Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Season for Treason

Set aside all the politics over the War on Terror and then ask what Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have in common.

All three are arrogant and unstable men filled with aimless grievances and animated by the sense that they never received the things that they really wanted out of life. They are in short exactly the sort of people that foreign intelligence agencies recruit when trying to spot weak links in the security chain.

Foreign intelligence agencies look for people with security clearances who go through a lot of money in short periods of time, who simmer with grudges and grievances, who are rootless and dissatisfied. Those descriptions adequately cover Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning; two men who should never have been given any kind of clearance whatsoever on personality alone.

That isn't to say that any of the men are spies. Spying is passe now. Not in China which spies on the same industrial scale that it does everything else. Or in Russia, which may not have pulled the trigger on Wikileaks, but appears to have some links to Assange and through its RT propaganda channel feeds an endless stream of the same sort of stories that the Soviet Union used to run, but stripped of the obligatory Communist angle.

But it's passe in the West where the very notion of treason has long since become an ambiguous thing in the sunset days of the state. The idea of treason depends on the importance of the state as a force representing the interests of the citizenry against other states. And that's not really a Western idea anymore.

When Obama totes around a copy of The Post-American World and seems more eager to represent the interests of the wrong half of the world over those of his own country, he can hardly complain when men like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden take him at his word and follow in his footsteps.

Snowden and Manning just did what Obama has been doing. They leaked classified information and damaged the interests of the United States. The only difference is that they didn't go through the formalities of raising millions of dollars from San Francisco Green Energy tycoons and running for political office first.

That's an important procedural difference, but unimportant from a functional standpoint. If political office doesn't come with any national responsibility or accountability, then Snowden or Manning have as much right to trash national security for their own whims as Obama does. If the state is nothing more than a power prize in a popularity contest, then why bother about its security.

Sure some Americans might get blown up along the way, but who is to say that Obama, Manning or Snowden should care about them? Why would they apart from some outdated notion of nationality, a fact so random that you can become an American without ever speaking the language or showing the least bit of allegiance to the country.

Obama has embraced the rhetoric and ideas of an order in which the state no longer matters and the international community defines all, but his policies haven't fully kept up. That hypocrisy has created a gap into which the Mannings and the Snowdens have jumped.

The Bush Administration could consistently advocate the War on Terror as a means of protecting American interests. Its successors apologize for the existence of the war while carrying it on because despite all the speeches, they really have no other ideas, except the usual gestures of appeasement.

It's not inconsistent to insist that America needs protecting and to then protect it. But it is inconsistent to deny that anything is wrong and to advocate for a post-national order and to then insist that the state has the right to protect itself.

Russia makes no bones about being a state.Neither does China. It's America's jet setting elites who seem confused about the issue. And the confusion percolates on downward.

Amnesty would never be seriously discussed in China or Russia, because neither allow any ambiguity about their national existence. The notion of borders does not confuse their political elites. But they confuse our addled Post-American politicians who don't seem to grasp the relevance of the concept of citizenship in an age when anyone with enough money can just get on a plane and go places.

That is what makes America's elites worse than those of Russia or China. Russian and Chinese leaders may be angling for a way out if the hammer comes down, most of their children have foreign passports and bank accounts, but that is due to their criminality, not their inability to identify with a nation.

America's political elites have a notion of freedom that is as constrained as their Russian or Chinese counterparts, they just believe that outright tyranny of that sort is tacky. They don't run over people with tanks, they run them over with laws. But if the day comes when tanks are necessary in defense of gun control, gay marriage, mandatory abortions, national health insurance or some other liberal cause, there is no real doubt that they will do it. For now they admire their own sophisticated ability to get their way with empty speeches, media bias and social nudges. It hasn't crossed their minds yet that the day will come when that will not be enough.

The War on Terror isn't a war of national interest. It is the contention that we shouldn't be blown up. And while that may seem uncontroversial, so much so that even Obama is prepared to roll with it, so long as he gets to take a pass on Gitmo, the right not to be blown up, as a nation or an individual, depends on the first right of existence. That's the problem that Israel has run into over the years. Most countries and people have to recognize your right to exist in order to oppose violence against you.

An America that goes post-national has made the argument for its own non-existence. And that argument resounds most dangerously with its own citizens.

America's political elites imagine that they can walk the post-national tightrope while papering over all the cracks with some inspirational guff about American Exceptionalism. Amnesty? Sure, it's what makes us great as a nation. A treasonous media? Healthy debate is what makes us great. Giving a pass to terrorists? Tolerance is what makes us great. Handing over authority to the UN? America has always led the way for world peace.

This kind of idiotic pablum comes out of the mouth of politicians at the drop of a hat. But there is only so much you can paper over with empty phrases and easy answers.

Nations have national interests. They don't have to debate every topic to death in terms of abstract ethics, because they can assert that a thing is necessary for them to keep going. Post-National nations that are just waiting to open up their borders and be ravished by the hordes of the brotherhood of man have no national interests. Their leaders assert national interests for international and post-national ventures.

Obama declared that it "was not in our national interest" to let Gaddafi take Benghazi and so he decided to bomb Libya. The closest he came to explaining what in the world our national interest had to do with protecting the Islamist militias who would go on to murder four Americans was some muttering about our national values.

