Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wikileaks: Is it overhyped?

This post is a follow up to my article in the Jakarta Globe on what Indonesia should learn from Wikileaks.

There are many discussions on the impact of Wikileaks on world politics, especially on U.S. diplomacy. Amnesty International, for instance, proclaimed that Wikileaks and the Guardian Newspaper were catalysts for the Arab Spring, writing that:
"Not since the end of the Cold War have so many repressive governments faced such a challenge to their stranglehold on power. The demand for political and economic rights spreading across the Middle East and North Africa is dramatic proof that all rights are equally important and a universal demand."
 The question that we should ask is how big is the impact of Wikileaks.

Take the example of Arab Spring. It seems to me that the documents have the biggest impact when there is a fed-up population in a state with divided elites. The governments had been discredited long ago- I really doubt that Ben Ali was popular before the leaks came out. Wikileaks' main impact, however, is in providing momentum to the uprisings.

The dominoes started falling after the collapse of Ben Ali's rule in Tunisia. Even though there had already been documents floating around that described the corruption within Mubarak's regime, yet it was only after the fall of Ben Ali that the revolutionary snowball began, that people suddenly realized that they could overthrow the regime on their own.

Still, as I noted in my previous post, it was only when the political elite splintered that the revolution was able to get the traction it needed. Otherwise, in places like Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, seems that life is going back to normal.

In Indonesia itself, while the Wikileaks' documents were used to bash President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and proved to be very embarrassing to the government due to the airing of the dirty laundry, yet as I wrote back in February, there was no way the Tunisian revolution would spread to Indonesia. The political class is pretty much in accord that free competition for political office will endure, even though elites still make lots of back-room dealings between themselves that give them lots of economic benefits. The people themselves, while grumbling due to the political atrophy and economic troubles, are not interested in starting a revolution because they are apathetic and consider any replacement for SBY to be inferior (yay for skepticism!)

What I find interesting is the extent of suspicion that people have toward Wikileaks. It is not uncommon to hear people declaring that the leaks are staged, that the Americans actually want to undermine governments all over the world by leaking them, because there is no way a disgruntled low-level officer of a country as strong and advanced as the U.S. can leak that much important information!

The fact that there is nothing really sensational in the documents, such as a secret Zionist plot or a secret U.S. plan to destroy the twin towers as a pretext to invade Iraq, further undermined the trust of many. More surprisingly, there are accusations that Assange had made a covert pact with Israel to undermine these Arab states while withholding all embarrassing documents about Israel and its secret plots for global domination. What's the proof of such accusation? The fact that there's no CIA or Mossad hitmen currently after Assange life. It's simply impossible!

In any case, when people started to read the mundane and ordinary State Department cables, they quickly lost interest since they learned that the life of a State Department officer is very unlike the "cloak and dagger" life that John Perkins illustrated in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

Thus, maybe it is an ironic consolation to the United States that many people in third world countries are so paranoid toward the United States, that the damage from the Wikileaks itself is very limited. Well, of course, not to the informants, who, I think, would curse Assange and Wikileaks.

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