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Those of us who have been saying that the US has become a weak, or at least more ordinary power among many in the world because of its military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and because of its economic decline, will have to recalibrate our analysis after watching the pathetic behavior of the leaders of Russia, Germany and France under pressure from the Obama administration not to allow Edward Snowden to gain asylum in those countries or even to escape his purgatory in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Last night, in an astonishing display of fawning obedience to the demands of US leaders, France and Germany first announced that they would not grant asylum to Snowden, despite broad popular support by French and German people for such an offer of aid to the embattled whistleblower. Then, France and Portugal abruptly refused to allow a Bolivian aircraft carrying the country’s president, Evo Morales, from a state visit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, to land for refueling in their countries, saying that they were concerned he might be flying Snowden to asylum in Bolivia.
Although Spain said eventually it would allow the Morales plane to refuel in the Canary Islands, it did not have enough fuel to get there and had to be diverted to Vienna, where, astonishingly, it was then searched like a drug-smuggling flight over Bolivian protests. Snowden was not aboard. A furious Morales immediately blamed the US Department of State for the whole incident — a charge that no one has disputed, though of course the US is refusing to comment.
Aircraft carrying national leaders have absolute diplomatic immunity under international law and moreover, Bolivia would have the absolute right to grant Snowden amnesty, and to bring him to its territory, whether or not he had a valid passport. As the leader of a sovereign nation, Morales has every right to carry anyone he wants on his plane with him back to his country.
That France, Portugal and Austria would so violate such basic diplomatic rules suggests that the US (which of course has long demonstrated that it views diplomatic rules and international law as applying only to others, but not itself) has some powerful leverage to exert behind the scenes. The more so because this whole incident makes leaders like French President Francois Hollande, who only the day before had suggested his country might consider Snowden’s asylum appeal, look foolish, and because this aggressive and hostile action taken against the leader of a sovereign nation makes France, as well as Portugal and Italy, look pathetic and ridiculous at a time that public sentiment across Europe is solidly in support of Snowden. (An activist friend in Germany reports that sentiment there in support of Snowden and even of granting him asylum is “probably at about 80%,” and that is probably also true in France.)
This latest incident, which has incredibly not been protested either by Russia’s Putin, from whose country the disrupted flight originated, and who was Morales’ official host, also shows Putin and Russia to be under America’s thumb. Who could have imagined Putin allowing a meeting of leaders in his own country to be so shamed by US intervention with a foreign leader’s return flight home without a loud protest and even some counter action. At a minimum the US ambassador should have been called in to be tongue-lashed by the Russian president.
Has the US, with its massive spy network, just demonstrated that it now has a power greater than its nuclear arsenal: a dossier perhaps on almost every leader in the world with which it is able to blackmail even the likes of Hollande, Merkel and Putin? It is hard to come up with another explanation for the way this incident played out.
We will have to see now whether Morales, a popular leader from an impoverished indigenous background who is clearly no coward and who is probably too clean to be blackmailed, will make good on his assertion made in Moscow that Snowden would be welcome in Bolivia. Russia could recover a modicum of its self-respect by flying him there on a Russian plane to avoid similar US-orchestrated interference. Venezuela’s new president, Nicolás Maduro, who has also spoken favorably of granting asylum status to the National Security Agency whistleblower, should also step up at this point. Since he is still in Russia, he could offer to bring Snowden back home with him, and dare the nations of Europe to try and stop him.
Europeans are pissed already off at the US, in the wake of National Security Agency leaker Snowden’s latest revelation that the US was aggressively spying on its European allies, both at their and the European Union’s embassies in Washington, and in Europe itself, gleaning not information about terrorism, but inside-track knowledge about trade negotiation positions and other areas of disagreement or negotiation.
Leaders in Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries are demanding that the US cease its spying on them, and give a “full accounting” of the spying that it has been engaging in. But given the steady stream of lies coming from the NSA, the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other American sources, why should they believe anything they are being told? Most Europeans understand now that all this bluster from their leaders is just that: bluster.
Europe’s leaders have shown themselves to their own people to be sell-outs in the pocket of the US. As several commenters on the website of the German magazine Der Spiegel, which last week ran a cover expose about the NSA spying program directed against European leaders, have written, Germany’s and France’s leaders have sold out their countries and people by caving in to US demands. As one person wrote: “Our government has sold us out and is beyond help.”
To be sure there was a wave of tough talk only days earlier, with, for example, Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, saying that the NSA is like the Soviet-era KGB, and with leaders of countries like Ireland and Norway saying that they might consider amnesty for Snowden, but only if he could reach their soil first — a ludicrous requirement, since there is no international law requiring such silliness. Any country can grant asylum to any person it wishes, wherever that person may be at the moment. They cannot offer protection, of course, except in an embassy or in-country, but that’s different from just offering a grant of amnesty. Indeed, the mere fact that the US has cancelled Snowden’s passport doesn’t mean his passport cannot be respected as a travel document by another country. How, in fact, when you think about it, would a country know that a person’s passport had been “cancelled” unless the issuing nation had issued some kind of news release about it as the US did in Snowden’s case? There’s no international registry of global passports. Those records are held closely by each country and in fact are supposed to be secure. Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Norway, Ireland or any other country that had said at any point that it would be willing to accept Snowden, could stamp their visa on his passport and accept him on their planes. (Even the US Passport Office accepts an old, expired passport as an identity document when one is applying for a new one.)
After this abject display of rank servitude in the interest of the US Imperium by some of Europe’s most powerful nations, if little Bolivia and/or Venezuela don’t step up and show Europe how sovereign nations are supposed to act, it will be up to the people of Europe to act.
Certainly, following the latest revelations in the Guardian and elsewhere showing that the NSA has been vacuuming up data on millions of Europeans, and with former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden stating publicly that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution — the one that at least used to protect Americans’ right to privacy and from government search and seizure — “is not an international treaty,” the anger among Europeans at US spying is swelling, and with it, support for the embattled whistleblower Snowden.
We can only hope that the revelations of outrageous US intelligence abuses and violation of Europeans’ privacy rights will continue, that the rage against the US among ordinary European citizens will grow. We can only hope that with that growing rage, a desire to stick it to the US by protecting Snowden will grow too, until some European leader finally sees it as a popular or necesssary move to offer him asylum.
This latest abomination in the treatment of Bolivia and its leader, which has shamed France, Portugal, Austria, Italy and Russia, will be a great test of how angry the peoples of those countries are about their leaders’ servile behavior towards the US.
Of course, we in the US should be the most outraged of all, but sadly, there is probably even less chance that a majority Americans will get angry at all this than that Europeans will.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).