Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pause

I have often stopped myself from writing things on my blog because I was uncertain of the potential impact. That's been true from the beginning of my foreign service career, but more true since I've been stationed here. It's one thing to talk about funny visa stories; how can I talk about human rights issues in my host country? How can I talk about Jordanian politics? Or our policy approach to the region? It's frustrating, because they are things I WANT people to discuss -- things people SHOULD discuss. I tell myself that I'm protecting other people by being quiet. In truthful moments, I worry that I am mainly just protecting myself.

With all that in mind, it's been hard to watch the wikileaks story. On the surface of it, what officer hasn't wanted to run screaming down a hallway with a cable in hand demanding that people consider an issue she or he thinks is being overlooked or lightly treated? I'm sure there are no small number of people secretly wishing that their cables DO get a mention -- that finally that particular issue they had championed and worked on and cried over would be exposed and people would take action. It's a hopeful viewpoint -- or maybe a frustrated viewpoint. We want our work to bring about change. Not later, not gradually, not patiently, but now.

But the rest of the world is not America or Australia or Britain or Canada, or any other country whose inhabitants are calling out about wikileaks having a right to information. Civil liberties, legal protections, the right to defend yourself and your actions: these don't exist in so many places. So many places that you wouldn't guess. So many places that you might take a nice vacation to and look around and think "this seems like a pleasant enough country" and never give another thought to what's beneath the surface. Places where, to mention certain things, you have to do it in private. Where information is not a tool, but rather a weapon to be turned against people.

It is heart-wrenching to hear wikileaks demand to know who they have put in danger, and it's astounding to me that they can't get past the thrill of 'embarrassing' the United States to see that what they are doing is dangerous -- and that they will never hear about the people who are punished for it. The person who is whisked away in the night for "questioning" won't be mentioned online or in the papers... and now, might not even be mentioned in cables meant to inform our government and help stop abuses. Are all the Western observers so gleeful about the U.S. being compromised going to take action to fix the issues wikileaks exposes? Are they even in a position to do so? No. No, they are not. Diplomats are. Or we were. Maybe less so, now.

I feel sick every time I see someone call wikileaks a "whistle-blowing" website. This is not whistle-blowing. It's just voyeurism. At best, I thought it might lead to the sort of informed discussion on the issues that cable writers so fervently dream of inspiring. It seems that people just aren't interested. More fun to poke at the American straw man you've constructed than to to think critically about the ramification of things.

And for the record, wikileaks isn't embarrassing the United States. None of us are embarrassed about doing our job.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well said! You are such a good, no, a great writer!
-gk

Anonymous said...

ah, i had been wanting to ask you about this, but wasn't sure to what extent you'd feel comfortable having that discussion via our various technologies. looking forward to further insights over christmas. so proud of you and looking forward to seeing you. (karyn)

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Sharon said...

As always you show incredible insight and are able to articulate with great clarity. Enjoying your posts!

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms2.blogspot.com/2010/12/re-pause.html

Destinaish Unknown said...

Hiya! I just wanted to let you know that you were one of the first FSO blogs I came across nearly 2 years ago and read it from beginning to end. I am in the FSO app process studying for the OA, but wanted to let you know I was inspired by your story in Japan getting diagnosed. I recently went through nine months of torture with an undiagnosed GI disorder, and wondered what would have happened if it occurred overseas. Your story serves as an inspiration to me to keep pursing my FS dreams! Thanks :-)

Heather said...

I've seen a lot of ignorant comments about WikiLeaks, but the most frustrating thing is knowing that the people who are making those comments do not have a clue what releasing those cables will do. And they never will because, as you pointed out, those consequences will never make it to the news. This is not about protecting ourselves from embarrassment, it's about protecting diplomacy, something the WikiLeaks supporters don't understand.

VC said...

Yes, it is an embarrassment that is intended to shed light on some of the unethical ways America does business. I would rather know about the wars than not know - and would rather understand the truth than be told misinformation about what "is really" going on out there. It is not as if secrets and hidden agendas are better at protecting lives - they are more adept at constructing the narrative around the lie because policy makers control the flow of information, and that information flows down the hierarchy. When the flow comes from below the power hierarchy, it is usually never tolerated, and a quick backlash ensues. The end result is a punishment, or a crafted discrediting, of the offender.

This whole issue of the release of information would not be a problem if the military did not lie about their wrongdoing (e.g. the Apache leak). What is the problem with telling the truth about when/how civilians are killed?

Consul-At-Arms said...

@VC:

Your comment is an unpackable clot of bias and ignorance.

Consul-At-Arms said...

p.s. The Apache video to which you refer was selectively edited (by WL); in any case it clearly shows "journalists" who've chosen a side (the terrorists).

Katie said...

Hello VC,

I disagree with Consul-at-Arms; I don't think you are necessarily speaking out of ignorance. However, you are discussing the release of military documents. I'm talking about the blind release of many thousands of diplomatic documents. Whistle-blowing usually involves the selective release of information to prevent wrong-doing, and it is something that I wholeheartedly support. As I said above, though, this was not a selected release of information meant to expose specific wrong doings. I don't think that it qualifies as whistle-blowing, and I don't think it has assisted international efforts of civilians to whistle-blow on conditions in their own countries.

Elizabeth said...

Hi....I reached out a few months back. I've made it through a few more hoops of the Foreign Service Candidate Process. I just passed the French phone test. I am currently #37 on the Economics register. I have decided to start studying Arabic while I wait. I am wondering if you have any advice to share on language immersion in Jordan. I'd appreciate any insight. Thanks, Elizabeth (ewewerka at hotmail.com)

Katie said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Congratulations and very good luck to you. If you want true Arabic language immersion, I recommend Syria over Jordan -- there's just too much English in Jordan. Though of course, time in any additional foreign countries is going to slow your security clearance somewhat. The less "friendly" the countries, the slower the clearance is likely to be. That shouldn't necessarily rule your travel, but it's something to be conscious of.

pillarofpeace said...

Great post - you said everything so perfectly.

Rosk said...

another by-product of wikileaks is the ilusion that people no longer need good journalists.