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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Panic over WikiLeaks crisis just a PR farce


It took three paragraphs or 30 seconds, depending on how you get your news, for the crisis that's rocking the diplomatic world to degenerate into low farce.

It was around that point in the news stories or bulletins that we learned, courtesy of WikiLeaks, that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi never leaves home without a "voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse".

He also dislikes flying over water, prefers to stay on the ground floor and enjoys horse racing and dancing the flamenco. Leaving aside his interest in Andalusian folk culture, you'd have to say Gaddafi sounds like a pretty regular guy.

Before Osama bin Laden there was Gaddafi, the sinister prince of the desert forever spouting hateful rhetoric and hatching terrorist plots.

His transformation into an altogether less threatening figure - a North African Benny Hill in hot pursuit of a busty blonde in a nurse's uniform three sizes too small for her, as per the conventions of the genre - demonstrates that yesterday's terrorist is often tomorrow's buffoon - or, for that matter, strategic partner.

We're told this dump of 250,000 United States diplomatic cables is a terribly serious matter.

According to the New York Times, one of four newspapers which obligingly published the information provided by WikiLeaks, the disclosure "is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict".

Well, I'm prepared to make a prediction: very shortly, every self-respecting autocrat will be instructing his aides to procure a voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse.

These supposedly shocking revelations fall into two categories: those that told us what we already knew, and those that confirmed what we strongly suspected.

The fact that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is feckless, vain and parties hard would come as a surprise only to the dwindling group of Japanese soldiers who've been hiding out on deserted Pacific atolls since 1945.

The fact that Prince Andrew is turning into his father is hardly surprising - one of the sons had to. Given his ex-wife's recent cash-for-access scandal, the palace was probably braced for far worse.

Then there's the bombshell that, despite his 18 PhDs, Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe is an economic ignoramus. Seeing he turned the breadbasket of Africa into a famine-wracked basket-case with inflation of 8000 per cent and a currency worth less than one-ply toilet paper, many people outside the American consulate in Harare reached this conclusion some time ago.

Syria says one thing and does another, especially with regard to its Lebanese proxy, Hizbollah. The Kremlin is retreating from democracy and in cahoots with the Mafia.

The Afghan regime on which the West has lavished so much attention and aid is corrupt. This stuff is received wisdom. Don't US diplomats have better things to do than bombard Washington with memos revealing what was in last month's newspapers?

Predictably, the right howled for blood. Sarah Palin wondered why WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange isn't being pursued with as much urgency as Al Qaeda leaders are. Perhaps he is. After all, the hunt for bin Laden is now into its 10th year.

I don't recall Palin and her ilk wanting to go after WikiLeaks when it released a cache of emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, which appeared to show that they'd resorted to trickery to bolster the case that climate change is real and man-made.

Not to be outdone, Mike Huckabee, another folksy fundamentalist with presidential aspirations, declared that anything less than execution would be "too kind" for whoever leaked the documents in the first place.

At least he appears to grasp that the real culprit isn't WikiLeaks but the person inside the US military or intelligence apparatus who handed over the information.

While this affair is obviously embarrassing for the US, it's surely not as damaging as the alarmists would have us believe. US diplomats may get less bang for their buck when wining and dining their sources from now on but overall America doesn't come off too badly.

For years the US has hinted that what Arab leaders say in private is different from their public pronouncements. There could hardly be a better illustration of this double-speak than the Saudi king privately urging the US to bomb Iran.

And nothing that has emerged so far portrays the US as the bogeyman of leftist demonology - the remorseless, amoral military-industrial complex that stops at nothing to advance its interests.

On the contrary, rather than even being the global policeman, the picture of America which emerges is that of a well-meaning but insufficiently feared teacher struggling to keep his unruly classroom from descending into anarchy.

- NZ Herald

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