Leaked Cables Are Embarrassing For U.S. Diplomats

U.S. officials are trying to contain the damage following sensitive diplomatic cables released by online whistleblower WikiLeaks. Hundreds of thousands of State Department documents leaked Sunday revealed a hidden world of backstage international diplomacy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's get some analysis now, from NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Whats the political effect, here in Washington, of all these leaked cables?

ROBERTS: Well, as Michele says, it's just so embarrassing. And it's likely to start a debate anew about how much intelligence should be shared.

You know, after September 11th, there was all kinds of criticism that various departments in the government didnt share information with each other and so -that people couldnt, quote-unquote, connect the dots. Now, they're sharing and apparently, making it possible to download.

INSKEEP: Um-hum.

ROBERTS: And so I think that argument will start again. What is somewhat refreshing is that this doesn't appear, at least at the moment, to be a partisan argument that you, for once, in Washington have Democrats and Republicans both on the same side - of course, the side of denouncing the WikiLeaks.

INSKEEP: Well, Democrats and Republicans may not be on the same side, but at least they'll be in the same room when President Obama meets some of the Republican leaders in Congress this week.

ROBERTS: And this is you know, you'd think that this was a summit meeting with the worst enemies, you know. This has taken so long to happen, with Republicans postponing the meeting and saying they felt that they were dissed when the president came to their retreat last year, and all of that. So they're going to finally sit down and meet together. Whether anything comes of it or not, it's hard to say.

It's hard to imagine, because the conversation since the election has hardly been one where Republicans have been reaching out to the administration and to Democrats. Now, the president has tried to keep his own rhetoric very mild-mannered and to talk about working across party lines, but he's doing that in the face of a lot of opposition inside his own party. So this is just it's hard to see that anything is going to come out of this other than some picture-taking.

INSKEEP: Well, why is it so hard for the leaders of the two parties to meet here? Because it seems if you go back in history, these kinds of meetings happened all the time.

ROBERTS: They did. In fact, I was recently just going through some family photographs to try to get something together for an event...

INSKEEP: Oh, because your father was a leading member of Congress.

ROBERTS: Exactly. And there was one after another of my father as first, majority whip, then majority leader, meeting with Richard Nixon and other members of the Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate. Now, of course, at that point, you had a Democratic Congress and a Republican president.

But you know, so here we are with the opposite. And I just think it was a time when people were much more willing to work together, particularly on the kinds of big issues that are facing the country today. I mean, you've got foreign policy issues; you've got huge economic issues. And people were just at a time when they thought that even though they wanted to defeat each other in the next election, that they were willing to work together until that election.

INSKEEP: We're in this strange period known as the lame duck session of Congress. The Congress has not changed, but the election has happened. There's a lot of people who are spending their last days on Capitol Hill, and everybody's going to be back this week with a lot of things that they're supposed to get done, but do they ever really get much done?

ROBERTS: Often, they actually do in a lame duck session, although it is quite weird, as you say. You know, there are people there who are going to be leaving. The halls are filled with boxes; people are painting the offices to move in. But they have a tax that they want to deal with, and Democrats are talking about compromise there, to keep the Bush tax cuts in place for everybody who makes under a million dollars. And there's unemployment insurance, Don't Ask Don't Tell, the new START treaty - and the deficit commission will be reporting while all of this is going on. And I think that you will see at least some action in this lame duck. And it will be influenced, mightily, by what happened in the election.

INSKEEP: Although lots of transition - not just for lawmakers but for staff. I was reading over the weekend of a House committee that has 80 majority staff members, 40 minority staff members - which means right now, as it changes, 40 people are being fired.

Cokie, thanks very much. Cokie Roberts joins us most Monday mornings, with analysis.

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