The new WikiLeaks release may have caused diplomatic embarrassment around the globe, but a closer look reveals important lessons with implications for American foreign policy. While the release of these secret cables provides a lot of detail, the cables themselves do not say anything remarkably new. And as embarrassing as these leaks are to the United States, they are far more embarrassing to our dictatorial and authoritarian allies abroad. Nevertheless, these cables demonstrate that the premise of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy is flawed while providing evidence that the threat from Iran is an even more clear and present danger than believed by many in Washington.
Contrary to the intended political purpose of the leaks, the salient details support the case of those sidelined since Barack Obama took office. Many have long insisted that Iran is acquiring greater missile technology to match its push for nuclear weapons and that North Korea is playing an increasing role in nuclear proliferation and the proliferation of advanced ballistic missile systems in the Middle East. Astute observers have already made the case that Russian envoys are working against U.S. efforts by selling the Iranian position to the Arabs. The release of these cables simply provides more arrows in the quivers of those who argue that reaching out to America’s adversaries is not the key to progress.
But it is not just a question of diplomatic engagement. The WikiLeaks documents demonstrate that the White House’s Middle East policy is based on a cloud of mythologies wholly rejected and contradicted by the analysis of American diplomats and allies in the region. They explode the linkage theory, the mirage the White House pursues that holds that the key to progress in the Middle East starts with a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arab states throughout the Middle East have called upon the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program by any means (and without preconditions). Saudi Arabia King Abdullah calls Iran “evil” and urges the U.S. to “cut the head off the snake,” while the Saudi ambassador to Washington recalls the king’s “frequent exhortations to the U.S. to attack Iran.” The king of Bahrain says Iran’s nuclear program “must be stopped,” and according to another cable, “the danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” The Emariti Crown Prince Bin Zayed explains the danger of appeasing Iran: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.”
America’s Arab allies strenuously make their case because Iran is their number-one security concern — not the ebb and flow of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet instead of acting on the consensus that for once has Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and most Gulf States singing the same tune, the Obama administration continues to trudge along, trying to forge a Palestinian-Israeli peace in a process paralyzed because of repeated American missteps. Here, the old adage rings true: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.”
Perhaps the most alarming revelation from the leaks is the extent of Iranian involvement in attacking American interests in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and beyond. Equally striking is the extent to which the U.S. has concealed Iran’s proxy war against the United States. The reason for the latter is simple: If the American public knew how villainous the regime in Tehran’s behavior was, they might ask why the U.S. has wasted more than a year engaging in a fruitless diplomatic dance with a regime that is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.
There is a difference between understanding the nature of the threat abroad while keeping one’s cards close to the chest in public and truly believing the Middle East mirage, which has so far characterized the Obama administration’s approach to the region. The WikiLeaks revelations make one thing clear: The White House now has a much broader public mandate to bring Iran’s nuclear program to heel, if only it were to see the Middle East as is rather than as it wishes.