Was the WikiLeaks cables release a stone thrown into the waters of US diplomacy, causing waves that will eventually calm, or a brick though the window of the US State Department, causing irreparable harm?
With only 1,200 of the quarter million stolen US diplomatic telegrams so far released, it is perhaps too early to understand all the repercussions for the sole superpower’s international standing and for current crises.
But it is already possible to see certain diplomatic realignments — some aspects of foreign relations may never be the same again.
One of the early surprises was the revelation of the extent to which Arab fears of a future -nuclear-armed Iran have put them on the same page as their traditional foe Israel in pushing for military action against Tehran.
Washington’s inability to keep its secrets secret has seen it lose face with rising rival China and Beijing has been careful not to let its own guard down, giving a careful response to leaked criticisms of its policy.
European governments have denounced the documents leak as irresponsible and dangerous and some leaders have been embarrassed by the often frank opinions US diplomats have of them, but most denied the slow dump has harmed ties.
However, some have been upset, such as Poland, which since the end of the Cold War has invested much in what it thought were warm ties with its US savior, only to find out through WikiLeaks the affection was not entirely mutual.
“We have a really serious problem,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters, after learning that the US has no plans for a permanent military garrison in Poland.
A senior European diplomatic source said he thought Poland would now concentrate more closely on its ties within Europe and spend less time courting Washington.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the leaks “show the -entire extent of the cynicism of these evaluations, these judgments, that prevail” in US policy.
The cables paint Medvedev as playing Robin to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Batman, while Putin himself is described as an “alpha dog” and a “behind the scenes puppeteer” dissatisfied with his role.
So far, the US memos that have been published dress far from flattering pictures of several other leaders. But again, it will be some time before the repercussions for relations between heads of state emerge, if ever.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is deemed “risk averse and rarely creative,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy is “thin-skinned and authoritarian,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “feckless, vain,” and British Prime Minister David Cameron is “lacking depth.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is guided by an “iron ring of sycophantic [but contemptuous] advisers,” US diplomats wrote, while his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is “-exceptionally dangerous.”
Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi praised WikiLeaks for exposing US “hypocrisy,” saying the cables prove that “America is not what it has led allies and friends to believe it to be.”
Qaddafi said the Web site’s role was “very important in revealing the plots which are hatched behind the curtains against persons and peoples,” but warned it could lose credibility if it started “to damage people’s image.”
And in the Middle East, where the leaked memos led to “misunderstandings,” they gave Arab leaders’ private words a rare public airing.