When Julian Assange released a deluge of confidential U.S. intelligence documents on the Internet last November, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially called it a major attack on the United States. The response was accurate, justified and suitably forceful.
It was also an anomaly. Sadly, soon after that refreshing display of force, the U.S. began backpedaling away from any talk of aggression or retaliation against the blatant act of espionage.
The day after Clinton made her remarks, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates downplayed the significance of the unauthorized release of more than 250,000 classified State Department documents. He said the overall impact of America’s secrets going public would be “fairly modest.”
Gates explained, “The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. … We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation” (emphasis mine throughout).
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs exuded this same air of superiority during an interview on December 1. We’re not afraid of one guy with a laptop, Gibbs exclaimed. “We’re the United States of America!”
America’s leaders weren’t the only ones claiming the leaks were no big deal. Former New York Times columnist Leslie Gelb actually said that WikiLeaks “accidentally helps” America. In his list of WikiLeaks winners, Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf handed first place to “The United States of America,” and second place to “American diplomats.”
Such expressions of inflated self-worth, however, don’t fix the damage the leaks have caused. In fact, the lack of a firm response only reinforces an uncomfortable truth that the leaked cables themselves post on a billboard for all the world to see: that America’s will has been broken.
Broken Connections, Damaged Credibility
Consider the damage done to America’s information-gathering abilities. For example, one secret cable contained important testimony from a well-connected Iranian businessman who works in Baku, was educated in Britain and made famous in Iran as a sportsman. His name was omitted from the cable, but how long will it be before Iranian authorities figure out who it is? Next time he’s interviewed by American diplomats—assuming he is even alive—how forthright do you suppose he will be?
“We do know … that our adversaries are out there actively mining this information,” a Pentagon spokesman explained. We just don’t know how they are going to use it, he said.
Besides abetting the terrorist cause, consider the impact WikiLeaks will have on America’s diplomatic exchanges with allies. There have already been reports of foreign diplomats backing away from their dealings with American officials. According to the State Department, fewer diplomats are now attending meetings abroad. In one case, there was a request for notebooks to be left outside the meeting room.
Who can blame them? No one wants their off-the-record comments to go viral. Even America’s own diplomats must surely be thinking twice about offering candid remarks when reporting back to Washington. How can they be expected to provide the unvarnished truth if, in the backs of their minds, they are worried about someone else seeing that information later?
Remember the example of Theodore Roosevelt. For negotiating peace between Russia and Japan, he became the first U.S. president to win a Nobel Peace Prize. This feat would have been impossible if either side feared their communications could be made public. Both sides were afraid of losing face by being the one to ask for peace, yet both sides wanted peace. Tsar Nicolas only agreed to negotiate on the condition that his agreement would remain “absolutely secret” until Japan had also agreed to do so. Actually, Japan had been asking the U.S. the same thing for some time.
In this case, Japan and Russia put their trust in America firstly because it was in their interest, but also because they trusted America to keep their secrets. Thus Roosevelt was able to negotiate a treaty that stopped a war, helped American interests in the Far East, and increased America’s global prestige.
Now that trust is gone. “[T]aking away privacy makes diplomacy impossible,” wrote Stratfor’s George Friedman. “If what you really think of the guy on the other side of the table is made public, how can diplomacy work? … [W]hat [Assange] did in leaking these documents, if the leaking did anything at all, is make diplomacy more difficult. It is not that it will lead to war by any means; it is simply that one cannot advocate negotiations and then demand that negotiators be denied confidentiality in which to conduct their negotiations. No business could do that, nor could any other institution” (Dec. 14, 2010).
All in all, as former cia officer Robert Baer wrote in the Financial Times, American credibility and diplomacy have suffered “incalculable” damage. “[T]he credibility of the State Department as a reliable interlocutor has evaporated, and no doubt for a long time,” Baer concluded (Nov. 30, 2010).
The most disturbing development, as Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer noted, “is the helplessness of a superpower that not only cannot protect its own secrets but shows the world that if you violate its secrets—massively, wantonly and maliciously—there are no consequences” (Dec. 3, 2010).
A reporter asked Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell why the United States didn’t employ its recently developed Cyber Command in order to prevent the WikiLeaks fiasco. This was his stunning response: “We … clearly have offensive capabilities. But at the end of the day … the decision was made not to proceed with any sort of aggressive action of that sort in this case. It was just deemed not appropriate for us to consider such a thing.”
