My small addition to the piles of verbiage on the newest Wikileaks revelations is to suggest that Saki’s classic short story Tobermory tells you most of what you need to know. Tobermory – the story of a cat that learns to talk, is really about how a small group of people deal with the collapse of the polite fictions through which they paper over individual self-interest and mutual dislike. No-one guards what they say in front of a cat, leading to consternation when Tobermory suddenly learns the English language.
“What do you think of human intelligence?” asked Mavis Pellington lamely.
“Of whose intelligence in particular?” asked Tobermory coldly.
“Oh, well, mine for instance,” said Mavis with a feeble laugh.
“You put me in an embarrassing position,” said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. “When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call ‘The Envy of Sisyphus,’ because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.”
Lady Blemley’s protestations would have had greater effect if she had not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car in question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire home.
Diplomacy, even more than early twentieth century English house-parties, requires hypocrisy. Both diplomats and leaders pretend respect and even affection for regimes that they dislike and leaders whom they despise. When a source can definitively give the lie to these public remonstrations, it is obviously likely to lead to considerable friction (not necessarily because the target did not know he, she or it was detested – but because public expression of this detestation becomes an insult that cannot easily be discounted or ignored. If a number of prominent states had been hit by these revelations, there might be sufficient collective incentive to sweep the embarrassing bits under the Axminster. But that’s not the case here. I imagine that there are some very interesting conversations happening in State (a few blocks from my regular office) right about now.