WikiLeaks' release of a quarter of a million confidential diplomatic cables will embarrass Washington -- but in all probability will not have more serious policy consequences for the United States.
After all, to describe Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as an ‘Alpha male’ is hardly sensational information; neither is describing President Dmitry Medvedev as playing Robin -- the junior assistant -- to Putin's Batman, the superhero.
Nor for that matter is the fact that the U.S. Embassy in Bejing suspects the Chinese leadership of trying for years to hack into computers of the United States, its allies, and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
As so far examined, the quarter of a million documents are full of such material, most conclusions of which could be arrived at by any careful reader of world affairs.
But there are also a few revelations. They include reports that some Arab leaders -- including Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah -- urged the United States to attack Iran and end its nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad dismissed the documents as "mischief" and said they would not affect relations with the country’s neighbors.
The released cables also include details on the very close relationship between Putin and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi and alleged links between the Russian government and organized crime.Anger From Washington
Washington today responded with anger at having its private correspondence strung out on a washing line, as it were, for all the world to see.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the Obama administrations “abhors” the release, while in a special statement to the press today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the country “condemns” it.
"[The release] puts people's lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems," said the top U.S. diplomat.
Clinton also called the release, “not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests,” but, “an attack on the international community.”
She expressed confidence that U.S. relations with other countries would “withstand this challenge.”
U.S. allies Britain, France, and Germany have brushed aside slighting remarks about their leaders contained in the leaked cables.
Waheed Omer, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said, "We don't see anything substantive in the documents that will strain the relationship.”
However, Clinton admitted that some damage may have been done.
"Obviously, this is a matter of great concern because we don't want anyone in any of the countries that could be affected by these alleged leaks to have any doubts about our intentions and about our commitments," she said.
The Obama administration has also argued that the leaks could endanger the writers and subjects of the reports.
A statement issued by the White House says the disclosures put at risk U.S, diplomatic and intelligence staff, but also individuals who live and work under oppressive conditions and who may a have approached the United States for help in trying to create freer societies.
The statement continues: "By releasing stolen and classified documents WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also he lives and work of these individuals."
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking on November 28 in an interview on CNN, pointed to another danger, namely that any extra fragment of information could help extremists create a pattern which gives them a better insight into U.S. plans.
"What I don't think those who are in charge of WikiLeaks understand is [that] we live in a world where just a little, [tiny] piece of information can be added to a network of information and really open up an understanding that just wasn't there before. So it continues to be extremely dangerous," he said.Healthy Openness?
Despite the criticism, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sticks to his line that he is promoting a healthy openness in government affairs.
"The general trend for accountability of the U.S. military is worrying," he said on November 28 via video link to journalists in Amman, Jordan. "But fortunately, there are still good people in the U.S. government, and some of those good people want to see things go the other way, and they are willing to step forward to give us material to help us do that, and to give other journalists similar material as well."
Assange gave advance copies of some of the cables to five major press outlets in the United States and Europe. One of these, "The New York Times," explained its rationale for printing the material today.
It said the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.
Meanwhile, Washington is vowing to hold responsible the source of the massive leak, more installments of which are set to come.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration is considering several steps in response to the release and has launched a criminal investigation into how the documents were made public.
U.S. government agencies are also taking steps to deal with the fallout.
U.S. State Department spokesman Crowley said that the government had set up a “task force” to deal with the disclosure, and is maintaining frequent contact with its post around the world to assess the reaction.
Clinton said she had directed that “specific actions” be taken at the State Department in addition to new security safeguards being put in place at the Department of Defense.
She said the new measures are meant to ensure that “this kind of breach cannot and does not ever happen again."