Washington is abuzz with the news that a quarter-million confidential cables from American diplomats around the world have been leaked to the press through a group called Wikileaks. The documents provide insider accounts of high level wheeling and dealing, candid threat assessments, and -- gasp! -- diplomats' honest opinions of world leaders.
At first blush it sure sounds juicy. Even the term "diplomatic cable" has a Mission: Impossible kind of feel to it. And Hillary Clinton has done her part to make it sound as salacious as possible, by describing the leak as "an attack" that "tears at the fabric" of government.
But I'm not convinced. In fact, I don't think anything in here is really so surprising. Let's take a closer look at some of these supposed revelations.
First, the gossip. American diplomats refer to E.U. leaders with monikers such as "Teflon Merkel," "authoritarian Sarkozy" and "ineffective Berlusconi." We don't really trust Hamid Karzai, or many other Afghan leaders. And Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah doesn't like the leaders of Iraq or Pakistan. All this backbiting despite so many fireside photo ops!
Newsflash, truth seekers: Like the rest of us, diplomats don't like some of the people they work with, but they don't always tell people what they really think of them. In fact it turns out diplomats are generally diplomatic.
Then comes the news that some of them are engaged in spying. Quel scandale! The line between diplomat and spy is only blurred in about two-thirds of Hollywood espionage movies. See Mission: Impossible, Lethal Weapon 2, and Spies Like Us, among others. The diplomat/spy construct is just slightly less trite than the talking dog.
What else? China is hacking into and sabotaging computers owned by the US government and American businesses. That's so unlike China. This really comes out of nowhere, unless you consider that a Congressional report told us the exact same thing over a year ago.
It also turns out that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Syria aren't trying as hard as they claim to fight terrorism. Perhaps that's why I've spent the past decade reading that those countries are hotbeds of terrorism.
Of course, these blockbusters come to us from WikiLeaks. They stunned the world in July with the release of military documents on the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, which revealed that it's not going well. Equally underwhelming was the news that our leaders may be painting a deceptively rosy picture of a war effort. They haven't done that since the last war!
Whatever happened to the old rule about man bites dog?
Don't get me wrong, I understand this leak comes with consequences. It's certainly creating a lot of unpleasant work for the folks at the State Department, who started calling around the world last week to apologize in advance.
But I'm not surprised by most of these cables, I can't believe the people receiving those apologies are either. The real revelation here is that we're paying diplomats all over the world to tell us things we already know. And to come up with really bad nicknames for European leaders. Come on guys. "Ineffective Berlusconi?" Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think of something better than that. Then leak it.