Wikileaks is making waves again this week, and the immediate consequences of its revelations are lapping onto the shore of at least one administration official: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As one of the primary executors of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, Clinton’s role as First Mate to Captain Reset places her on the front lines of the President’s international failures and successes, and the cables released this week have her, like President Obama, trapped in the squall.
As the S-o-S, we all knew Hillary’s job was to ask questions. Now, we know the sorts of questions she’s asked. Which is why some think she must go.
[W]hat makes Clinton’s sleuthing unique is the paper trail that documents her spying-on-their-diplomats-with-our-diplomat orders, a paper trail that is now being splashed around the world on the Web and printed in top newspapers. No matter what sort of noises Clinton makes about how the disclosures are “an attack on America” and “the international community,” as she did today, she’s become the issue. She’ll never be an effective negotiator with diplomats who refuse to forgive her exuberances, and even foreign diplomats who do forgive her will still regard her as the symbol of an overreaching United States. Diplomacy is about face, and the only way for other nations to save face will be to give them Clinton’s scalp.
How embarrassing are the WikiLeaks leaks? A secret cable from April 2009 that went out under Clinton’s name instructed State Department officials to collect the “biometric data,” including “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans,” of African leaders. Another secret cable directed American diplomats posted around the world, including the United Nations, to obtain passwords, personal encryption keys, credit card numbers, frequent flyer account numbers, and other data connected to diplomats. As the Guardian puts it, the cables “reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network.” …
Anne Applebaum writes in Slate today that nobody should be honestly horrified at the image of the United States spying in the United Nations. Nobody in the diplomatic community is. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to take advantage of the moment to demand retribution that will shame the high-and-mighty United States.
Mr. Shafer is right that the leak is embarrassing, but he’s wrong about Secretary Clinton: Dismissing her is one of the worst things the President could do right now.
The secretaries of state of every other country in the world would ask, or should be asking, the same sorts of questions and seeking out the same sorts of information as Hillary if they were taking their jobs seriously, and as Allahpundit noted,
My hunch: Knowing that [Obama] can’t afford to further alienate Clinton Democrats ahead of 2012 and fully aware that dumping her won’t do a smidge of good to improve U.S. standing in the eyes of rabid anti-Americans like Assange, he’ll pat her on the back and say she’s guilty of nothing more than being a bit too zealous in defense of her country’s interests. And pretty much every last voter in America aside from 20 percent on the far left fringe will agree with him.
Domestic political reaction aside, it is extraordinarily short-sighted to set a precedent whereby leaks of honest and relevant intelligence gathering communiques by the secretary of state would get the S-o-S booted. 1.) It’s disruptive to American interests and organizational continuity, 2.) it rewards bad actors by punishing vigilant work, and 3.) it doesn’t really soothe any of the grumbling that may result among our international friends, foes, and frienemies (think of a family reunion, where everybody pretty much knows where they stand relative to one another, with or without each other’s private conversations about each other fully known.) The notion that the diplomatic community is honestly shocked-shocked! that the US doesn’t mince words about its intelligence gathering operation in private is naive. Our international peers do, or would do, the same kind of intelligence work as we’ve done if given the means and opportunity. And the Obama Administration is right to continue backing her. That Clinton is actively involved in seeking out and monitoring the states of minds of friends and foes alike means she’s doing her job. She shouldn’t be punished for it.
And not only is Hillary doing her job for the American people properly; it sounds like her department is not coming off too shabbily, either.
[F]rom what I have seen, the professional members of the U.S. Foreign Service have very little to be ashamed of. Yes, there are echoes of skullduggery at the margins, especially in relation to the conduct of the “war on terror” in the George W. Bush years.
For the most part, however, what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.
In fact, my opinion of the State Department has just gone up several notches. In recent years I have found the American Foreign Service to be somewhat underwhelming, a bit dandruffy, especially when compared with other, more self-confident arms of American government, such as the Pentagon and the Treasury. But what we find here is often first rate.
For as embarrassing as the leak of the cables may be for the United States, the communications showcase much more about American restraint and unvarnished geopolitical realities than it suggests about supposed American malfeasances around the globe. All that said, there is real damage being done by the Wikileaks. My worry isn’t about the effect this new information will have on our mature democracies, led by rational actors who are by-and-large accountable to their electorates; it’s that unstable regimes, revealed to be more precariously situated than previously believed, act irrationally to the detriment of their neighbors and their captive populations. The U.S. is going to be just fine, but it’d be worse off if solely on account of these cables we lost a secretary of state.
Stick around, Hill. We may disagree on the particulars, but where it matters, it looks like you’re doing your job as we’d have you do it.
I’m on Twitter.