Tuesday, August 6, 2013


The disclosures of Wiki Leaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are embarrassing. America's allies consider them offensive. The official "spin" does not alleviate the negative consequences. Foreign officials will think twice before entering into "frank" discussions with their American counterparts.

The real diplomatic harm cannot be denied, despite the official version that the consequences for U.S. policy were "fairly modest."
Actually, one ends up finding himself or herself in a dangerous syllogism of sorts. The "yes, we can" from candidate Obama has become perversely expanded into an imperial "yes we can." Guantanamo, the drones, the Orwellian "Big Bother" apparatus, which invade privacy without consent or supervision, all this distorts the image of the United States as a benign superpower. Sure, the Americans are entitled to self-preservation at a time when terrorism is becoming an all-invasive preoccupation. This legitimate priority should not be pursued at the cost of the rule of law or the basic rights of the individual, who is entitled to question what happened to his constitutional "right to happiness." 

The President sometimes gives the impression to give in to the temptation to further elaborate and expand on theories of the neo- conservatives, which he was the first to criticize when he was the community organizer/candidate. It is almost as if the forgotten Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty has received an American new look.

The actions of the various whistle-blowers lead to serious damaging security breaches. The motives are often murky, seemingly more rooted in paranoia than in moral indignation. Subsequent actions, like those of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, lay bare opportunistic pragmatism where one might have expected a more confrontational reactive pattern. The best defense remains offence, the advantage going with the initiative.

More serious is a certain undoing of principle in the official American ways. It is one thing to protect against the new generation of actors who use pressure-cookers to kill indiscriminately. It is another to create an overall form of distrust which penalizes de facto citizens and listens in on foe and ally. The NSA (National Security Agency) has tried to minimize the intrusive character of the telephone meta data it collected and the reach of various surveillance programs. This was as unconvincing as the motivation of whistle-blowers who seek asylum in a London Embassy or in President Putin's lair.

What is at stake is the moral credibility of the United States in the conduct of foreign affairs. Every state spies, that is a "given." Every state controls suspicious elements on its territory. However, when the exceptional overtakes the normal, various branches of the state apparatus should be consulted and due process has to be followed.
Guantanamo is in this regard a lawless planet, despite the rebuttals of the administration. Besides, it is a breeding ground for extreme radicalization. Candidate Obama promised to close this contemporary Chateau d'If. No Count of Monte-Cristo there, but the vengeance will follow, unbending.

It is impossible to eradicate evil by unlawful means. After World War II, the instigators of this cosmic massacre benefited from due process in Nuremberg and Tokyo. The various "butchers" in the Bosnian conflict are receiving the same safeguards in the Hague. American military tribunals which operate under certified but not fully transparent conditions fail to override the scepticism of the doubters.  Lately, America looks better suited to invading overseas than to clean-up. This deviation externally seems to be gaining ground internally, where the administration is increasing the range of invasion of privacy. The Founding Fathers might disapprove. 

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