Outrage and Apologies: Washington Fights to Rebuild Battered Reputation

Few leaks have ever caused so much anger and shock as the publication of the US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been trying to repair the damage done to Washington's reputation, while some on the right have even called for Julian Assange's execution. By SPIEGEL Staff.

Photo Gallery: Ripples from WikiLeaks Photos
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Her face has seemed frozen in place for days. She looks peaked, thin-lipped and serious, very serious. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently enduring the consequences of what is probably the biggest indiscretion in the history of diplomacy, and it shows.

Clinton, who has embarked on a damage-control trip around the world, sharply condemned the publication of the embassy cables by the website WikiLeaks, calling it a "very irresponsible, thoughtless act that put at risk the lives of innocent people all over the world."

"Secretary Clinton is literally working night and day in conversations with countless leaders around the world to try as best we can not only to express regret but to work through these issues," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told US lawmakers. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said he would be "very surprised if some people don't lose their lives" as a result of the leaks.

In the Spotlight

On Wednesday of last week, Hillary Clinton was in the Kazakh capital Astana for a long-planned summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was her first major appearance on the international stage in the wake of the leaks, and she knew that it could be an embarrassing one.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 70-year-old ruler of Kazakhstan, was standing on a large stage in the Palace of Independence, waiting for 38 heads of state, as well as other senior politicians from around the world. He was the host of the event, the first OSCE summit since 1999. The head of each delegation had to walk up a small staircase onto the stage to shake the Kazakh autocrat's hand.

Finally it was Hillary Clinton's turn. Wearing a dark-blue suit, she climbed up the stairs and walked toward Nazarbayev, smiling broadly. As she stood on the stage with Nazarbayev, Clinton knew that the spotlight was on her, as the head of the US State Department, the government agency responsible for writing so many unflattering psychological profiles and political assessments of politicians worldwide.

Some of the people Clinton's ambassadors wrote about were now sitting in the room in front of her. They included Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whom the diplomats characterized as "pale and hesitant" and likened to a comic-book character, and the president of Turkmenistan, who, according to the cables, is "a practiced liar" and "not very bright".

Host Nazarbayev is apparently fond of warm weather, has about 40 horses in his stable and owns a palace in the Arab Emirates. Nazarbayev has already told the Americans that he will get over the revelations.

More Than Just Damaged Egos

But it's more than a question of potentially damaged egos. The published cables offer insights into the thought processes of American leaders and their counterparts abroad. They provide authentic direct quotes from the world's crisis regions. They report on North Korean B25 rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads and with an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles), which Pyongyang allegedly shipped to Iran. They reveal that US diplomats were given secret instructions in the summer of 2009 to spy on foreign officials at the UN. They discuss Arab leaders who favored bombing Iran. They describe a suitcase containing $52 million (€39 million) in cash, with which Afghanistan's former vice-president was caught in Dubai before he was released again. And they mention a Lebanese defense minister who said that he hoped Israel would bomb his own country and annihilate Hezbollah.

The cables, as reports from a world of secretiveness and discretion, contain astonishingly clear and unvarnished statements made in the context of the diplomatic realm of duplicity. They have shocked, alienated and appalled the world.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, seemingly in shock and speaking somewhat prematurely, called the leaks the "September 11th of world diplomacy." French government spokesman François Baroin, calling the leaks a threat that needed to be combated, said: "I always thought that a transparent society was a totalitarian society."

Hillary Clinton is aware of all of these irritations. According to her spokesman, she claimed not to have read a single one of the problematic documents. This is astonishing. In her speech before the OSCE plenary assembly, she didn't say a word about the WikiLeaks disclosures.

'No Better Friend'

Suddenly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the woman American diplomats described as "rarely creative," was sitting next to Clinton. Merkel was also wearing blue that day. The two women seemed to be having an amiable conversation. The chancellor would later say that the WikiLeaks affair played only a "secondary" role at the meeting.

Things did not go quite as smoothly for Clinton with Silvio Berlusconi. Since the leaks occurred, the Italian prime minister -- the last world leader to arrive at the meeting, carrying a folder under his arm and visibly out of breath -- has been under suspicion of securing benefits for himself in connection with energy deals with Russia, which he denies. The cables describe Berlusconi as "feckless, vain and ineffective" and as a party animal who doesn't get enough sleep. But in Astana, Clinton also felt compelled to make amends with the Italian. "We have no better friend, we have no one who supports the American policies as consistently as Prime Minister Berlusconi has," Clinton told reporters.

