December 1, 2010
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 magazineDer 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 fomer 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…
December 1, 2010
We are shocked, shocked by the statements of the obvious contained in many of the 250,000 secret cables that Julian Assange released Sunday on Wikileaks. While I might not endorse the conclusion of my friend and co-author David Samuels that Assange should be awarded the Pulitzer for his internet revelations about American foreign policy (I’m told only American citizens are eligible), it’s hard to argue that Americans will be horrified by evidence that diplomats say one thing publicly about both foes and allies, and another altogether in private.
Ok. Maybe American diplomats should have thought twice in e-mailed diplomatic cables before calling Vladimir Putin Russia’s “Alpha Dog” or Germany’s Angela Merkel a leader who “avoids risk and is seldom creative” – though Americans following foreign affairs might think that obvious.
And maybe the GOP’s Rep. Peter King (N.Y), who will soon head the House’s Homeland Security committee, is right to worry about the impact of the War on Terror by the disclosure that Yemen has been covering up American air strikes on Al Qaeda-aligned militants in his country, or that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s deputy joked about lying to Yemen’s parliament about that subterfuge. Ouch. But did those Yemeni parliamentarians really believe that Yemeni rather than American drones were targeting suicide bombers and terrorist plotters in their country?
Or, on terrorist funding, is anyone shocked that American diplomats think that Saudi money, despite efforts by Riyadh to reign in public and private giving to Al Qaeda and other militants, remains a major source of funding for terrorist groups? Are such revelations, as Italy’s foreign minister called them, the “9/11 of international diplomacy”? Nah.
Consider the Middle East, or specifically, what to do about Iran’s nuclear program. Unless you have lived on a distant planet, you might have suspected that Arab leaders (or even American diplomats, for that matter) might privately favor military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but be unwilling to endorse strikes in public. Should we be stunned by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah’s repeated plea to Washington to strike Iran, or “cut off the head of the snake” while there is “still time”? Is American national policy undermined by the disclosure that Washington persuaded Saudi Arabia to promise China a guaranteed source of energy if it would join in pressuring Iran?
Nor is it a shocker that Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, referred to Iran as an “existential threat” and was worried about getting “caught in the crossfire” if Israel or the U.S. provoke Teheran. Nor is it stunning that Prince Zayed warned against the dangers of “appeasing Iran” because “Ahmadinejad (Iran’s Holocaust and homosexual denying president) is Hitler.” In an earlier conversation Bin Zayed urged Washington to consider sending ground forces into Iran if air strikes alone could not “take out” Iranian nuclear targets. Given similar public statements by the UAE’s energetic ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, they should have anticipated his boss’s concern.
Why should Americans not know that Arab states, often at the top level, have been urging Washington to take military or other drastic action against Iran, while they publicly oppose such action? As Foreign Minister of Qatar is famously quoted as saying: “They (the Iranians) lie to us and we lie to them.”
Nor should we be shocked that Israel and its Arab neighbors agree on the danger posed by an Iran with nuclear weapons, or that Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister and its current defense minister warned his American counterparts, according to a a June, 2009 cable, that there was a “window between 6 and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.” After that, he was quoted as saying, a military solution would produce “unacceptable collateral damage.” Senior Israelis have not exactly kept their concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions a secret…
December 1, 2010
Collaboration establishes a new approach for teasing out clues hidden in the soil.
Fabled as a site of biblical battles and spectacular palaces, Tel Megiddo today is a dusty mound overlooking Israel’s Jezreel valley. It is also host to one of the hottest debates in archaeology — a controversy over the historical truth of the Bible’s account of the first united Kingdom of Israel.
Ancient Megiddo is said to have been a key administrative and military centre in the kingdom ruled by King David and his son Solomon during the eleventh and tenth centuries BC. But the biblical narrative is challenged by archaeologists such as Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, who believe that David and Solomon did not rule over an Iron Age empire. Instead, they suggest, David and Solomon commanded a small and not terribly influential kingdom, and Megiddo’s peak came nearly a century after the united kingdom had divided.
Important evidence relating to this debate is being unearthed by a unique collaboration between archaeologists and natural scientists, working shoulder-to-shoulder at Tel Megiddo and several other important Israeli sites. “In the past, all too often, archaeologists and scientists worked together, but it was two parallel lines,” says archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. It could take months or even years before finds were sent away to the lab, he says, with results taking just as long to come back. “On top of that, sometimes the samples weren’t taken correctly.”
The Tel Megiddo dig is different. Chemists make up half of the two dozen excavators on the team, which is being led by Finkelstein and Steve Weiner, a structural biologist specializing in mineralized tissues who is director of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. Funded by a European Research Council grant worth €3 million (US$4 million) over five years, the pair hope that their work at Tel Megiddo and elsewhere will show that this model of close collaboration should become the norm for archaeology.
“It’s definitely where archaeology is headed,” says Ran Boytner of the University of California, Los Angeles, an archaeologist who works in South America. “This is partly to do with the miniaturization of analytical tools and the lowering of costs, as well as a revival of interest in archaeology, especially among senior scientists who are eager to get out of the lab.”
Archaeologists are trained to use their eyes to identify a stratum — a buried layer representing a particular period of habitation. A black stripe, for example, might be a burn layer — evidence of a hearth, or of the ransacking of a city, depending on its size. Artefacts and pottery embedded in strata can also serve as markers for defining and dating them. But chemical analysis can add many more details to the picture.
When Nature visited Tel Megiddo in October, excavators were working with brushes, tweezers and teaspoons to gather sediment samples into small plastic vials before taking them to an infrared spectrometer set up on a folding table at the edge of the site. The chemical clues yielded by the spectrometer gave immediate feedback to the diggers as they collected further samples…