Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. On December 28, Mr. Smith addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call on the implications of Wikileaks regarding the Middle East, and their significance for U.S. policy in the region, a topic he has focused on in recent articles.
According to Mr. Smith, the Wikilieaks have some positive aspects revealing an interesting dynamic in the Middle East. While many define the Middle East according to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the leaked cables expose an "Arab Cold War" paradigm crucial to understanding the region. For example, the concerns of our allies in the Gulf, as well as Jordan and Egypt, towards the Iranian nuclear program are proof of a more complex situation. Mr. Smith suggests that this is positive; for starters, it evidences that the actions of Middle East actors are determined by considerations far beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict—even if the latter gets most of the attention.
Mr. Smith finds the argument that the Wikileaks make the U.S. look weak and incompetent only partly true. Many in the region, he points out, assume the U.S. is always behind its actions, and therefore believe that, not only was American intelligence behind Wikileaks, but the information was intentionally leaked to benefit the U.S.
The most problematic implication of the Wikileaks, Mr. Smith remarked, is that they have "muddied" the flow of information. For instance, a Beirut-based newspaper, Al Akhbar, ran a series of supposed Wikileak cables that were extremely damaging to U.S. allies in Lebanon and extremely helpful to Hezbollah, Tehran, and Damascus; even so, it is unclear how many of these were authentic. As a result, Wikileaks, he argued, have introduced the possibility of information fabrication in the future to serve the interests of U.S. adversaries.
During the question-and-answer period, Mr. Smith was asked what the most shocking pieces of information Wikileaks revealed about specific countries. He stated that while many merely confirmed things already suspected, the Wikileaks provide insight on Turkey, for example. Since 9/11, Washington has applauded Turkey as being a paradigm of democracy and Islam, leading to the assumption that the State Department was being misled regarding Turkey and the AKP Party, as many have argued. Thus the Wikileaks indicate that Washington does, in fact, have a clearer understanding of Turkey, despite what is publicly stated.
Mr. Smith concluded that the Wikileaks prove that one can understand the region by relying on open source material—as Daniel Pipes also pointed out. In short, the Wikileaks ultimately "confirmed the general picture that we had of the region before."
Written by MEF intern Alessandra Grace.