Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks: drips without a narrative

The emerging body of diplomatic dispatches presented by WikiLeaks has journalists gainfully employed writing about the numerous vignettes of exchanges. An insight into how foreign policy works? Personalities of world leaders? Reasons behind decisions? Interesting reading but to a point. Our attention span will wane soon due to the lack of a narrative.

After all, this is history. All of this has happened. Plenty of room for revisionist history as we look back. Interesting too is the scramble to be the first to piece the pieces together in a way that makes sense. Consider how this site is a “dot oh R gee” seeking support with a donate button on the PayPal platform.

There’s a wealth (maybe that’s not the right word, although this must be helping many make their house payment) of information but what’s missing is a cohesive story; one that no one will write. Why? People do not have the attention span nor interest in connecting the dots. The leaks will provide a great deal of entertainment and voyeuristic curiosity, however.

We do not understand what our State Department does. What is their charter? Why all these embassies? After almost ten years of war, diplomacy has become background noise. Do we have a cohesive foreign policy? Is diplomacy effective in this conflicted world?

I think that sensitive diplomatic communications serve a good purpose in that lines of communication are inherently good. When people can talk frankly, they’re not doing things otherwise damaging. But frank is frank and frank can be blunt and rather human; flawed, self-serving, and awkward in a public forum. Embassies gather information as well as represent. Gathering is spying. The people doing the gathering have various motives and charters. Embassies are interesting places rarely covered in the press. Wars and the winds thereof are more exciting to cover and read.

A result of these leaks could be a new interest in diplomacy…but I doubt that. Like other leaks, these numerous drips without narrative will soon fall by the public discussion wayside and soon be left to flow into the distant reservoir of our national consciousness. Without a narrative, more importantly without people concertedly working to make sense of it, these dispatches, cables, and emails will find their way to an archive; great stuff for historians some day. This recent history is much too recent and too voluminous, the journalistic field too depleted and overloaded, the media too distracted.

Take the time however to consider your Department of State. Examine the effectiveness of the diplomatic strength of our nation in light of the strong arm of defense. Appreciate that in order to conduct diplomacy, people talk (in lieu of shooting).

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