Patrick Cockburn: America should be glad anyone is paying attention to its inconsequential messages

To regain its old influence the Foreign Office should send a sizeable chunk of its cable traffic, firmly marked secret, to Wikileaks for further distribution
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The Independent Online

The US State Department should stop complaining about Julian Assange and Wikileaks publishing a quarter-of-a-million of its cables. It should instead be grateful to the leakers for impressing the public with the idea that its diplomats do something so important that secrecy is essential.

Much of the reaction by governments and the media to the Wikileaks revelations is mean-spirited and misleading. The State Department cables are interesting, informative and amusing, but they certainly do not contain the deep secrets of American foreign policy.

Since several million people potentially had access to this data via America's online repository only information which was not particularly sensitive was included. Newspapers promoting or denouncing supposed insights into the way the US deals with foreign government to be gained from the cables are not dwelling on how well-known and unsurprising are these disclosures.

Much attention has been given to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia saying that Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is effectively an Iranian agent. Aside from being untrue, its impact depends on the reader not knowing what every taxi-driver in the Middle East knows: that the King detests Mr Maliki and this is largely due to Saudi Arabia's fear of a Shia government in Baghdad. Why are governments reacting so hysterically? Part of it stems from the psychology of officials in all countries who make a cult of secrecy because it adds to their sense of importance. These secrets may be trivial. Most foreign correspondents have had the grim experience of some diplomat solemnly telling them that what he is about to say is strictly off the record and then producing some dog-eared piece of gossip.

The real damage to the US may be that over-stated embarrassment at seeing their cable traffic made public will lead its officials to unnecessary secrecy in future.

American diplomats have long complained that their cables are either unread or ignored. They should be delighted that at long last their words are being taken seriously. British diplomats likewise moan about being marginalised in policy making by Downing Street. To regain its old influence the Foreign Office should send a sizeable chunk of its cable traffic, firmly marked secret, to Wikileaks for further distribution. This might show that British embassies really do know a lot of interesting and useful things and make it easier for them to fend off budget cuts.

The American and British armies publicise their activities by embedding journalists. This helped them increase their influence on policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. So long as foreign ministries pretend that their most innocuous activities are secret they will lose out in their battle for resources.