The Pentagon, in other words, might have stopped WikiLeaks before it even got started, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate. And besides, as Morrell went on to explain, at the end of the day, the document dump “does not … adversely impact America’s power or prestige.”
Don’t worry—we’re the United States of America! We’re invincible and indispensable!
The rest of the world, meanwhile, sees America as a former superpower in rapid decline. The pride of America’s power has already been broken, just as God said it would be (Leviticus 26:19). Nothing illustrates this quite like America’s passive response to the WikiLeaks sabotage—a blatant act of international espionage aimed directly at the United States.
It’s a far cry from the iron-handed approach to foreign affairs that presidents like Theodore Roosevelt once employed, when America was on the rise as a prestigious and dominant world power. “Speak softly and carry a big stick—[and] you will go far,” Roosevelt said. As Thomas Bailey wrote in his 1968 volume, The Art of Diplomacy, Roosevelt’s proverb means that for diplomatic courtesy to produce tangible results, it has to be backed by a show of real strength.
Now, America seems to be ditching the proverbial “big stick” altogether.
Consider the now-blown cover of Yemen’s president (a covert U.S. ally). The cia lists the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda as the most urgent threat to U.S. security. One leaked cable shows that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh gave U.S. Gen. David Petraeus permission to routinely bomb al Qaeda targets within Yemen, saying, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” The cable also indicts Yemen’s deputy prime minister for blatantly lying to parliament when he claimed Yemeni forces were dropping the bombs on the terrorist positions—implying that heathen American forces were not allowed in the country.
Another cable reveals President Saleh gave his approval to alcohol smuggling by government officials, even as he worked to boost his popularity by portraying himself as an Islamic leader in the full religious sense. The cable paints him as a blatant hypocrite. Greg Johnson, a Yemen expert at Princeton, said, “In some of the tribal areas where al Qaeda is really attempting to recruit people, having something like this where the president and his ministers are on the record talking about lying and deceiving parliament and the Yemeni public, I think it will have traction. Al Qaeda will be able to use it in the months to come.”
Now, not only is America’s ability to attack al Qaeda in Yemen in peril, but there is also the potential loss of an ally and the reinforcement of the terrorists that America will have to deal with.
WikiLeaks also gave Hezbollah terrorists a boost in Lebanon. The cables quote Lebanon’s Defense Minister Elias Murr, former Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade and other politicians giving sensitive information about Hezbollah to American officials. Murr offered advice for the U.S. to pass on to Israel to use against Hezbollah. The leaks show that Murr wanted Israel to weaken Hezbollah so the Lebanese Army could “take over.”
This is exactly the type of propaganda that Hezbollah, which paints itself as the true defender of Lebanon, loves. Hezbollah will no doubt use it to justify radical actions against the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese leaks will also affect the international tribunal investigating the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A Lebanese tribunal was expected to implicate Syria and accuse several Hezbollah members of being involved in the murder. However, leaked cables reveal that the tribunal had asked the U.S. for intelligence. Hezbollah is using this to claim that the tribunal is a setup. Again, the leaks hurt the politicians that chose to work with the U.S. against terrorist groups.
In Zimbabwe too, the position of America and its allies has been undermined. Leaked cables paint President Robert Mugabe’s chief opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, as an American stooge, and a crummy one at that. They relate Tsvangirai’s discussions with the U.S. on how to oust Mugabe. The leaks also reveal the name of a member of Mugabe’s own party who was informing the U.S. Now he could end up fired, in prison, or dead. Zimbabwean officials are accusing Tsvangirai of treason.
Liesl Louw-Vaudran of the Institute for Security Studies said the leaks could easily destabilize Zimbabwe: “We are sitting with a very tense situation, very delicate, where we’ve got a dictator now for the last 25 years here in Africa, absolutely insistent that any opposition to him is being instigated by the West. And now he has that on paper, and that is dangerous. … I do fear that the revelations [are] really going to give ammunition to President Robert Mugabe, especially while we are facing a new election in Zimbabwe [in 2011].”
The cables have made a mess of America’s efforts to undermine a despotic regime that disregards human rights and works closely with China.
America’s tenuous alliance with Pakistan also took a hit. U.S. critics in Islamabad, of which there are many, cannot be happy about the cable accusing Pakistan of “playing a double game.” Other leaks reveal America’s aggravation over the lax security surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. As one Pakistani official recently noted, “The documents show what Washington really thinks about us.” Which is to say, not much.
