Not since Leon Trotsky began publishing the secrets of the Romanov archives in 1918 has there been a more devastating leak of diplomatic documents than this week's WikiLeaks dump.
The Romanov files contained the secret treaties the imperial Allies had signed to carve up the Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Ottoman empires after a war fought "to make the world safe for democracy."
It was to counter cynicism after revelation of these "secret treaties" that Woodrow Wilson called for "open covenants, openly arrived at."
In 1898, a leaked document inflamed America and infuriated President McKinley, who had not wanted to go to war with Spain.
The Spanish minister in Washington, Enrique Dupuy De Lome, had written an indiscreet letter that was stolen by a sympathizer of the Cuban revolution and leaked to William Randolph Hearst's warmongering New York Journal. In the De Lome letter, the minister had said of McKinley that he is "weak, and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd, besides being a ... politician who tries to leave a door open behind himself while keeping on good terms with the jingoes of his party."
Six days later, the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. Hearst's Journal screamed Spanish "treachery." And the war was on.
On Jan. 16, 1917, the German Foreign Secretary Zimmermann had cabled his envoy in Mexico City to convey an offer. If Mexico would join Germany in a war against the United States, Mexico's reward would be Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Written in code, the Zimmermann telegram was intercepted and deciphered by the British, who happily turned it over to the Americans.
The U.S. reaction was even more explosive than it had been to news that Germany had declared open season for U-boats on all ships carrying cargo to Allied ports, including American ships.
Within weeks, America was at war with Germany.
The WikiLeaks dump comes in an age where diplomatic insults are common. Hence, nothing so dramatic as war is likely to result.
Still, this is a diplomatic disaster of the first order.
For what it reveals is that the world's last superpower cannot be trusted with diplomatic confidences or secrets. Try to help the Americans, and what you tell them may wind up on page one of their tabloid press.
From what has spilled out already, the Iranians know exactly who in the Arab world is goading us to attack their country.
That list includes Persian Gulf sheiks, the king of Saudi Arabia and young Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon, whose father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was assassinated five years ago, allegedly by Hezobollah, Iran's ally.
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