Apologies, professions of solidarity and efforts to make amends: Is this what American foreign policy will look like for the next few months?

"We cannot, of course, put the toothpaste back in the tube," writes former CIA case officer Robert Baer in an opinion piece for the Financial Times. "The credibility of the State Department as a reliable interlocutor has evaporated, and no doubt for a long time."

In an interview with SPIEGEL, former Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal says that American's "credibility and honesty are the victim of these leaks" and assumes that from now on people "will no longer speak to American diplomats frankly."

'Anything Less than Execution Is Too Kind'

Those at the right end of the American political spectrum feel threatened by a foreign power once again. Whoever passed on this information is guilty of treason, says former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. According to Huckabee, "anything less than execution is too kind a penalty."

His rival Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be hunted down like a terrorist. "He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. … Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?"

One leading politician who hasn't said much is President Barack Obama, whose handling of the WikiLeaks affair thus far only confirms his political adversaries' criticisms. Just like with the controversy over an Islamic center in New York and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama is once again being accused of not taking decisive action, showing weakness and putting America's superpower status at risk. Obama's inaction in the WikiLeaks case was the focus of conservative criticism in the second half of the week.

Commentator Ann Coulter calls Obama a hesitant, powerless leader who is stuck in the White House, incapable of doing anything to defend his country. While Interpol is looking for Assange, she says, the US government isn't doing everything in its power to apprehend him. She characterizes the United States as "a helpless, pitiful giant."

Conspiracy Theories

Turkey has considered taking legal action because of the leaks. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described in the cables as an "ignorant Islamist" with eight Swiss bank accounts, wants to strike back at US diplomats in a big way. "Those who have slandered us will be crushed under these claims, will be finished and will disappear," Erdogan announced in Istanbul, where he is considering filing a lawsuit against the diplomats.

Many Turks suspect that a massive conspiracy by the Jewish lobby is behind the WikiLeaks campaign, a view held even by the deputy chairman of the governing party, the AKP. The goal of the reports, he says, is to weaken the Turkish government.

The cables will probably have their most serious long-term effects in places where the world was already extremely fragile before the leaks: the Middle East, Yemen, the countries bordering Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Critics in Islamabad said last week that the United States, Pakistan's strategic partner in the war on terrorism, mistrusts its Pakistani allies and is "playing a double game." Some of the cables revealed US concerns that Islamabad is not sufficiently protecting its nuclear arsenal. "The documents show what Washington really thinks about us," says one official in a Pakistani ministry.

Humble Pie

Secretary Clinton's diplomats will have to woo their foreign counterparts and openly express their regrets, and they'll even have to eat some humble pie to offset the loss of confidence. The State Department is already thinking about withdrawing some of its ambassadors as a way of making amends. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns says that the WikiLeaks disclosures have done "substantial damage" to diplomacy.

The peculiar thing about this debate is that it also has another, entirely different side, in the form of those who feel that the leaked cables are "embarrassing but not damaging" and "lack relevant new information."

"The WikiLeaks disclosures did not offer any surprises," writes Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitung, while the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit argues there is nothing at risk "that ought to preoccupy humanity, at least not in Europe."

