Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Brief; Leaked Documents

So Thanksgiving has come and gone. Again.
I had a really good one this year. Good time spent with family, good food (really good food), and a UT-A&M game that ended in defeat for the Horns, but wasn't the complete massacre that I feared (sometimes the key to having a fun time involves lowered expectations- plus, it was Reed's turn to enjoy an Aggie victory, anyway). Amy returned to Austin from Phoenix on Saturday, so I got to hang out with her this weekend, and we put up some Christmas lights and holiday stuff. It's really good to have her back!
And now we're back in the thick of it- working and shopping and trying to get ready for the next set of holidays. It's going to get a little bit crazy, but it should be a fun ride.

In other, non me-related news, I think this new set of state department/diplomatic cable leaks is just crazy. For those who haven't been reading about this, the short version is that 251,287 cables were illegally obtained by a person (apparently Pfc. Bradley Manning is responsible for many, if not all of the leaks) and forwarded to Wikileaks, who have currently published 220 of the documents and plan to publish many more. The leaks contain information ranging from transcript-style accounts of interactions with foreign leaders to detailed accounts of weapons transactions and prisoner exchanges.
I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I think that it was really bad for someone to leak these cables, but I find their contents sort of fascinating.
For starters, I think this Pfc. Manning needs to do some serious time. Regardless of how a person might feel about the contents of this material, a country just can't engage in serious diplomacy and/or intelligence gathering if the people working within its organizations feel free to disseminate classified, confidential information. I guess there are people out there who might immediately respond that our government and state department should be completely transparent and that everything done on behalf of the U.S. should be done out in the open. The argument for this sort of thing would be that this is the only way to keep our diplomats and officials honest.
Maybe at some point in my life I might have been idealistic enough to think that argument had some sort of merit, but nowadays I just find that line of thinking to be hopelessly naive. Don't get me wrong, I believe in as much government transparency as possible, but I definitely understand that there have to be limits. Through no fault of our own (or mostly no fault of our own) we live in a world where it's pretty much impossible for us to carry on negotiations with various countries without alienating or offending certain other countries (this typically occurs, of course, when we're dealing with two nations who see themselves as adversaries). Other times we need to be able to have frank, confidential, off-the record discussions about other countries or their leaders so that we can objectively assess a situation without offending anyone. There's an argument that could be made for isolationism, I suppose- that we could reduce our relations with other countries around the world in order to avoid the need for any kind of privacy and achieve absolute transparency- but this seems like a sort of ridiculous position to take when you consider all of the benefits that can be gained (economic, political, military, etc.) through a widespread, vibrant interaction with the world community.
So I'm pretty ticked that Pfc. Manning took it upon himself to transfer and make public hundereds of thousands of files, jeopardizing decades worth of diplomatic work and intelligence efforts as well as countless international diplomatic relationships.
But... all of that being said, I have to admit that some of the information coming out of these leaked cables is just pretty darn interesting. Some of the details contained in these messages cast various international leaders in an interesting light- depicting them as relatable human figures with all of the failings (and occasional strengths) that you might expect to find in the guy in the office (or cubicle) next to your own. Similarly, tales of negotiations and arguments regarding prisoners, weapons, and even enriched nuclear materials are a sort of wake up call- a reminder that our government is regularly dealing with a whole host of delicate, complicated issues behind the scenes that the public rarely ever learns about or hears of.
Anyway, as the New York Times article points out, the information that's contined in these leaked cables is the sort of stuff that we usually only learn about decades after the fact- after the people involved are long retired or dead. It's kind of fascinating to read about the secret machinations of international diplomacy in a context that feels a lot closer to real time.


cardboardbelts said...

I think it's high time to post a picture of Ch√Ęteau de Steanso in all its holiday decoration splendor.

J.S. said...

If only there were some sort of festive, Yuletide desert elf to pose in the photo!! ;-)

cardboardbelts said...

this can be arranged.