US diplomat in Mexico is 1st casualty of WikiLeaks
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 6:06 AM
MEXICO CITY -- The U.S. ambassador to Mexico faced a harsh choice as the release of secret cables made his job nearly impossible: Quit to rescue one of Washington's most strategic relationships or weather the storm to show that diplomats should not suffer for doing their jobs.
In the end, Carlos Pascual resigned, the first U.S. ambassador to lose his job over thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website.
His frank cables detailing infighting and jealousies among Mexican security forces contrasted with public U.S. praise for Mexico's fight against drug trafficking. They deeply angered Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who repeatedly stated he could no longer trust the ambassador. Even opposition lawmakers say they became reluctant to meet with Pascual.
The crisis revealed the fine line President Barack Obama's administration has had to walk between appeasing important allies and standing up for its diplomats. With potentially thousands more documents to be unveiled, the question is whether the outcome of the Mexico dilemma will set a precedent.
"Ambassador Pascual made a principled decision to resign because there were issues more important than him. It was self-sacrificing of him," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center. "The administration takes a long term view of Mexico. They are looking for the best way to keep cooperation going. But in the U.S. Congress there will be difficult questions about whether the U.S. government is being pushed around."
Mexico is not the only country where leaked cables have deeply complicated the work of U.S. ambassadors.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, was recalled to Washington in January after WikiLeaks posted his blunt assessment of Moammar Gadhafi's eccentricities. U.S. officials told The Associated Press then that Cretz might be removed from his post to avoid straining what was considered just months ago to be an improving relationship with Libya. Those concerns evaporated when the rebellion against Gadhafi's rule erupted. Cretz, who never returned to Libya but is still the ambassador, now participates in meetings with the Libyan opposition and briefings for Congress on the U.S. military operations to protect the rebels.
In Kenya, WikiLeaks cables made outspoken Ambassador Michael Ranneberger's shaky relationship with the government worse, especially one that described the East African country as a "swamp of flourishing corruption." One member of parliament submitted a motion to censure Ranneberger and have the U.S. government recall him, but the motion was withdrawn in February. Kenya's government may not have wanted to anger or embarrass the U.S. - a major partner and donor - particularly since Ranneberger is scheduled to depart his post within months.
For now, the WikiLeaks uproar has led to an ambassador's downfall only in Mexico.
That speaks to Mexico's unique relationship with the United States, one marked by more than two centuries of wars and mistrust - but also one of mutual fascination and dependence. A 2,000-mile border, decades of immigration and trade and the shared problem of drug trafficking makes Mexico a prickly but indispensable U.S. ally.
Neither country can easily dismiss the other's concerns or allow relations to freeze, even if it sometimes means swallowing national pride.
"There is almost no country as important to the United States across so many multilateral issues as Mexico," said Shannon O'Neil, a Latin American expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "I don't expect (the WikiLeaks scandal) to have the same effect elsewhere in the region, perhaps in the world."