The leaks broadcast to the world the locations of America’s hard-to-defend soft spots. According to Agence France-Presse, one secret cable contains a list of important global infrastructure locations, including underwater pipelines, communication ports and mineral reserves. Said P.J. Crowley, spokesman at the State Department, it’s exactly the kind of classified information that can be used by terrorist groups as a target list.
The WikiLeaks reveal an America not only unwilling to use force against its most avowed enemy, but a nation going to extremes to cover up that nation’s hatred for the U.S.—even going so far as to hide from Americans the fact that Iran is at war with America and killing its soldiers.
Try to wrap your mind around that: Even as American soldiers are asked to sacrifice their lives in the war against terrorism, two U.S. presidents—representing both political parties—have been hard at work covering the tracks of the world’s number-one state sponsor of terror!
In October, when WikiLeaks released another batch of secret documents coming from the Iraqi battlefield, the New York Times said it revealed how Iran’s military had “intervened aggressively” to support combatants fighting American troops. Another Times piece noted that U.S. troops had discovered evidence of Iran’s role in training Iraqi militants and supplying militias with rockets, magnetic bombs and other weapons. “The reports make it clear that the lethal contest between Iranian-backed militias and American forces continued after President Obama sought to open a diplomatic dialogue with Iran’s leaders,” the Times wrote (Oct. 22, 2010).
Even as Iran continued its deadly assault on American troops, President Obama worked to erase the Iranian connection. Who can forget his Cairo speech, when he showered praise on the Iranian people and encouraged the mullahs to finish their nuclear power project?
For his part, President Bush repeatedly stressed toward the end of his second term that he had “no desire” to go to war against Iran.
Even as practically every major leader in the Middle East was pleading with the United States to do something about the primary source of state-sponsored terrorism, America backed down.
In November 2009, according to one diplomatic cable, King Hamad of Bahrain “argued forcefully” for the U.S. to use “whatever means necessary” to knock out Iran’s nuclear program. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,” he said.
His plea was shared by numerous other Arab leaders. “Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter,” said one senior representative from the Jordanian Senate.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak referred to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as being irrational and accused Iran of continually “stirring trouble.” In another cable, America’s ambassador in Cairo described Mubarak as having “a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic.”
Abu Dhabi’s crown prince said it was only a matter of time before Ahmadinejad plunged the Middle East into war. He said if American air strikes didn’t take out the nuclear program, then the U.S. should send in ground forces. He urged such action back in 2006.
Even before that Saudi Arabia’s powerful King Abdullah angrily expressed his disapproval of the Bush administration for disregarding his advice against the Iraqi invasion. Prior to the war in Iraq, Abdullah said, the U.S., Saddam Hussein and Saudi Arabia had collectively kept Iran in check. But by knocking out Saddam, the U.S. had unwittingly handed Iraq over to Iran as a “gift on a golden platter.”
As many of our readers know, we were talking about the likelihood of Iraq falling to Iran as early as 1994. Can you imagine the power Iran would have, Gerald Flurry asked in December of that year, if it gained control of Iraq? Then, soon after the war broke out in March 2003, we wrote, “It may seem shocking, given the U.S. presence in the region right now, but prophecy indicates that, in pursuit of its goal, Iran will probably take over Iraq” (June 2003).
According to one cable that turned up in the latest WikiLeaks dump, King Abdullah “frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran and put an end to its nuclear weapons program.” The Saudi ambassador to Washington implored America “to cut off the head of the snake.”
Many of our readers will remember us using that same analogy when the war on terrorism began. “If the Taliban is just one tendril of the monster, where is the head?” we asked in November 2001. “The real head of the snake of terrorism is referred to in end-time prophecy as the king of the south.” And Iran, that article explained, was the one Mideast nation with enough strength, willpower and resources to be the king of the south.
Students of Bible prophecy are well aware of the coming clash between the kings of the north and south, spoken of in Daniel 11:40. This is referring to a German-led European combine, the king of the north, coming against the Iranian-led king of the south like a whirlwind.
The United States, meanwhile, isn’t even mentioned in the Daniel 11 prophecy. In fact, no Bible prophecy speaks expressly of a major clash between the United States and Iran.
What prophecy does reveal is that God has broken the pride of American power—that America’s military strength in these latter days will be spent in vain (Leviticus 26:19-20).