Diplomats morph into ‘Wiki-freaks’

Some career diplomats have been giddily getting their Wiki-freak on this week, fascinated by the avalanche of often gossipy cables from their American colleagues about some of the most famous and feared regimes in the world.

WASHINGTON — Some career diplomats have been giddily getting their Wiki-freak on this week, fascinated by the avalanche of often gossipy cables from their American colleagues about some of the most famous and feared regimes in the world.

“I am addicted; I can’t get enough of it,” one longtime U.S.-based British diplomat confessed amid the latest cascade of dispatches unearthed this week by the secret-busting website WikiLeaks.

“It’s the last thing I read before I turn out the light at night, and the first thing I want to read when I wake up in the morning.”

As the U.S. State Department continues to deal with the fallout from the latest WikiLeaks revelations, diplomats past and present have morphed into self-described Wiki-freaks as they gleefully pore over the 250,000 cables.

“It pulls the lid off U.S. diplomacy, so there’s a real professional fascination in seeing the nuts and bolts, because very few of us have had access to these cables before,” another diplomat said Friday in Washington as he grabbed a coffee near the city’s so-called Embassy Row. “If I had been the author of some of them, I’d be proud. They’re good quality, professional products, and they show these diplomats doing precisely what they’re supposed to be doing — providing unvarnished assessments to headquarters from the front lines.”

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says he’s equally enthralled by the cables, adding that the ones he’s read are not only engrossing, they’re well-written.

“We’ve always prided ourselves in the foreign service that in order to succeed, you had to be a talented stylist as well. Writing a great cable is a bit of a lost art, and it’s great to see the Americans restoring it,” he said.

Foreign Policy magazine reported this week that some American diplomats, too, are tickled about the WikiLeaks crisis.

Some of the most interesting cables to emerge this week involve those written by Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan who has been sending dispatches to Washington based on several face-to-face meetings he’s had with Afghan President Harmid Karzai.

Diplomats point out that Eikenberry’s growing distrust of Karzai, as revealed in the cables, has also shown the world that ambassadors are not merely figureheads in faraway lands — they’re often playing an integral role in both informing their government back home and shaping foreign policy.

Karzai, Eikenberry wrote, is a “a weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building.” That assessment has resulted in the White House having to do major damage control in Afghanistan, with U.S. President Barack Obama paying a surprise visit on Friday and talking to Karzai by phone — but it’s also an honest appraisal, one diplomat pointed out.

“It may seem like sniping or gossip but it’s not at all,” he said.

“It’s part of understanding the environment of a country. To understand Afghanistan, you have to understand Karzai and all his peculiarities and you need the assessment of the ambassador on the ground.”

Robertson agrees.

“You have to give colour and perspective when you do your portraits of these powerful individuals,” he said, recalling a cable he once read about Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s hawkish defence secretary in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “He was apparently a very tough squash player. And the diplomat commented on that, saying: ’When I played with him, he was utterly ruthless.’ And that told you something about the man and about his tough character. That is exactly the kind of stuff I would include because it not only livened up the telex, it provided perspective.”

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