Conflating values and interests is post-national gibberish. It creates international nation building
mandates while denying the right of the nation to pursue its own interests. And it encourages Americans to take action based on those "national values" rather than national interests, to think in terms of an abstract value system rather than the blood and tissue in the streets of Boston.

The debate over Snowden took on a predictable trajectory in light of that. Initial supporters who thought Snowden was a patriot who wanted to expose government eavesdropping seemed put off when he proved just as willing to report on international eavesdropping as on the domestic kind. And why shouldn't he? Internationalists have no national loyalties. To them eavesdropping on Russian or Chinese officials is just as wrong as eavesdropping on Americans.

The Post-American America is internationalized. It's supposed to run on values, rather than interests. Treason is no longer defined in terms of betraying national interests, but the ephemeral national values. Patriotism is treason to the values of internationalism while treason to national interests is the new patriotism.


Anonymous said...

Daniel, one of your best commentaries.

We do seem to be in a "post" world. After eliminating God, morality, ethics, the natural family unit, borders, the rule of law, the true intent of the Constitution, our real history, the truth about humanity and nature, and on and on, what is left for us? How do we "go forward" after losing everything we are, and denying everything that matters?


Some dude said...

generally a good article, but you didn't address why I should have a problem with Snowden. Mostly I see people on one side in favor of him, because they simply do not like the idea of the government having too much power (information is power) over their lives. That makes sense becuase the concept is rooted in the nature of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, that is, the limitation of government power.

However on the side of the issue that I suspect you are on, I don't hear much other than that he is a "traitor" (maybe) who "revealed important secrets" (to who? Us?).

The real question is this - is this really necesary to spy on the people? Further, even if it makes us safer from terrorists, does it not put us in the worse danger of an overpowerful government?

It could be Snowden is:

a) A traitor
b) A hero
c) A loon
D) A government plant to cover up much worse shenanigans.

But my point is, thats actually irrelevant. What is relevent is the following

1) Is this information accurate?

2) Do we even have the ability to practically determine that? That is, can we even verify we are being told the truth on this issue?

3) Is this OK?

4) Given that this is clearly a step up from the Patriot Act which was supposed to be the limit of this kind of Orwellian monitoring, who says it just isn't going to get even worse?

These are the real issues. And that discussion is being sidetracked by whether Snowden is a good or a bad boy.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Really puts the Snowdens/Mannings/Assanges issues together and in perspective.

LEL said...

I don't think its debatable. Snowden is a traitor, end of story. This isn't complex. Opposition to Obama should not therefore mean conservative support for Snowden. But too many on the right are mindlessly defending him.

Workingstiff said...

Gotta disagree with you on this one.

How can you on one hand criticize a government that has run amuck trashing our individual liberties, getting us dragged into no win-wars that support puppet dictators like Karzai, bring our troops home in body bags, with broken limbs and minds, create sanctioned molesters like the TSA and ninja mall cops like the DHS, and then call Snowden and Manning traitors for trying to show us what the power-mad idiots are doing behind the curtian?

What part of government can we trust, when the whole system is rotten through, which gives you your plentiful raw material for justifiable criticism in your articles? Would you not want those in the system to stand up and blow the whistle, or demand for them to just "Obey orders" out of patriotic duty?

You write of these men being traitors exposing government materiel that has yet proven to be any security risk to our nation. Daniel Ellsberg revealed in 1972 with the Pentagon Papers how our government knew, KNEW they could not win the war in Vietnam as early as 1967, but still sent our troops in to die in a no-win war strategy to keep political face.

As long as our government keeps sending our troops to fight and occupy other nations as mere pawns to die for flawed agendas, I welcome men like Manning and Snowden and others that reveal the duplicity of the rear echelon chicken hawks that send our troops in harms way knowing that they have no chance for victory.

Inane Rambler said...

The problem with the modern right, and the GOP by extension is that they are so concerned with stopping Obama at all costs that there is nothing they willingly give up.

Instead of realizing that some things will need sacrificed so that the larger goals can survive. Instead of being seen as willing to give and take, the GOP is only seen as standing in the way.

They'll latch on to anything to see Obama go, but they won't stick with anything.

People like Rand Paul have long been against the strain of conservatism we saw during the Bush years. Let them stick to that. They can be believed. A lot of Republicans are way more flighty, and only support Rand Paul because it's something they can use to differentiate themselves from Obama.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is one of your best. I keep having to remember to breathe after each devastating point you make. The continuity of treason top to bottom, the imperatives of nation-building, and more...but I want to email you later with another idea about why this has all happened...a notion of the one driver pushing all these horrors on America.

Anonymous said...

Snowden didn't expose anything that we couldn't have predicted was happening anyway.


lemon lime moon said...

Birds of a feather. Great article as always.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I think the accusation of treason is misplaced. In the United States, citizens have the obligation to honor and uphold the Constitution but owe no allegiance to the servant government. Treason is narrowly defined as giving aid and comfort to the enemy when the country is at war. Snowden has not revealed any secrets that we did not already know, rather he made us look at the unpleasant fact that our CEO and his employees have been spying on us, and violating the Fourth Amendment. So I guess if he is called a traitor that makes us the enemy, and indicates another thing we already know. Not content to violate our rights and break the covenant that is our Constitution, this government is at war with us.

