Buzzkill Predictions, Part 2: The Latest WikiLeaks Dump Doesn’t Matter

In the last post I tried to offer some ideas as to why the piece of current political pop wisdom that “the future is in cities” is untrue. Similar ideas guide this possibly unfortunate claim: WikiLeaks’ latest data dump won’t change anything about U.S. foreign policy.

The data dump in question includes a smattering of internal U.S. Diplomatic Corps documents, from un-flattering portraits of world leaders to un-flattering recounting of events at which U.S. diplomats were present. The purported danger is that foreign powers now know what various U.S. foreign officials now think of them, what they think their strategies are, their needs and objectives, and so on. As with the points made in our previous discussion, however, the problem is bigger than the outward (or, in this case, inward) signs that things “ought” to change. The problem is that nothing about the decision-making process could actually be changed by this release. Diplomats and spies are duty-bound to create the types of analyses and observations recorded in this data dump. No one strictly did anything wrong. At least not “wrong” in the sense of dereliction of duty. No one’s going to be fired.

If foreign leaders now know how U.S. diplomats have assessed them, what can they do about it? Change their stripes? Are American foreign officials themselves going to stop acting on the basis of the best information they have available – aka, those assessments? No. Light scares cockroaches, but it doesn’t kill them.

At the risk of redundancy unto irrelevance, contemporary political reporting lacks theoretical rigor and practical precision. The claim that “cities could replace nations” is vague and imprecise, as is the claim that U.S. foreign policy is going to “clean up its act.” Both claims fundamentally ignore the power structures that define the status quo, and don’t stop to think that hey, incentives matter.

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