Good Snowden/Bad Snowden? Not So Fast

Edward Snowden 1

In his recent article, “The Two Snowdens,” Philip Giraldi issued warnings about making Edward Snowden an unqualified hero. (Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest, and a former CIA and military intelligence officer.) Matters are more complicated than that Giraldi advised. Honoring the complication, he made the case for recognizing the existence of a good Edward Snowden on the one hand and a treasonous Snowden on the other.

According to Giraldi, the good Snowden is a true whistleblower. As such he rightly released documents about government surveillance of U.S. citizens. Such surveillance clearly violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deserves to be exposed as criminal. On Giraldi’s analysis, this good Edward Snowden truly merits our admiration.

The bad Snowden, however, is another story. He’s the one who indiscriminately revealed U.S. espionage on foreign governments. Granted, Giraldi admits, eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of the likes of Angela Merkel was stupid. Any possible gains were more than cancelled by the potential danger of getting caught.

But otherwise, Snowden’s revelations did irreparable damage to the legitimate espionage the U.S. requires for its national security and economic prosperity. After all, everyone spies on everyone else. The U.S. needs to follow suit otherwise it will be hopelessly disadvantaged.

More specifically, Giraldi continues, Snowden’s revelations have crippled U.S. efforts not only at counter-terrorism, but in its economic competition with China and Russia. While these latter are no longer our “enemies,” they are “competitors” and “opponents.” In any case, Snowden’s revelations give them unfair advantage in the marketplace.

It’s there that I fear Mr. Giraldi’s argument unravels. It misses the big picture that I suspect Edward Snowden sees. I mean, the ex-CIA officer assumes that market competition is somehow neutral and has a right to be protected. It further assumes that the U.S. is just one competitor among others, and that its activities also need to be safeguarded.

In so doing, Mr. Giraldi ignores the real “American Exceptionalism,” – i.e. its leadership of a system that is destroying the planet through its endless wars and its refusal to address the climate change unfettered capitalism causes. Meanwhile the system mercilessly takes advantage of workers privileged enough to be exploited.

That system, whether Snowden sees it or not, needs to be subverted, not supported as Mr. Giraldi would prefer. Anyone aiding and abetting the process of subversion in a non-violent way deserves support not criticism.

First of all, consider the assumptions about the neutrality of global capitalism. In reality, market competition as in the corporate globalization and “free trade” agreements championed by the United States is far from neutral. Its deck is stacked against the environment and the global workforce. It not only outsources jobs from the U.S. home front; it also exploits cheap labor in the former colonies, and takes advantage of lax environmental and labor laws.

The results include disastrous climate change and the deaths of more than 35,000 children each day – from absolutely preventable hunger-related causes. Free-marketers refuse to address those causes, because doing so would mean “interference” in the marketplace which they find anathema to their religious devotion to free market doctrine.

These are criminal charges – life and death matters. They reduce to insignificance the violations of the U.S. Constitution that Mr. Giraldi forefronts. They suggest that Mr. Snowden’s revelations about foreign espionage are even more laudable than his domestic disclosures.

Secondly, consider the overall U.S. project in the world. That project remains best described by George Kennan in the aftermath of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). In his capacity as National Security Advisor of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Kennan is considered by all, the architect of U.S. Cold War policy. All contemporary indications confirm that his vision still guides U.S. policy – with the likely exception that it is even more tightly embraced today than it was in 1947. It was then that Kennan wrote:

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans the better.” <a

Once again, it turns out that Kennan’s project is a criminal enterprise. It is about keeping the world as it is – about the rejection of world benefaction, altruism, human rights, democracy, and raising living standards – so that the U.S. might control a disproportionate amount of the world’s limited resources. Today Kennan’s employment of “straight power concepts” to keep the envious and resentful at bay employs wars of aggression, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, extra-judicial (drone) executions, and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

To reiterate, that U.S. project needs to be undermined.

So rather than characterizing someone who does so as a “spy,” such a heroic individual deserves our unconditional support – and imitation.

Snowden represents non-violent resistance and international civil disobedience at its finest.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

5 thoughts on “Good Snowden/Bad Snowden? Not So Fast”

  1. Good article! Can you give us the source of the Kennan quote? I’ve seen it before and would like to be able to cite it as accurately as possible. Thanks.

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