I’ve read some of the Wikileaks cables, and they are interesting in the sense that they portray the every day business of diplomacy. Perhaps the greatest revelation is that the “business” is rather ordinary, and not too dissimilar from what the rest of us experience. We all try to make sense of the world, and in doing so, our observations are sometimes colorfully insightful and sometimes groundless twaddle. World leaders should not be chaffed because someone happens to call them names. Besides, is there anyone who doesn’t already know that Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”? What is missing from the Wikileakers is a sense of context. Wikileaks provides mere data without analysis.

 The Daily Beast has provided the most astute analysis of the cables: “…you clearly see what the Wikileakers never expected: a United States seriously and professionally trying to solve the most dangerous problems in a frighteningly complicated world, yet lacking the power to dictate solutions.”

 Given the predictable response from the politicians (after all, you just have to read the cables to see how they think), it is worth quoting at length from the US Supreme Court case concerning the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

New York Times Co. v, United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

 In seeking injunctions against these newspapers and in its presentation to the Court, the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment. When the Constitution was adopted, many people strongly opposed it because the document contained no Bill of Rights to safeguard certain basic freedoms.  They especially feared that the new powers granted to a central government might be interpreted to permit the government to curtail freedom of religion, press, assembly, and speech. In response to an overwhelming public clamor, James Madison offered a series of amendments to satisfy citizens that these great liberties would remain safe and beyond the power of government to abridge. Madison proposed what later became the First Amendment in three parts, two of which are set out below, and one of which proclaimed: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” The amendments were offered to curtail and restrict the general powers granted to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches two years before in the original Constitution. The Bill of Rights changed the original Constitution into a new charter under which no branch of government could abridge the people’s freedoms of press, speech, religion, and assembly…

The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell…We are asked to hold that despite the First Amendment’s emphatic command, the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws enjoining publication of current news and abridging freedom of the press in the name of “national security.” The Government does not even attempt to rely on any act of Congress. Instead it makes the bold and dangerously far-reaching contention that the courts should take it upon themselves to “make” a law abridging freedom of the press in the name of equity, presidential power and national security, even when the representatives of the people in Congress have adhered to the command of the First Amendment and refused to make such a law…

The word “security” is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic. The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged…

The greater the importance of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government.