U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had the unenviable task this week of calling her counterparts in world capitals to tell them the bad news: Thousands of secret cables documenting their private views, as well as the uncomfortably candid assessments of U.S. diplomats, were about to be dumped into the public arena thanks to WikiLeaks, the self-styled global whistle-blower website.
With revelations ranging from Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's penchant for Ukrainian nurses to Saudi King Abdullah's exhortation to "Cut the head off the snake" in Iran, the documents make for far more titillating reading than WikiLeaks' previous efforts, which consisted mainly of hard-to-parse raw reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. This time, U.S. officials were sharing their unvarnished views of American allies and adversaries alike, often in colorful, gripping prose.
Although the documents contain few bombshell revelations, commentators were quick to pronounce disaster. German magazine Der Spiegel described the leaks as "no less than a political meltdown for United States foreign policy." The Guardian newspaper declared a "global diplomatic crisis." The Drudge Report ran a banner headline screaming "CYBER MONDAY NIGHTMARE." And Clinton herself warned ominously that the disclosures would put U.S. sources at risk and "tear at the fabric of the proper function of responsible government."
But is WikiLeaks' new data dump really so damaging? According to Mitchell Reiss, a former head of policy planning at the State Department, "It's obviously an embarrassment" for the United States, but one that is "unlikely to do long-term damage." Not only was there "little news" in the cables, he said, but reporters are exaggerating their importance to U.S. policymakers -- "nobody has time to read that stuff" anyway.
There's no question, however, that Clinton's job just got a lot harder in the short term. As Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, puts it, "A man might say things to his wife about his mother-in-law that he would be horrified to hear her repeat to her mother and the doing of which might even put great strain on his marriage." In that spirit, here are 10 foreign-policy relationships that just got a little more awkward.
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