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1. Less Outrage and More Pride
muley63 12/06/2010
Less hyperbole and more analysis of whether there is actual damage to US policy is in order. It is understandable that Spiegel is excited about Wikileaks, but readers are better served if there are stories about US policy that changes because of the leaks. In fact, as a US citizen, I share the same pride as other experts in the quality of the cables. Who can doubt that PM Merkel is a cautious-to-a-fault leader. I would not expect anything less from a scientist. How is that damaging? I suspect Merkel takes pride in that review. Moreover, that her view of her coalition partners is validated by Washington must be comforting. What is damaging from the cable is how her lack of European vision, support of the EU and inability to communicate to the German people of the benefits of the EU will in the longterm damage German interest.
2.
muley63 12/07/2010
Zitat von muley63Less hyperbole and more analysis of whether there is actual damage to US policy is in order. It is understandable that Spiegel is excited about Wikileaks, but readers are better served if there are stories about US policy that changes because of the leaks. In fact, as a US citizen, I share the same pride as other experts in the quality of the cables. Who can doubt that PM Merkel is a cautious-to-a-fault leader. I would not expect anything less from a scientist. How is that damaging? I suspect Merkel takes pride in that review. Moreover, that her view of her coalition partners is validated by Washington must be comforting. What is damaging from the cable is how her lack of European vision, support of the EU and inability to communicate to the German people of the benefits of the EU will in the longterm damage German interest.
forgot to add 'is missing from the cables.'
3.
BTraven 12/08/2010
Zitat von muley63Less hyperbole and more analysis of whether there is actual damage to US policy is in order. It is understandable that Spiegel is excited about Wikileaks, but readers are better served if there are stories about US policy that changes because of the leaks. In fact, as a US citizen, I share the same pride as other experts in the quality of the cables. Who can doubt that PM Merkel is a cautious-to-a-fault leader. I would not expect anything less from a scientist. How is that damaging? I suspect Merkel takes pride in that review. Moreover, that her view of her coalition partners is validated by Washington must be comforting. What is damaging from the cable is how her lack of European vision, support of the EU and inability to communicate to the German people of the benefits of the EU will in the longterm damage German interest.
How can she be proud of a judgement in which is said of her that she is unimaginative? Having a Teflon skin which allows her to weather all problems without taking care what happens around here is hardly a compliment, too. I do not think that cautiousness is an attitude a scientist should have.
4. Merkel's Character Assessment
muley63 12/08/2010
Zitat von BTravenHow can she be proud of a judgement in which is said of her that she is unimaginative? Having a Teflon skin which allows her to weather all problems without taking care what happens around here is hardly a compliment, too. I do not think that cautiousness is an attitude a scientist should have.
I guess being cautiousness can be mistaken for being unimaginative. Having Teflon skin is a compliment. Wouldn't like to have this trait where you never get blamed for anything. It would make my life easier. Moreover, I took many science classes and being cautious in your experiments and analysis of your data is exactly the attitude a scientist is supposed to take. Overall, Merkel should be pleased with the view the US has of her. Moreover, what do you think of what I believe is her real fault: she doesn't believe in the EU or the Euro even though the main beneficiary has been Germany. That Merkel does very little to educate Germans about how critical it is to the German economy to have a fiscally sound Europe. How making the Greek, Irish, Spaniard, Portuguese suffer when the Germans can be more generous will eventually hurt the Germans in the long run. Those are hard arguments to make, but real leaders ask for sacrifices and Merkel doesn't make them.
5.
BTraven 12/10/2010
Zitat von muley63I guess being cautiousness can be mistaken for being unimaginative. Having Teflon skin is a compliment. Wouldn't like to have this trait where you never get blamed for anything. It would make my life easier. Moreover, I took many science classes and being cautious in your experiments and analysis of your data is exactly the attitude a scientist is supposed to take. Overall, Merkel should be pleased with the view the US has of her. Moreover, what do you think of what I believe is her real fault: she doesn't believe in the EU or the Euro even though the main beneficiary has been Germany. That Merkel does very little to educate Germans about how critical it is to the German economy to have a fiscally sound Europe. How making the Greek, Irish, Spaniard, Portuguese suffer when the Germans can be more generous will eventually hurt the Germans in the long run. Those are hard arguments to make, but real leaders ask for sacrifices and Merkel doesn't make them.
My understanding, as I have explained already, is different – Teflon skin does not mean that you are not criticise but that criticism does not permitted to enter you body where it could harm you health by damaging different organs. Mobbing and stress could cause a lot of diseases. In science having a certain amount of cautiousness, besides persistency, may be a great advantage, however, I doubt that in daily routine where many procedures cannot be explained by science is it not useful to check things twenty or thirty times before you decide to publish your results because, contrary to science, the conditions change permanently. With her policy of punishing countries like Ireland and Greek with interest rate the economy of both states cannot generate has she impressively educated Germans that it is bad to have debts. Perhaps she and her advisers believe there won’t be sacrifices to be made because China and Co. will make up the losses.
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Reaction from the US Government
In a statement, the White House has condemned the publication of "private diplomatic discussions" with foreign governments by SPIEGEL and four other international media on Sunday. Click on the link below to read the statement in full.
White House Statement
We anticipate the release of what are claimed to be several hundred thousand classified State Department cables on Sunday night that detail private diplomatic discussions with foreign governments.

By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.

To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies. President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.

By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.

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