Timothy Garton Ash: A Banquet of Secrets

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European studies at Oxford University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of "Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing From a Decade Without a Name."]

It is the historian's dream. It is the diplomat's nightmare. Here, for all to see, are the confidences of friends, allies and rivals, garnished with American diplomats' frank, sometimes coruscating assessments of them. Over the next couple of weeks, newspaper readers around the world will enjoy a multi-course banquet from the history of the present.

The historian usually has to wait 20 or 30 years to find such treasures. But here, the most recent dispatches are little more than 30 weeks old. And what a trove this is.

It contains more than 250,000 documents. Most of those that I have seen, on my dives into a searchable database of the documents made by the Guardian newspaper, are well over 1,000 words long. If my sample is at all representative, there must be a total of at least 250 million words, and perhaps up to half a billion....

More broadly, what you see in all this diplomatic traffic is how security and counter-terrorism concerns have pervaded every aspect of American foreign policy over the last decade. But you also see how serious the threats are, and how little the West is in control of them....

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