WikiLeaks cables tell the story of an empire in decline
President Obama emerges from the WikiLeaks cables as a weak leader, whose good intentions dissipate in the face of the stubbornness of his Middle Eastern counterparts.
Beyond the gossip, the indiscretions and the petty lies, the cables released by WikiLeaks tell a sad story. They depict the fall of the American empire, the decline of a superpower that ruled the world by dint of its military and economic supremacy. President Barack Obama emerges from the cables as a weak, flimsy leader, whose good intentions and lofty visions dissipate like dust in the wind in the face of the conservatism and stubbornness of his Middle Eastern counterparts.
The days when American ambassadors were received in world capitals as "high commissioners" are long since gone. The diplomats who wrote the WikiLeaks documents are tired bureaucrats: Nobody rises in their honor and clicks their heels when they enter a room. They spend their days listening wearily to their hosts' talking points, never reminding them who is the superpower and who the client state that needs military or financial aid from America.
The legacy of the storied secretaries of state of days gone by - John Foster Dulles, Henry Kissinger and James Baker - has long since disappeared into archives and memoirs. The America of Obama and Hillary Clinton doesn't dare pound on the table and knock heads together when its friends and rivals do as they please. It takes notes, files them and moves on.
There is nothing new in the Middle East. Regional leaders, both Arab and Israeli, are busy with their own affairs and ignore America's interests and wishes. And Obama's election changed nothing: It's hard to find differences between the minutes of diplomatic talks held under George W. Bush and the cables sent by representatives of the current administration.
Obama's Ankara and Cairo speeches, his moving calls for a new relationship between America and the Arab and Muslim worlds, even his quotations from the Koran, were all greeted with utter indifference. The rulers in Riyadh and Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Amman, Damascus and Jerusalem heard Obama and didn't change so much as a comma in their well-known positions. The Israelis don't trust the Arabs, the Arabs are suspicious of the Israelis and both of them are terrified of Iran.
In its editorial on Tuesday, the New York Times praised Obama and his team as outstanding diplomats who stood up to Arab and Israeli pressure on America to attack Iran and "cut off the head of the snake," in the words of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. What naivete. It's hard to believe that experienced leaders like King Abdullah, the emir of Bahrain, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Defense Minister Ehud Barak really imagined that Obama would read the cables from the Middle East and hasten to arm his stealth bombers and declare war on Iran. They knew Washington was unenthusiastic about bombing Natanz and Bushehr.
Their pressure on the administration had a completely different goal: thwarting Obama's efforts at rapprochement with Iranian leaders Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and ensuring that America would maintain a hard line against Tehran and its rulers. And this goal was fully achieved, with some help from the Iranians, who openly thumbed their noses at the U.S. president.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first world leader to leverage the WikiLeaks revelations for his own purposes. At a press conference on Monday, Netanyahu used the leaked cables to trash Obama's position and advance the agenda of "Iran first." The cables prove, he said, that there's no truth in the narrative that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the greatest threat to the region and its future.
The doublespeak of the Arab leaders, who publicly attack Israel while warning against Iran in closed forums, helps the prime minister repulse the American administration's claim that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes precedence. It provides confirmation of Israel's assertion, which the West has disbelieved for years, that the Palestinians aren't important.
The Arab leaders didn't ignore the Palestinians. They raised this issue over and over in their talks with American representatives. But the Egyptians and the Gulf emirates share their Israeli counterparts' view of the conflict as a nuisance that must be managed, not a problem that can be solved.
None of them fantasized about a Palestinian state, about freedom and independence for Gaza and Nablus. All they wanted was to get this annoying nuisance off their backs, and they didn't care how. They viewed Obama as a pest and his envoys as bothers, not as spokesmen for the global superpower. Or perhaps that's no longer what America is.