The world’s only superpower is not doing very well in its attempt to punish the ‘traitor’ Edward Snowden for revealing the National Security Agency’s sprawling data collection program, by which the United States looks at the world. First Hong Kong refused the US request to extradite Snowden and allowed him to leave the country because the extradition order hadn’t been filled in correctly – a decision that was not unrelated to the fact that Hong Kong is one of the countries targeted by the NSA’s programs.
Then Russia refused a similar request. And now the Equadorian president Rafael Correa has preempted a threat from the Obama administration to cancel trade agreements with Equador by unilaterally withdrawing from the Andean Trade Agreement. Correa has compounded the snub by offering the US a $23 million donation for ‘human rights training’.
There was a time when no Latin American government would dream of behaving like this, with the exception of Cuba. Now the US can count on the obedience of very few governments in its ‘backyard’ – and it is running out of friends elsewhere – at least as far as this issue is concerned.
Some might think it a bit rich for the Chinese Communist Party newspaper The Global Times to praise Snowden for uncovering ‘the sordid tale of how the U.S. government violates the rights of its citizens and conducts cyber spying throughout the entire world.’ But that doesn’t make these criticisms any less valid.
US politicians and securocrats are constantly bleating about the evils of ‘cyberterrorism’ and ‘cyberattacks’, yet reserve the right to spy on its own citizens and even supposedly friendly governments – and engage in its own forms of Internet warfare with its enemies.
Germany has also described the US data harvesting programs carried out in conjunction with GCHQ as a ‘ Hollywood nightmare‘ and accused Washington of using ‘ American-style Stasi methods.’ Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has described US monitoring of Internet communication as ‘deeply disconcerting’ and pointed out that ‘ The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is.’
Once upon a time most Americans would have agreed with this statement. But the ‘war on terror’ has radically reconfigured the relationship between the US government and its citizens, and fostered a secretive national security apparatus that believes it has the right to spy on anyone, even governments that are supposed to be its allies, without any accountability or transparency.
Were it not for Snowden’s revelations, no one would know anything about these programs. And now the Obama administration is attempting to make an example of him, with the pathetic excuse that Snowden has somehow helped ‘ terrorists’ – a charge that few people are likely to take seriously for a milisecond.
In effect the US is behaving like the ‘totalitarian’ and ‘authoritarian’ regimes it condemns – with a massive dose of hypocrisy thrown into the mix. And the fact that so many countries are reluctant to comply with its demands, raises the question of whether the world’s only superpower will be able to get its way over many other things.
Of course the United States has huge military and economic resources at its disposal, compared with even its nearest its rivals. But economically it is set to overtaken by China, and the limitations of American military power have been glaringly revealed in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, where twelve years of war were not enough to defeat the Taliban.
Such things don’t go unnoticed, and the man in Moscow airport may be one more indication that we are moving to a new kind of world, in which no single power dominates, and where the ‘American century’ may turn out to be much shorter than its proponents once predicted.