WikiLeaks IV: Getting Personal

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fourth in the series.

You’ve got to hand it to US diplomats: they keep things lively.

The Guardian reports this afternoon on some of the tastiest tidbits of American assessments of foreign leaders and regimes. Among other things, the paper reveals funny observations made about Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (“plays Robin to Putin’s Batman”), French president Nicholas Sarkozy (“thin-skinned” and possessed of an “authoritarian personal style”), Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe (“the crazy old man”), Libyan loony Muammar Gaddafi (“just strange”), and Yemeni President President Ali Abdullah Saleh (“dismissive, bored and impatient”).

Some of the other criticisms leveled against leaders are less news-worthy, including those concerning Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

A dispatch from Kabul reports the view that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him.”

Yeah, no kidding. We learned of Karzai’s paranoia months ago with the release of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, where US administration assessments of the Afghan leader’s fragile mental state were frank, and frankly startling if they prove accurate.

Similarly, no one will be surprised to learn what the American think of Italian misogynist-in-chief Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian prime minister is

“feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”, according to Elizabeth Dibble, US charge d’affaires in Rome. Another report from Rome recorded the view that he was a “physically and politically weak” leader whose “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest”.

Perhaps more strangely, however, is the news released by the New York Times that

American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoys supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he is undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignores his edicts.

And once again, the only figure escaping the Wikileaks revelations seemingly unscathed is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cables refer to as “elegant and charming,” though untrustworthy. That seems about right.

Michael Busch, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, teaches international relations at the City College of New York and serves as research associate at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. He is currently working on a doctorate in political science at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.