Monday, February 7, 2011

Wikileaks' released US diplomatic cables a learning tool? a recruiting poster?

Well what do you know! As the US government thinks of 57 ways ways to try Julian Assange for leaking US diplomatic cables, some of America's colleges and universities have found an educational use for them.
The cable format requires thought, good grammar, good exposition of ideas and expression with sources named or unnamed. Professors find the format of use as a multidiscipline aid in, say, the teaching of English composition, history, political science, sociology, and cultural anthropology.
On the other hand, the cables are a recruiting poster for young men and women who are looking for a career in the diplomatic service. They evoke the 'exciting' world of adventure, foreign intrigue, or advancing not only the goals of America but spreading the glad tidings of US diplomacy, trade, and good will, among other things.
But there's a caveat: the Obama administration has warned that the cables are 'secret' and have not be cleared for release. As such, federal workers as a whole are ordered not to read them, not even in the privacy of their own home, for they run the risk of violating US law and are open to fines and yes, even imprisonment. With the government wrath breathing down the necks of news outlets and online providers, the leaked cables have been removed. US citizens have to look for them online elsewhere as Wikileaks releases them day by day. And remember we're talking about some almost quarter million cables!
US university authorities are handling this 'sticky' issue simply: they view it as a matter of 'academic freedom'. Suddenly the ball is in the individual instructor's or professor's court. In other words, the onus and consequence is on you. Which leads to another questions: will university authorities back their staff up for using uncleared government material or will they cave in to the pressure coming out of the White House?
Retired foreign officers who found a feathered nest by teaching in America's institutions of higher learning on the whole refrain from using the cables as a means of instructions. Well, some say that they won't break the law, but truth be told, they do not want to jeopardise any future opportunity to re enter government service in a new administration offering important positions and attractive perks.
The danger for those who are thinking of entering America's foreign service, and who have 'read' the leaked material, there is the small matter of a 'security clearance'. Without it, hardly any chance of entering the department of state. [Of course there will be exceptions.] So the poor lad or lass is caught in a 'catch 22' situation.
And then there is matter of opening the cables to the broader US public which is grandly and greatly disadvantage in knowing about the greater world and what their government is doing -- good or bad -- in their name and with a generous handout of their taxes. Study after poll will tell you the US is an incurious country. Its children, let alone adults, cannot even find their way in locating American cities on a map. Forget about knowing about the outside world. Relying on an educational system which promotes a touchy feely approach to one's self, what else can you expect. As for monies for schools, well, in hard economic times, the educational budgets are the first ripe for the chopping block. And don't count on the media, they're looking to improve ratings and stockholder returns, so for them, bread & circuses are the main public fare, if not the rantings of lunatic commentators whose ignorance match the generally low general culture which passes as a shining example of the best the world's only super power wears as a badge of honour on its sleeve.
And yet, reading the cables on, say, Tunisia and Egypt, the observations on the ground proved spot on, yet hardly made a dent in a shift or a redirection of policy. Intertia rules, and why upset the applecart of a good thing which is working in your favour.
So although the leaked US cables may make for good instruction materials, and prove a 'boon' in the longer run for the US, the American government sees them as a danger to its own credability and will go to any length to punish Aussage or the poor Bradley Manning held without charges in a Marine prison under conditions equal to those in Guantanamo.
Yet the information contained in the leaked and leaking cables show the clay feet of current US policy in the short and longer term. The data are an embarrassment of riches which will, one way or the other, affect US policy. In that sense they are a good learning experience but hardly an invitation to join the government's dance.

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