Edward Snowden has become a big embarrassment for America. It is not so much his information leaks about America’s post 9/11 spying mechanisms that have been awkward, but the US’s increasingly humiliating global chase to capture this one man.
There was a time when the world and almost every country within it shook with trepidation or at the very least publicly showed a great deal of respect, when America roared about anything at all. Today, the picture we are seeing is vastly different. Forget respect. Country after country is also showing no fear, even when being threatened. And we are not talking about Iran or Venezuela here, but places like Hong Kong, with whom the US has great relations, strong diplomatic ties and even an extradition treaty. Russia, with whom the US shares a love-hate relationship, usually ends up co-operating in such matters, but not today. Even tiny countries like Ecuador and Iceland are showing the US the middle finger by entertaining Snowden’s asylum request and refusing to kow tow to US demands and threats of withdrawing trade benefits.
Seeing the world react this way, most Americans will be quick to blame Obama for being a weak leader who has been soft on Iran, Syria and on terror. They will claim that he has made America look feeble. Perhaps it is true that he has tried to show a softer side of America in order to counteract the shoot from the hip years of Bush-Cheney. His words might have done this, but if you look purely at his actions around his national security decisions, they tell a different story. Consider his vastly expanded use of drones, a unilateral raid on the soil of a sovereign democratic nation (to kill Bin Laden) and his expansion of the NSA domestic spying program; all show him to be as hawkish as his predecessors. But it is too easy to put the blame squarely on Obama’s shoulders, even though he does share part of the blame for America’s growing impotence in the world today.
The reality is that America’s response and particularly her actions in the years following the attacks on 9/11 are entirely responsible for her lack of standing and respect today. On the 11th of September 2001, the majority of the world shared in America’s pain and stood shoulder to shoulder with her. There was unanimous global support for American retaliation in going after the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for providing safe haven to Al Qaeda. Nobody questioned the justification for this war; in fact most nations supported it, and it was sanctioned by the UN barely a few months after the first American and British boots were on the ground. But it was Cheney and Bush’s obsession with Saddam and their subsequent unilateral actions for their War on Terror, many in violation of International Law and the Geneva Convention, that led to America losing the moral high ground and respect it had earned for more than a century. Under Bush’s leadership the world witnessed a great superpower turn into a powerful bully that turned a deaf ear to everyone, including steadfast and lifelong allies. Now, a little over a decade later, America is witnessing the realities and outcomes that have resulted from Cheney’s knee-jerk reactions and secret government decisions made in those fear filled months and fear-mongering years after 9/11.
If I were to describe a country that operated a detention center that is located on foreign soil, simply to allow it to be outside the jurisdiction of their courts and legal processes. A place where anyone can be held indefinitely and without charges filed against them. A country that allowed warrantless wiretapping on its own citizens. One that set up detention centers across the globe for the purposes of using torture and other interrogation techniques, like water boarding. A country that believes it can use drones to hunt down and kill anyone, on any sovereign soil, without burden of proof. A country that passed opaque and far reaching laws that allow secret courts to make secret decisions that will never see light of democratic process. A country that was willing to allow its domestic surveillance programs to collect unlimited amounts of communication data on its own people, without any probable cause; and one that claimed to do all this in the name of protecting its citizens – what country would come to your mind? Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Burma, China, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen…
Only through a combination of press leaks, public outrage, some congressional oversight and whistleblowers have we been able to piece together the extent of the secret decisions and frightening overreach made by our government in the name of security, in the years after 9/11. Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s massive domestic spying program are just the latest revelation to come to light. It is now abundantly clear that the vast majority of the decisions our government has made do not uphold America’s ideals, beliefs and democratic principles. The most distressing part is that each new disclosure serves to further weaken and erode America’s already diminished moral standing in the world, because her actions continue to be consistently incongruous with her stated character and ideals. I think someone once said that we see a person’s true character in times of adversity. This is not cause for celebration or an opportunity to point fingers; in fact quite the opposite. America for all her bad has been a responsible global citizen, and the most compassionate superpower in history, doing more to help the world than any other nation. Nobody is perfect but in the grand scheme of things America has always overwhelmingly stood for good, for democracy, for transparency and for rule of law and helped promote this cause across the globe. Today, it is hard for America to claim that China and Russia are thwarting the rule of law when lawyers in the White House have spent years writing-up legal arguments to defend US invasions of foreign lands, without any threat or provocation or UN backing. Creating new legal frameworks to justify drone strikes in any country, against anyone that the US deems a terrorist and without the burden of proof. Even justifying the murder of their citizens without any due process.
The America that Bush and Cheney created and Obama has failed to dismantle has clearly lost its way. Bush and Cheney’s America trembled and succumbed to fear in the face of great adversity; taking the easier and more slippery path to safeguarding national interests. They chose the path travelled by nations that feign democracy and do undemocratic things to protect their people and beliefs, justifying it in the name of greater good. The America I knew and have respected was made of sterner stuff. She would have resolved to defeat terrorism by further upholding liberty and justice, while protecting her fierce democratic ideals and freedoms, above all else. By choosing this path Bush, Cheney and Obama have achieved the opposite. They have weakened America and thereby made an already dangerous world a far less safe place.