In this case, the treason broadly defined is that of our servant government servants' violation of their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution against ALL enemies. Seems like Snowden, whatever his real faults--and this government is quite capable of using the information collected about any one of us to manufacture guilt--has actually defended us against the oath-breakers.

I'm still mindful that the Republicans calling Snowden a traitor are for the most part progressives, too ,and are quite eager to sell us all into slavery for the sake of a few more crumbs of power.

I am also remembering that the founders of this country, all imperfect men, were called traitors by the government they revolted against. Whatever the motives of a man like Snowden, he seems downright reasonable alongside Obama and his minions, and alongside the likes of Boehner, McCain and Graham. None of them are the least bit interested in my rights nor my Liberty.

Leah said...

Excellent article.

Anonymous said...

Snowden is no Ellsberg. The Pentagon Papers only revealed, after the fact, that the top government and military officials knew the Viet Nam war was unwinnable, while telling us the "light at the end of the tunnel" was coming into view. The Pentagon Papers did not disclose military secrets, diplomatic secrets, our spying on other countries, and who knows what else Snowden gave to Glenn Greenwald to spill to the world.

mindRider said...

A funny issue of the Snowden revelations/treason is what happened when it was revealed that even the European community leadership had been tapped by the NSA. They where so offended, how did America dare to be so insolent as to spy on the elite, Europe would demand an explanation! This same leadership cared not a hoot however about wether their European citizens have been tapped.

vladtepes2 said...

"... who simmer with grudges and grievances, who are rootless and dissatisfied."
Whooo.... for a second there I thought you WERE talking about Obama.
Great comparison.

"If political office doesn't come with any national responsibility or accountability..."
Is that why the Founding Fathers required the extra qualification that a candidate for President be a natural born citizen, born of two citizen parents?

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Comparing Snowden and Manning to George Washington and Benjamin Franklin is rather dubious at best.

Bob said...

I think 'Treason' is a dangerous word to throw around so cavalierly, but I agree that it's getting more and more difficult to define what Nationalism is. In any case, the Founders were all called Traitors as well, so Snowden is in good company.

If American Citizens were better informed, it wouldn't be necessary for these types of disclosures, since that was the point, after all. Surely you're not trying to say that our Allies were unaware of Washington's spying? All the fake outrage is just cover. Nations have been spying on each other forever.

All this does is raise awareness among the masses of the dangers inherent in the U.S. policies, internationalism among them. Personally, I would prefer to go back to the old fashioned sovereign country, and if this issue helps raise the narrative beyond that of eighth-graders, I'm all in.

btw I have RT on right now, and the indignation is flowing like a river. As expected, of course. Oh, those ugly Americans.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

They laughed at Columbus. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

Anonymous said...

What about the von Stauffenberg plotters and the White Rose group? Or the Soviet defectors like Krivitsky, Deryabin, Penkovsky and many others? By any rational and objective standard all of them were traitors, but also fully justified and ennobled by what they did. Loyalty is one of the greatest virtues, but not unthinking and absolute loyalty. Where does an honorable man and patriot draw the line. Manning committed his treason for the right to sodomy. Assange and Snowden for still uncertain reasons.

AG said...

Workingstiff - You can blow a whistle without giving every single last detail to the media for the whole world to see. That is the problem here. There are right ways and wrong ways to do these sort of things. He would be at home right now sitting comforatable had he chose to contact someone in Congress. Then they would have opened an investigation and offered him protection in the mean time. Then it could be controled, what information does and does not get exposed in the World Wide Media.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

For anyone who thinks the US is up there with Nazi Germany or the USSR then yes...

Workingstiff said...

"AG said...

Workingstiff - You can blow a whistle without giving every single last detail to the media for the whole world to see. That is the problem here. There are right ways and wrong ways to do these sort of things. He would be at home right now sitting comforatable had he chose to contact someone in Congress. Then they would have opened an investigation and offered him protection in the mean time. Then it could be controled, what information does and does not get exposed in the World Wide Media."

AG, have you taken a hard good look at Congress lately? You would never seen a consensus or a quorum majority to support Snowden even if he had hard evidence found on the data he took to prove Obama was indeed born outside the US.
The Republican party is imploding upon itself, thanks to the likes of Boehner and McCain. Why would anyone seek sanctuary among the very system that is corrupted?

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

And why respond to corruption by aiding the enemy?

Anonymous said...

Whether or not Snowden is a traitor is immaterial. By creating a monstrosity of a program that needed countless employees the government pretty much guaranteed that it would have questionable personalities with access to sensitive information. If just one of those employees can do irreparable damage you have a poorly designed system.

Somehow this program does not seem to be realistically designed to find terrorists. It has other goals. The irony seems to be Snowden blew the whistle on a program destined to hire the Snowden's of the world. If it was designed to zoom in on terrorists and find actionable intelligence it would have been designed to better secure the intelligence that would be found.

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