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In the wake of the recent Wikileaks scandal revealing over 250,000 classified documents related to American diplomacy (background at BBC and New York Times), the fallout is present around the world. Indeed, Wikileaks has sparked quite the global controversy, and governments like the U.S. are trying to prosecute founder Julien Assange for his actions. Assange has recently turned himself in to police as he is wanted in Sweden on charges of forced sexual relations. But he believes it is just a cover in a larger plot to stop him.
In fact, Wikileaks has struggled lately with finding servers that will host its controversial content, instead being forced to register some elements in several countries so as to avoid any efforts to block it. Now Wikileaks “defenders” are seeking revenge against websites like Visa, Mastercard and others that have suspended their Wikileaks accounts in response to government condemnation.
France has not surprisingly reacted strongly to the leaks, and many French media sites have profiled the story. This site describes, among other things, how the cables match up with different geographic locations, especially given the fact that the vast majority of the 251,287 cables are not yet available.
President Nicolas Sarkozy was described by some American diplomats as “susceptible and authoritarian”, a view many of his countrymen hold but that is revealing to find in the inner circles of American statesmanship. But of course, these messages were not intended to be read all over the world by non-diplomats, and the U.S. is far from the only country with sensitive, potentially offensive, information in its inner diplomatic cables.
Sarkozy was also profiled as “the most pro-American” president in France since WWII, and in 2006 before he took office, he had suggested that France could possibly send in forces to Iraq to help their American counterparts. This gesture was well appreciated by the Bush Administration, even if it did not come to fruition. U.S. diplomats also characterize Sarkozy as the “most influential leader in Europe” who is a “brilliant, impatient, undiplomatic, unpredictable, charming, innovative pragmatic.” American authorities were also interested in Sarkozy’s Jewish heritage and how that could affect France’s Middle East policy (it is traditionally pro-Arab). But he is also described in a bad light as “impulsive and frenetic.” Now France is “scrambling” to avoid its own scandal similar to Wikileaks.
Perhaps one of the cables that provoked the most reactions was that which revealed a memo by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for U.S. diplomats at the UN to effectively spy on their foreign counterparts, gathering information such as DNA, fingerprints, photographs and other biometric details. This should not come as much of a surprise, as most governments engage in Realpolitik. But the frankness of the cable in revealing that diplomats participate in intelligence efforts certainly embarrassed the American government.
Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France.
See more of Paris! Here are some of Bonjour Paris’s favorite tours:
Medieval Churches of Paris: Discover some of Paris’s most beautiful and lesser-known churches in the company of a medievalist, a perfect theme for the holiday season.
Louvre French Masters: Escape the cold and the crowds in the Italian wing of the Louvre by learning about the evolution of French art from the late Gothic period to the monumental 19th century paintings of David and Delacroix, accompanied by an art historian.