Leak Soup

A friend of mine who trains diplomats once told me an amusing story. Some years ago, at a reception for the departing UN ambassador from the Netherlands, the wife of the British ambassador happened to ask the wife of the Dutch ambassador: “What is your husband going to do in his retirement?” That good woman replied: “Oh, he’s going to fuck horses” (confusing the Dutch word for “breeding” and an expression from the English vernacular). To which the English lady responded tactfully: “Well, that’ll be nice for him, won’t it?” (this is the moment where WC Fields collapses into thigh-slapping apoplexy, Graucho bites his cigar and wheels around on his heel with a seraphic smile and an insignificant man in the corner chokes on dumpling while nobody notices …). This delightful dinner table tale would probably today be the subject of a leak and we wouldn’t even have the benefit of a decent punch line.

Walking in a Wiki Wonderland

I’m not at all sure whether we realise what we’re losing in this Christmas Bonanza Wiki Wonder World of leaky cables. The first casualty of a “real war” is the truth. The first casualty of a “truth war” is discretion. The second is confidence. The third, sad to say, is romance:  No more George Smiley, no more James Bond, no more Victor Laszlo, no more Ingrid Bergman, no more Humphrey Bogart, no more Mata Hari, no more Harry Lime, no more Harry Palmer, only Harry Potter is left, at Hogwarts of all places, that most leaky and astoundingly insecure of all establishments in the history of the secret arts.

The fourth casualty, of course, is the fourth estate, as press moguls and journalists of every colour slide into their new slot of being no longer investigative, but reactive, receptive purveyors, commentators and digesters of other people’s source material. And the last casualty is humour. Transparency is all very well in and of itself, but if it taken so far as to remove all the fun and spontaneity from politics, diplomacy and statecraft, then it will leave behind an arid thing of little meaning, the sloughed off and bloodless skin of the “diplomatic corps” after the flesh and juice of genuine appraisal has been scared away.

Better write your memoirs …

If we are to curtail the option of an ambassador to take his quiet revenge, via the safety of the diplomatic bag or the secure cable, on the egregious dogs at whose smelly court he is expected to serve on his nation’s behalf, and at whose table he is expected to suffer humiliation and intimidation in the name of discipline and good form, then we are assassinating his freedom of speech (truth), his personal and inherent sense of diplomacy as an art (discretion) his quality as a candid observer (confidence) his own delight in – and as a consequence, much of his skill at – playing the same “great game” that others have played before him (romance), the grounding sanity of his relationship to the media as a legitimate conduit (confessional and/or pulpit) for carefully worded conditional statements and comments of the “no comment” variety and, to top it all, much of the humour and sagacity we might have eventually derived from the man, his situation and his rich experience … if only in his memoirs.

… before someone else does

The new diplomat will be intrinsically female (either by gender or attitude): conciliatory and essentially secretarial, equipped with a consensus-based methodology, a very restrictive code of ethics and a regulatory wardrobe that will leave no room whatsoever for individuality, introspection, improvisation or interpretation of the mandate provided. In other words, in the kingdom of the leak, the tight-assed cipher is king and or queen. It is no accident that we have seen three lady US secretaries of state in this decade, but neither Madeleine Albright, nor Condoleezza Rice nor Hilary Clinton will recognize much of themselves in the generation of cyber-clone cipher-girls that is destined to follow them into the compromised and over-lit, yet anonymous and sanitized arena of modern diplomacy.

Love them or hate them, one thing is sure, in the post-Wiki World there will never again be men like Talleyrand or Metternich, Disraeli or Jefferson, nor yet men like John Pope Hennessy, Andrew Carnegie, Cardinal Casaroli, Randolph Churchill, Henry Kissinger or even Chris Patten … and we shall all be that much smaller for their loss. Whether it’s a storm in two hundred and fifty thousand teacups or the diplomatic equivalent of the deluge, this is one dyke no one is going to put their finger in.

Edwin Drood

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