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Rikileaks...dishing the diplomatic dirt here

Correspondents know about diplomats and indiscretions, as Dispatches Rick MacInnes-Rae reveals in Rikileaks  -- tales from his experience in war zones, no-booze places and areas that might have been guarded with a bit more privacy.

Wikileaks is dishing dirt all over the international stage these days, revealing governments behaving in most undiplomatic ways.

But it comes as no surprise to them.  It shouldn't surprise the rest of us either.

I recall the first indiscreet western diplomat I ever met was in the Middle East, back when the Gulf War was brewing. 

We were musing whether Egypt's president might mediate the crisis, and he grinned and said: "Never mind Mubarak.  He used to be a pilot, but as a president, he never took off."  Hardly diplomatic.

I don't know where HE is now, but Mubarak's enjoying his 29th year as Egypt's head of state, skillfully wielding one-man rule beneath a pretense of democracy. 

Artful indiscretion does have a place in foreign affairs, as the latest truckload of Wikileaks cables should remind us.    

We're just not meant to see it.
But they confirm the high-sticking that lurks beneath the gentlemanly rhetoric of public diplomacy.

Interesting that Canadians aren't caught giving offense to other nations, but turn out to be critics of their own.

Still, in my experience, Canadian diplomats aren't indiscreet by nature, only by design. 

When their political masters want someone to know something -- especially journalists -- they're all sunshine and callbacks.

A Canadian diplomat overseas once arranged for me to interview an opposition figure in hiding.  Not so difficult, considering Canada was helping hide him.

He was after all, our dog in another country's political fight. So Canadians were making sure he enjoyed good health, at a time when even their own ambassador couldn't risk appearing in public.

They were just looking after a Canadian national interest. 

And I've partied late into the night in a Canadian diplomatic residence in an Islamic country where LOUD, boozy parties were strictly taboo. 

So my host made a point of going room-to-room urging everyone to party hearty, but party quietly. 

Later that night, I sat nervously next to an over-refreshed representative of our country who insisted on driving me back to my hotel in a condition that would have been hard to explain to the Muslim police.

But it was all part-and-parcel of keeping a Canadian correspondent focused on a Canadian national interest. 

Still, it pales next to the antics of a diplomat from another western country  who invited me to his Middle Eastern quarters for a chat and promptly vanished.

Awhile later I heard scuffling and walked in on him noisily attempting to seduce the maid, who seemed more dutiful than distressed, I have to say.

Not that I was prying. But they were at it in the kitchen. And getting caught didn't seem to be slowing them down. Troubled at where this might lead, I mumbled my regrets and left.

The next time I see him is months later in the desert of Kuwait. I'm watching firefighters combat a flaming oilwell set ablaze by retreating Iraqi forces.

The dodgy diplomat drives up, has a word with some men in jumpsuits, looks right through me and leaves.

And what's a diplomat doing so far off-base, in a desert, in a post-war zone, at a oilwell fire, pretending not to know a journalist who knows him far better than he wants to?

Looking after the national interest, one supposes.

So, are the Wikileaks embarassing? You bet.

Surprising? Absolutely not.

Damaging? Hardly.

The question we might ask when Wiki takes its next leaks, is whether national interest is too easily invoked by leaders of certain nations.

What do you think? Got a leak of your own you care to share with us?
Email dispatches@cbc.ca


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