Alex Massie

Breaking: American Diplomats Know How To Read Newspapers

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One thing the Wikileaks cables reveal, frankly, is the banality of much diplomacy. People tend to think of diplomats as sophisticated insiders privy to secrets and super-attuned to nuance and intrigue. They are the brightest and best and all the rest of it. Doubtless there are some stations and some levels at which this is the case (it's worth remembering that none of these cables are "Top Secret"). Much of the reporting, however, doesn't rise much above the level of reading the daily newspapers.

So George Osborne was considered "lightweight and inexperienced". Who knew? Mervyn King thought Osborne and David Cameron were too interested in politics and insufficiently prepared for the fiscal realities of government? Blimey! There's nothing wrong with those pre-election observations and nothing in them that you couldn't have found in the British press.

For that matter and at least in friendly, allied countries this level of diplomatic reporting is neither any better or worse than you'd find from reading the collected cuttings of foreign correspondents stationed in London or Paris or wherever. (The same might be said, I think, of most assessments of American politics compiled by the British Embassy in Washington.) The chief value of these reports for the State Department (or FCO) is that officials back home don't have to wade through the original material themselves.

That's not a knock on the diplomatic corps per se, since, again, higher-classified reports on genuinely sensitive issues are a different matter but it's a reminder that much (though not all!) of this docu-dump, while interesting, is also chaff.

Still, diplomatic access can produce amusing colour too:

One "rare glimpse of a relaxed Sarkozy" came when the then interior minister and presidential hopeful invited the US ambassador, Craig Stapleton, to see him in 2006, to say how "proud and honoured" he was to soon be meeting Bush. After the exchange, Sarkozy, who is renowned for introducing his son Louis to dignitaries, opened the patio windows and called the nine-year-old. "Louis appeared at the threshold with a small dog at his feet and a large rabbit in his arms," the memo said. "To shake hands with the ambassador, Louis put down the rabbit – and the dog started chasing the rabbit through Sarkozy's office, which led to the unforgettable sight of Sarkozy, bent over, chasing the dog through the anteroom to his office as the dog chased the rabbit, and Louis filled the room with gleeful laughter."

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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