Hillary Clinton should cut out the whining about what the Obama administration derides as “stolen cables” and confront the unpleasant truths they reveal about the contradictions of U.S. foreign policy and her own troubling performance. As with the earlier batch of WikiLeaks, in this latest release the corruption of our partners in Iraq and Afghanistan stands in full relief, and the net effect of nearly a decade of warfare is recognized as a strengthening of Iran’s influence throughout the region.
Do we as voters not have a need to know that our State Department says that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan leader we are backing and himself the head of government in the most contested province, “is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker”? Or that authorities working with our Drug Enforcement Administration discovered Afghanistan’s then-vice president smuggling $52 million in cash out of his country, a nation that U.S. taxpayers are bankrolling?
In the cable discussing Ahmed Wali Karzai, or AWK as he is called, there is a pithy description of the basic folly of our attempt to control the uncontrollable land of Afghanistan: “The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt.”
The cables make a hash of claims that our invasion of Iraq—where al-Qaida could not operate when Saddam Hussein was in power—was helpful in the war on terror. Recall that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Yet the WikiLeaks documents reveal, as The New York Times reported, that “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the ‘worst in the region’ in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December.”
While the great threat is now said by Clinton’s State Department to emanate from Iran, the cables make clear that Iranian power was much enhanced by the U.S. overthrow of Saddam, who had fought a long, bloody war against the ayatollahs. The result of our invasion is an Iraqi government run by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, described in the cables as being much under the influence of Iran, which orchestrated his deal with the Iranian-backed Sadrists that kept him in power. The cables report King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dismissing Maliki as no more than an “Iranian agent.”
This material refutes the stated anti-terrorist purposes of the two wars we are fighting, and that is the prime reason it is classified. If any of the information was so sensitive, why was none of it labeled “top secret” as is the practice with content that would risk our nation’s security? And why was this vast trove placed in computer systems to which low-ranking personnel had access? The real problem with the release of the dispatches, particularly the kind labeled “noforn,” meaning it shouldn’t be shared with foreign governments, is that it is politically embarrassing—which is why we, the public, have a right to view it. That is certainly the case with the revelation that Secretary Clinton destroyed the once-sacred line between the legitimate diplomat deserving of universal protection and the spies that governments could be justified in arresting.
Instead of disparaging the motives of the leakers, Hillary Clinton should offer a forthright explanation of why she continued the practice of Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor as secretary of state, of using American diplomats to spy on their colleagues working at the United Nations. Why did she issue a specific directive ordering U.S. diplomats to collect biometric information on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many of his colleagues?
As the respected British newspaper The Guardian, which obtained the WikiLeaks cables, said in summarizing the matter: “A classified directive which appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton’s name in July 2009, demanding forensic technical details about the communications system used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.”
The Guardian pointed out that the Clinton directive violates the language of the original U.N. convention, which reads: “The premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable.” The spying effort derived from concern that U.N. rapporteurs might unearth embarrassing details about the U.S. treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the directives demanded “biographic and biometric” information on Dr. Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, as well as details of her personality and management style. Maybe she’s hiding bin Laden in her U.N. office.