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.
All these Arab friends of America, especially Hariri, have now been put at risk of reprisal and possible assassination. Our diplomats in whom those rulers put their trust have been compromised.
The press has not yet revealed our confidential sources, but foreign intelligence agencies by now have the unedited documents and can figure out who is talking to the Americans and who is not a friend.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a prickly ally, but one on whom we have to depend in a war that has cost 1,400 American lives, now has confirmation of what we think of him. If he is thinking of cutting a deal at America's expense, who can blame him?
Secretary of State Clinton, who has made a favorable impression on foreign leaders, comes off as mildly paranoid with her instructions to have U.S. diplomats spy on and steal credit card numbers of allied diplomats at the United Nations.
Because of these leaks, many U.S. diplomats, who were candid about leaders in the capitals where they represent our country, will see their usefulness diminished or destroyed.
As these documents have apparently come out of Pentagon files, what does that tell us about the U.S. military's ability to keep a secret? Are U.S. battle and war plans also unprotected?
How is it that, thus far, only PFC Bradley Manning has been apprehended?
Who vetted Manning? Is it possible one 22-year-old with a computer and disks can get access to, download and transfer to anti-Americans the entire correspondence of the Department of State with U.S. embassies?
Some 250,000 documents -- thousands classified as confidential, secret and "no foreign" distribution -- were thieved.
Who was in charge of securing those secrets? Why have heads not rolled? What has happened to the idea of accountability?
A few years ago, a leak of the name of a single CIA analyst, Valerie Plame, had the national press in an uproar, with a grand jury impaneled and a special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, named to investigate the leak right up to and into the Oval Office, if necessary.
Vice President Cheney's aide, Scooter Libby, was prosecuted for lying about the leak. Karl Rove was hauled repeatedly before a grand jury.
Why is the Obama White House getting a pass when this national humiliation and diplomatic Pearl Harbor occurred on its watch?
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