June 27, 2013 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Cyber Security

Snowden Flap Bares Hapless U.S.

You can’t help but feel that the Russian Bear and Chinese Dragon are enjoying the chance to tweak ol’ Uncle Sam’s nose over the Edward “I’ve got lots of super-secret laptops” Snowden affair.

Their unwillingness to extradite the slippery systems administrator-cum-spy is just the latest example of the waning of American global power and influence courtesy of Team Obama.

This isn’t good news.

Take Russia. The Kremlin is telling us that the fugitive is in no-man’s land in Moscow’s international airport. They claim their hands are tied and they just can’t do anything about it.

When asked about l’affaire Snowden during a visit to Finland yesterday, Vladimir Putin compared him to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“Ask yourself a question: Should people like that be extradited so that they put them in prison, or not?” he said. “In any case, I would prefer not to deal with such issues. It’s like shearing a piglet: a lot of squealing and little wool.”

Of course, say it were a Russian fugitive, would Moscow just let him/her sit in the transit lounge, sipping vodkas and nibbling caviar? Of course not. The Russian authorities wouldn’t think twice about storming the place.

In addition to dissing Washington, Moscow doesn’t mind dragging this sorry situation out, either. The longer this story makes headlines, the weaker America looks in the world’s eyes.

Yes, perception is reality.

It’s also payback for disagreements between Moscow and Washington. The Kremlin is none too happy with criticism over Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after revealing corruption.

Russia is also displeased with America’s stance on Syria, where the Kremlin is supporting the Bashar Assad regime and the White House is (cautiously) backing some elements of the rebel force. The Putin-Obama meeting on Syria at the G-8 was dis-astrous.

Even though Team Obama backed off on missile defense in Europe that Putin & Co. have long hated and offered up another arms control treaty, the relationship has gone from Obama’s hoped-for “reset” to our collective “regret.”

Then there’s China.

Snowden showed up last month in Hong Kong after disappearing from his job in Hawaii. Though Hong Kong is self-governing until it reverts fully to Chinese control, Beijing calls the shots there, especially on foreign and security policy.

While Zhongnanhai (China’s version of the Kremlin) knew the White House would be furious with China for refusing to extradite Snowden, they likely figured the United States would get over the snub in time due to the relationship’s importance to both sides.

It didn’t help that Snowden told a Hong Kong newspaper that the National Security Agency was spying on China.

The revelation probably helped Beijing decide to let the rogue contractor slip out of Hong Kong and become someone else’s problem — no doubt after they got their hands on any secrets he hadn’t yet revealed.
That this latest Washington scandal might sap America’s international “mojo” also benefits China.

Beijing is already calling for a “new big power relationship” (read: equal relationship) with the United States and is displeased with American “meddling” in its territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

The big question, naturally, is: With perceptions of our plummeting power quite plausible, who might be the next to take pleasure in challenging our interests?

-Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

First appeared in the Boston Herald