State Department Secrets Revealed: How America Views the World
Part 3: A Superpower's Weaknesses Exposed
In pursuing its foreign-policy goals in the wake of the collapse of its rival behind the former Iron Curtain, the United States clearly focused more on military might and intelligence-gathering than on diplomacy. Under George W. Bush, the diplomatic corps shrunk to a greater extent than ever before. In fact, there were more musicians in US military bands than diplomats, while the Pentagon's budget was 24 times the combined expenditure on the State Department and development aid.
Secretary of State Clinton agreed. In a speech she announced her intention of "shifting from mostly direct exercise and application of power to a more sophisticated and difficult mix or indirect power and influence," an indirect foreign policy that required more patience as well as more partners.
The newly-released documents span the entire timeframe between these poles of diplomatic activity.
On the one hand, they show that local leaders the world over are still falling over themselves to please the US. The question of who gets to be photographed when with President Obama has also prompted rivalry among major European nations. For instance, American diplomats in Madrid cabled the following message to Washington: "For domestic political reasons, they intensely want a US-EU summit, and the lack of a Presidential visit would be seen as a major failure of (Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez) Zapatero."
Nonetheless, local US ambassadors can no longer simply issue instructions in their role as representatives of the American president. Even under George W. Bush, US diplomats spent the first few months of 2003 fruitlessly attempting to cajole the 14 other members of the United Nations Security Council into backing a resolution approving military intervention in Iraq. Only three countries did so. After the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the victorious Americans still had a hard time getting their way. US Vice President Joe Biden has repeatedly visited Baghdad to convince his allies in the Iraqi government to set up respectable democratic mechanisms. But as the embassy memos show, neither Obama's deputy, direct pressure nor sweet words have helped thus far.
On the whole, the cables from the Middle East expose the superpower's weaknesses. Washington has always viewed it as vital to its survival to secure its share of energy reserves, but the world power is often quickly reduced to becoming a plaything of diverse interests. And it is drawn into the animosities between Arabs and Israelis, Shiites and Sunnis, between Islamists and secularists.
First and foremost, however, Washington's relations with up-and-coming economic powerhouse China proves that the "American century" is probably drawing to a close. The documents depict how self-confidently the Chinese dance around the Americans. US diplomats speak of "muscle-flexing, triumphalism and assertiveness" in describing China's image toward the outside world.
"How do you deal toughly with your banker?" a somewhat resigned Mrs. Clinton asked former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd -- at least, according to a report from the US embassy in Canberra.
It's a question that has ushered in a new century.
Reported by RÜDIGER FALKSOHN, HANS HOYNG, UWE KLUSSMANN, HORAND KNAUP, SUSANNE KOELBL, ANDREAS LORENZ, JULIANE VON MITTELSTAEDT, MATHIEU VON ROHR, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ
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A time lapse of 251,287 documents: The world map shows where the majority of the cables originated from, and where they had the highest level of classification. View the atlas ...
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.
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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.