Which do you think is the most futile warning ever uttered?
1. “Omigod! Don’t open the basement door.”
2. “Be careful. The natives swear there’s a curse on that crypt.”
3. “If you receive classified information about the secret world of diplomats, murder, and extortion, don’t look at it.”
I don’t know about you, but my money is on No. 3. Hillary Clinton ordered federal employees not to read any of the 250,000 State Department documents that WikiLeaks spilled over the earth. She could have saved her breath.
We can’t look away, we shouldn’t look away, because here they stand, the thieves, buffoons, and rat-hole crazies like Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi and his senior Ukrainian nurse, or Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, bouncing like a rubber ball from midlife testosterone. The deceptions are classic Machiavelli. Pakistan allows American drones to hunt the Taliban in the north while it lip-syncs anti-American outrage in the south. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is eager for the U.S. to attack Iran’s nuclear sites—as long as his hands are not sullied. We are collecting DNA at the United Nations. Was there anyone there we wanted to clone?
For a writer it’s as if pulp fiction were the new reality. We don’t recall events, we cast them. Admit it; whenever you see Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, don’t you think Wes Studi? You may not remember his name but in movies he always plays the bad Indian. The “new reality” helps explain how Karzai’s vice president left the country toting a bag stuffed with 52 million dollars in cash. I assume the bag was a carry-on. Let me get this straight: Afghanistan is one the poorest countries on earth. Where did that money come from? For all the American blood spilled and billions of dollars plowed into the sand, we deserve to know.
Some cables exhibited a certain snap and personality. Our man in Kabul, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, was blunt, if a little belated, in declaring Russia “a mafia state.” I see Sam Waterston. Of course the biggest mafia in Russia has always been the government; in Soviet times, the Communist Party, and now a circle of former KGB and FSB. No billionaire can ride in his armored Mercedes without feeling the shadow of the Kremlin over his shoulder.
Today there seems to be no challenge to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. President Dmitry Medvedev appears to be a sincere reformer but is essentially Putin’s water boy. Tobey Maguire? With each year of his reign, Putin grows more seamless and enigmatic, more in control and more alone, a one-man reality show.
The problem is that the sheer volume of lies, scandal, and deceit is overwhelming, like being inside Oliver Stone’s head for a day. If I pitched this story to an editor he’d say, “The story needs shape. It’s got too much plot and not enough heroes. It needs ... it needs High Concept.” High Concept means a book or a film whose core idea can be stated in a single sentence, such as “Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are twins.” Or, “Arnold is pregnant.” Generally it’s important to fall into some category—Chick Flick, Weepy, Action Hero—and satisfy expectations. Bit by bit a new reality takes place.
Julian Assange is certainly no hero. The man behind WikiLeaks issued threats as if he were Dr. No bent on ending civilization as we know it. We will find him, lock him up, and throw away the key. But give the man credit, for a week the truth was laid bare. John Malkovich, obviously.
One surprise was left, the relationship between Putin and Berlusconi, one with the romantic soul of a gondolier, the other with the expressiveness of a crash dummy. Omigod! Everything about it spelled buddy film. Pure gold. “Silvio and Vlad,” the story of two men who enjoy life to the hilt. They hunt together, they party together, they tan together, only don’t get the wrong idea. As Vlad is fond of saying, “We are real men.”
According to WikiLeaks, the two friends also do a little business together. Silvio allegedly receives kickbacks for supporting Russia’s energy interests. For Vladimir’s part, he will gain a virtual stranglehold on Western Europe. Would he squeeze? Ask Ukraine or Belarus.
Ah, back to normal. Are Arnold and Danny available? First off, will $52 million fit in an overhead bin?
Novelist Martin Cruz Smith’s books include Red Square, Stalin’s Ghost, and Gorky Park, which was made into a major motion picture of the same name, starring William Hurt. His new book is Three Stations, which, like most of his international thrillers, features Russian investigator Arkady Renko. He wrote this article for NEWSWEEK.