Today’s Moment of Idealistic Naivete: Wikileaks

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All the talking heads scrutinizing the whole wikileaks “scandal” are, to me, missing the point, as well as an incredible opportunity. What’s my naive, idealistic solution? Don’t say anything behind closed doors you aren’t willing to say in public, and be willing to say in public whatever you might say behind closed doors. Are honesty & integrity and diplomacy really so mutually exclusive? Rather than glad-handing in public and defaming in private, why couldn’t diplomats respectfully express their concerns in equal terms to all concerned parties?

Barack Obama calling David Cameron a “lightweight” achieves nothing. If President Obama has concerns about Mr. Cameron’s fortitude, why couldn’t he express them to the man, in person, respectfully? Apparently, referring to Iran, “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly beseeched visiting American officials to ‘cut off the head of the snake!'” Such wanton hyperbole has no place in positions of leadership, regardless of how passionate an individual’s opinions might be.

The biggest failure here, to me, is the seeming inability of world leaders to recognize that in a world of truly pervasive globalism—a world in which industry in China can melt glaciers in Greenland and flood islands in the South Pacific—we are all on the same team. Aren’t nationalistic paradigms focused on borders and competition instead of interconnectedness and collaboration doing more harm than good at this stage of the game?

Returning to my original point, my moment of idealistic naivete, why are people in the mold, to varying degrees, of Gandhi, or Lou Gehrig (or even of many of the characters of Gary Cooper, who famously portrayed Gehrig), of those who consider honesty a requirement not subject to convenience, dismissed as quaint? Why can’t Mr. Smith go to Washington once again?

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2 Responses to Today’s Moment of Idealistic Naivete: Wikileaks

  1. David Wagner says:

    It’s a good theoretical question Josh. The idea of complete honesty and fair dealing is one I think everyone in the western world can get on board with. But I think it is quite self-centered for us to think this is how the world should work.
    First, the idea of saying what you mean, and meaning what you say is not shared by all cultures. I don’t mean that other cultures lie. Rather, that many cultures have a different definition of a lie, and apply different norms for when honesty is called for. But the US and other western nations still have to maintain diplomatic relations with these countries, and it would be arrogant to try and force everyone to play by our rules. At the very least, arrogance aside, it would be counter productive.
    It’s also easier to be completely honest when no one can hurt you. The US, could, theoretically, be completely honest with everybody, and suffer only some harm. But in a democracy of the (usually) uninformed, what is an acceptable price to pay for honesty? Countries like Saudi Arabia, or Japan, aside from cultural differences, are also in decidedly different bargaining positions. They MUST maintain good relations with their neighbors, or risk existential threat. At the same time, the very much need to maintain strong ties with the US, Europe, China etc. They are in very difficult positions, and cannot afford to act as if honest is their top priority, and let the chips fall where they may.
    Strong though we are, we also NEED the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, bureaucrats, and businesses to maintain our hegemony, and internal security. And maintaining our hegemony for as long as possible is certainly a top priority for elected officials. And I think privately, most people with any wealth to protect will also admit that maintaing that wealth is a priority to some extent for them as well.

    I appreciate what wikileaks is trying to do, and I am certainly not giving carte blanche to governments to scheme and manipulate at will. But it’s not merely naive to expect diplomats to only say things they wouldn’t mind seeing the light of day, I think it is counter productive to the overall goal: peace, sustainable development, cooperation, and social and environmental justice.

  2. Josh Grigsby says:

    I get what you mean, but my point is more that the paradigm needs to change from competition to collaboration, from many teams to one team, and that collaboration requires honesty and transparency. I don’t think peace, sustainable development, cooperation, or social and environmental justice will ever be possible within a paradigm of competition. The protectionism you mention is a natural side-effect of competition; it has no place in collaboration. Certainly, your depiction of the concerns and motivations of various nations is accurate. But arguing about the furniture while the house burns down won’t benefit anyone. My idealistic and naive wish, triggered by the wikileaks situation, is that world leaders recognize this and alter their behavior accordingly.

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