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.
[This article first appeared at Sultan Knish.]