William Astore: WikiLeaks and Our Boorish "In Your Face" Diplomacy





[Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.]

While the mainstream media focuses on whether Julian Assange is a sex criminal in charge of a terrorist organization, I got a rude reminder of my own sense of unease at the latest revelations from WikiLeaks. It came unexpectedly at a local restaurant. Together with a friend and my wife, I went out to dinner, only to be seated next to a well lubricated group celebrating the fiftieth birthday party of some unfortunate soul on the receiving end of black "Over the Hill" balloons and alcohol-fueled off-color jokes. Between the loud clapping, the table thumping, and the incessant cackling, we couldn't hear ourselves think, let alone talk. I'd blame the restaurant for sitting us next to a remarkably boisterous and oblivious group of people -- except the people weren't oblivious. They knew they were loud, and they simply didn't care. To them, we didn't exist.

After we asked the restaurant staff to move us, I could hear the partiers snickering about how selfish we were in wanting them to be just a little bit quieter (actually, we just wanted them to stop clapping in our ears like five-year-olds). As we got up to move, a spokesperson for the birthday group said they were sorry, but they were in a public place and could therefore enjoy themselves however they wanted. In other words, she was saying we were the intolerant ones for asking to move away from their clapping and foot-stomping and yelling. When I replied that I had no objection to their having a good time, as long as their behavior didn't ruin the good times of others, another partier told me that I should have stayed home. If only I had.

Boorish, "in your face" behavior is everywhere. Most of the time, I'm able to avoid it, or walk away from it, but not tonight. Even as we walked away from the restaurant and passed our loud partiers at the curb, one of them spied us and sneeringly said, "Oooh, everyone be quiet now." We just kept walking.

Afoot in America is an astonishing sense of imperious entitlement. People are told they can have it all -- heck, that they deserve it all -- and to hell with anyone who raises an objection. Rugged individualism is not enough; roughshod individualism is the new American ethos.

Now, what has this to say about WikiLeaks? Take a close look at many of the State Department cables and tell me how you would feel to be on the receiving end of roughshod American imperiousness. So what if we kidnap the wrong German citizen and torture him? Not only do we have no need to apologize: We'll even bully the German government into silence. And we can bully Spain too, if need be, to inhibit Spanish attempts to prosecute Americans for torture or murder. Need more information about the United Nations and its diplomats? Let's not only spy on them in traditional ways, but let's steal their passwords, their biometric data: Heck, let's even take DNA samples from them. If they complain, too bad: They shouldn't have taken a drink from the cup we offered them. And the list goes on: We'll even strike secret deals with Britain to hide our cluster bombs.

In these memos, it never seems to be America's fault. Being a loud and boorish and imperious American means never having contritely to say you're sorry. I got a reminder of that tonight at a local eatery; it seems many different peoples around the world get their reminders from their local American embassies.

Are we oblivious? Do we just don't care? Neither question will matter if the resentments we breed overseas find their way to America's homeland. Doubtless we'll be partying loudly and obnoxiously until the bitter end.


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