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The embarrassment will be all ours

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

With the US government frantically contacting its friends and allies across the world, trying to preempt any damaging revelations contained in the millions of diplomatic cables about to be released by Wikileaks, it’s worth considering for a moment who really stands to be embarrassed by this affair.

It isn’t going to be the United States. Sure, it may be a bit of black eye for the Obama administration, but lets face it, every diplomatic service in the world sends these kinds of messages, and it’s not the US that is the subject of the documents. By all accounts many of these cables contain the personal (possibly candid) opinions of American diplomats stationed all over the world relating to their dealings with government officials in their host countries. Some of the cables will be non-controversial. Others will have been written according to what the writer thinks his superiors want to hear – but many of them will contain the truth as seen by the writers about the people with whom they deal day-in-and-day-out. The cables will be like a huge mirror reflecting back to us the image we project to others (as opposed to the image we have of ourselves).

Take the documents relating to Canada. Already it is being reported that many of them will discuss our national inferiority complex towards all things Yankee. Now, the average American, Briton, or Australian if he ever gives Canada any thought, probably thinks of us as those nice polite boy scouts types who append “eh” onto the back of every sentence. What he doesn’t know is how much time we spend worrying about what Americans will think of us, while smugly telling ourselves how much better we are than the barbarian to our south. Well, Telegraph readers now know, and later this week, a lot more people will know what unpleasant jealous, insecure little twats, Canadians, and in particular a certain breed of Canadian politicians can be when you scratch this particular wart of our national character. We couldn’t buy worse publicity if we broadcast a certain Molson ad on every English-language network in the entire world.

Likewise, everyone is suddenly going to learn what anyone who lives in this country for any length of time soon realises – the British ruling class – politicians, media types, senior bureaucrats and military officials have an ability unmatched anywhere else in the world to combine arrogance, ignorance, and gross stupidity. That’s why the government here is busy issuing D-notices in the name of national security – they can’t stop foreign terrorists, or unfriendly governments ferretting out the genuinely harmful stuff, but they sure as hell don’t want a casual browser here in the UK learning how dysfunctional the our armed forces and intelligence services really are.

We’ll read angry missives about populist Korean leaders demagoguing against the presence of American troops in their country whilst secretly begging them to stay and protect them from their loony northern cousins.

We’ll read how pompous and officious Indians can be, the frustrations of trying to deal with stubborn and stiff-necked Israelis, about duplicitous Turks supporting Iraqi terrorists, shifty Afghani tribal politicians behaving like shifty Afghan tribal politicians. In short the national foibles of every nation on this earth are about to be shown the light of day.

I’ll end this thread with two predictions:

1. The only country that will come through this episode unscathed will be the French, because they are generally insouciant about how their actions will affect others’ opinions of them.

2. Julian Assange has just made a boatload of new enemies, many of them who will have far fewer scruples about offing him than the United States does.