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Pissing Off Friends is a Doomed Strategy

Like an obnoxious drunk harassing everyone and spilling drinks at a party, the US has continued to make itself both loathed and laughed at in the wake of the revelations about the National Security Agency’s global spying program as revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The latest example of this was the report in Germany last week that the US had been massively spying on millions of German people based upon a tortured interpretation of a secret Cold War-era agreement foisted upon the then Bundesrepublik back in the early 1960s. That agreement gave the US and Britain the authority to surveil Soviet and East German spying activities inside what was commonly referred to as West Germany, and also to conduct spying operations to “protect” US troops based there. Obviously, spying on Soviet and East German spies is a far different thing from spying on Germans themselves, and clearly the Cold War is long gone. As for spying on Germans who might threaten the bases, that clearly could have been handled by police in Germany, and in any even would only involve a small and discrete program, not the monitoring of millions people’s electronic communications.

Angela Merkel, the conservative German Chancellor whose governing coalition is facing a critical national election in a few weeks, and who has been taking a lot of heat from Germans over disclosures that her government knew all along about the American spying program, has been trying to look proactive, and so the her government announced that it was canceling the spying agreement and ordering a halt to the NSA’s spying activities in the country.

The US response: nothing public, but unidentified “sources” in the US government made it clear that, agreement or no agreement, the NSA’s spying would continue (a German government official also stated that the supposed termination of the secret Cold War agreement would have “little effect” on continued spying by the US in Germany).

It’s another indication that the European countries are just puppets working under US authority. Much as an earlier demonstration this summer when the US induced French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish authorities to deny their airspace to transit by a Bolivian presidential jet carrying President Evo Morales, who was en route from Russia back to Bolivia, forcing him to land in Austria, which itself was pressed by the US to have its authorities search the plane, thought by US sources to be carrying Snowden to asylum.

These heavy handed measures by the US are infuriating the people of Europe — normally pro-American — who are angry at both at the US and at their own servile governments.

There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, it shows that although the US has been seriously weakened by its military failures in Iraq and now Afghanistan, it is still far from just a paper tiger on the world scene. On the other hand, objectively speaking, it is weakened, its military over-stretched and in any event clearly ineffective against situations where the people are defending their own territory. Furthermore, the “enemy” that the US has long “defended” Europe against — the former Soviet Union — is no more, and Russia poses no military threat to Europe these days, so the US military stationed in Europe has no purpose any longer. At the same time, most Europeans see US global banks and other corporations as more of a threat than a benefit.

If the US continues to humiliate European governments, and to throw its considerable weight around — weight that these days is largely adipose, not muscular — Europe could quickly come to resemble South America, where the popular sentiment towards the United States has long been oppositional, not friendly.

In a way, it appears that the NSA’s global spying operations may be a kind of last gasp of a dying empire trying to retain its power by using its technological advantage to obtain blackmail power over foreign government leaders. Given the popular anger in France, Germany and elsewhere at the spying, and the various target governments’ timid responses to Snowden’s revelations, there is almost no other explanation for European politicians’ collective failure to play to popular demands to throw the US spooks out. The only European leader who has had the guts to stick it to the US has been Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose sprawling spy program, while perhaps not a match for America’s state security apparatus, no doubt still has sufficient resources to be able to counter blackmail with blackmail.

Snowden made a good choice, even if it was one forced on him by the US lockdown of most potential asylum states and of all his aerial escape routes to the few countries in Latin America that had the courage to make the offer of asylum. Russia is a country where he can probably feel secure, especially given his threat to have allies around the world release truly damaging US national security secrets he took into exile with him, should anything happen to him. No doubt Russia’s government will be kind to him, in hopes that he will discretely reveal those secrets to them on his own voluntarily.

The remaining question is how long the somnolent and passive US public will continue to buy the crap that Washington is spreading about the allegedly critical importance of the NSA’s massive spying programs to “keeping Americans safe.”

The latest scare stories about overheard communications between the supposedly many-times-slain Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Yemen branch of al Qaeda, allegedly calling for attacks on US embassies and Americans abroad, stories which have led to the US closing its Middle Eastern embassies for a week, and urging all Americans to leave Yemen, are a pathetically transparent effort to both terrorize Americans again while touting the alleged skills of the NSA. In fact, closing the embassies for a week accomplishes precisely nothing, since any actual terrorist or group of terrorists planning an attack can just postpone the action until the embassies are open again for business. As for Americans leaving — advising people to make an unplanned and anxious run for the exits just opens them to attack as they will be leaving familiar surroundings where neighbors can help and protect them, for transit points where they will be concentrated, obvious, and more attractive and vulnerable as targets, whether for a real, orchestrated or “false flag” attack.

We have slid back to the equivalent of the old days when President Bush’s spanking new Homeland Security (sic) Agency would periodically announce a change in the color-coded “threat alert” system, which would then get broadcast by a compliant news media along with the weather reports each day. Remember?: “Thursday’s forecast: threat of thunderstorms, high winds and the terrorist threat alert is Red. Friday’s weather will be sunny with occasional clouds and an terror threat level of Orange.”

There’s no utility in any of this, from the point of view of public safety. It’s all a brazen attempt to win public support for the ongoing establishment — now pretty much complete — of a total surveillance national security state.

Maybe the citizens of this country will wake up and say “No!” But at this point, to do so would require an aroused public willing to go to the polls and toss out every member of Congress who has been supporting the spying, and replacing them with ardent defenders of the First and Fourth Amendments.

Sadly, I’m afraid there’s a better chance of the NSA getting tossed out of Europe than there is of it getting shut down in the US, and even that is not likely.

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).

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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).

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