly a million Africans in Rwanda. Nor have the prevented Somalia from becoming a failed state. Nor have they prevented a decade of war between Iran and Iraq followed by a war between the West and Iraq followed by a decade of sanctions imposed on Iraq followed by another decade of war in Iraq. Good job guys. It’s great to see that human relationship thing work so well.

Brooks claims that the American diplomats in the cables are “generally savvy and honest.” To me, they appear na├»ve or dishonest or both. Perhaps that is a reason why they have failed so often.

Brooks doesn’t want the public to know “in a wholesale manner the nuts and bolts of the diplomatic enterprise.” Obviously, the reason why Brooks wants to prevent the public from learning the truth is because he favors the status quo.

“The fact that we live our lives amid order and not chaos is the great achievement of civilization,” said Brooks. “This order should not be taken for granted.”

Brooks seems to be implying that, by filtering the information, the media and the government prevents mass chaos and unrest. It kind of makes you wonder what they are hiding.

WikiLeaks has failed to inform the public of what their governments have been doing. So they keep doing the same things. Since the WikiLeaks revelations began, we started civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Bahrain. David Brooks may be happy, but I am not.

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