Wikileaks is a site dedicated to getting information that is held behind closed doors into the open. The recent leak of a collection of American embassy cables has shone a lot of light on many diplomatic issues around the world.
The good news is that thanks to cables, people in oppressed regimes are seeing what the USA truly believes about their country. The most recent example is in Tunisia where an uprising as thrown out a bad dictator.
I asked our experts at Human Rights Watch to canvass their sources in the country, and the consensus was that while Tunisians didn’t need American diplomats to tell them how bad their government was, the cables did have an impact. The candid appraisal of Ben Ali by U.S. diplomats showed Tunisians that the rottenness of the regime was obvious not just to them but to the whole world — and that it was a source of shame for Tunisia on an international stage. The cables also contradicted the prevailing view among Tunisians that Washington would back Ben Ali to the bloody end, giving them added impetus to take to the streets. They further delegitimized the Tunisian leader and boosted the morale of his opponents at a pivotal moment in the drama that unfolded over the last few weeks.
This point might not be worth dwelling on, except that it suggests something interesting about how the United States, and the State Department in particular, approaches the challenge of promoting human rights and democracy in countries like Tunisia. Consider the following proposition: None of the decent, principled, conscientious, but behind the scenes efforts the State Department made in recent years to persuade the Tunisian government to relax its authoritarian grip — mostly through diplomatic démarches and meetings with top Tunisian officials — had any significant impact on the Ben Ali regime’s behavior or increased the likelihood of democratic change. Nor did the many quiet U.S. programs of outreach to Tunisian society, cultural exchanges and the like, even if Tunisians appreciated them and they will bear fruit as the country democratizes.
My personal take on this is that the people were clearly ready to act but needed a push, Wikileaks helped with that in Tunisia. Hopefully soon we’ll see other countries overthrow evil leaders and bringing more peace and well-being to more and more and more people.