Local and Global: What Wikileaks has taught us

The following item was first  posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World. One of the good things about the Wikileaks cables, I argue, is that it shows how the U.S. Foreign Service promotes and protects U.S. jobs — a very domestic issue.

Unfortunately few in the U.S. — and within the journalism community — understand that connection.

Perhaps a new generation of journalism students will grasp the local connection to international issues and the international side of local issues.

One can only hope.

A lot has been said about the Wikileaks cables and how they have — at a minimum — hurt the ability of U.S. diplomats to do their jobs. (A position I still hold.)

Most of the cables would have been declassified 10 years after they were written so anyone interested would have been able to see everything we are seeing today.

But that is just the problem — that “anyone interested” part. Damn few people in the States seem interested. (Unless they have a political agenda.)

Thanks to Wikileaks more people are now paying attention to what U.S. diplomats do. And how that work affects local situations.

A recent story in the New York Times showed how closely domestic and international affairs are linked. (Diplomats Help Push Sales of Jetliners on the Global Market)

Anyone who pays even the slightest attention to domestic economic affairs should know that the U.S. economy depends on trade. That means imports and exports. That means trade agreements and the ability to sell goods and services overseas.

And just how do you think the agreements that allow for imports and exports happen? Yep, through the work of the foreign services of a number of U.S. government agencies.

The Trade Representative Office works to make sure that our trade partners adhere to the trade treaties the sign with us.

The State Department negotiates the treaties and protects U.S. interests abroad. (Government and business.)

The Foreign Commercial Service (Commerce Department) has offices around the world promoting the sales of U.S. products from fortune cookies (yes, really) to aircraft.

The Agriculture Department has offices in most of the major U.S. embassies promoting U.S. agricultural sales as well as working to ensure the safety of food imported into the United States. (BTW, did you know that Wisconsin ginseng is more popular in China than Korean or Chinese ginseng?)

So why is there so much talk about cutting the foreign affairs’ budgets? I can only think it is out of pure ignorance of what the U.S. foreign service agencies do for the American government, people and businesses.

As I have stated before, foreign affairs does not have a constituency that can speak for it before Congress. The Pentagon hands out contracts to all 435 Congressional districts. And all the other agencies deal with domestic issues that voters can see and understand.

Unfortunately, the U.S. media have not helped the situation. Years of neglect about why events in the rest of the world mean anything to the American people have given us a generation (or more) of globally unaware people and leaders.

The amazing thing about the NYTimes story linked above is that the Times is treating this as news. As the article said, “It is not surprising that the United States helps American companies doing business abroad, given that each sale is worth thousands of jobs and that their foreign competitors do the same.”

Interestingly, the article focused on the sale of Boeing passenger jets. Yet there are also a number of Wikileaks cables that deal with the sale of U.S. military hardware. And this is just as important to keeping U.S. factories working.

Too bad they missed that little tidbit.

The authors find the details to be interesting. And they are. But, again, anyone who paid attention to such things did not need Wikileaks to get this kind of information.

But with media groups cutting budgets and bean counters screaming, “Local! Local! Local!” the resources are just not available to do the stories that explain to readers/viewers/listeners the connection between overseas’ events and their local economy on a regular basis.

So I guess even the harshest critics of Wikileaks should be thankful that finally the media are beginning to do some stories that show the domestic impact of what the foreign services do overseas. (I don’t really expect to see many more like the story mentioned above, but it would be nice.)

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