Another day, another humiliation for the Obama administration.
As I argued on my show, Political Insiders, with Pat Caddell and John Leboutiller yesterday, Russia has once again embarrassed the US and President Obama by harboring former NSA contractor Edward Snowden despite US protestations and the filing of formal charges against him just a few days ago.
As Senator Lindsey Graham contended on Fox News Sunday, “If they [Russia] want to be part of the world community, the W.T.O., they want a good relationship with the United States, they should hold this fellow and send him back home for justice.” And while I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Graham on this point, it appears that nothing could be further from Russia’s intentions.
We heard that Snowden was seen at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow with WikiLeaks staffer Sarah Harrison who has been traveling with him and that he met with Ecuadorian ambassador to discuss his move to Ecuador. What’s more, last week, Ecuador’s minister of foreign affairs, Richardo Patiño, met with Julian Assange in London to discuss Snowden’s situation, tweeting that Ecuador had received an asylum request from Snowden with WikiLeaks confirming that he would make his way to Ecuador today.
And while Snowden and Harrison are “peacefully sleeping at Capsule”, a Moscow airport hotel, we are witnessing the increasing influence on world events by the Russian and the Chinese.
Put simply, Snowden took himself initially to Hong Kong where he knew that at the very least he would have a degree of safety and security after he leaked NSA materials. He then headed to Russia where we the US has very little leverage.
“He goes to the very countries that have, at best, very tense relationships with the United States,” said Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, adding that she feared Snowden would trade more U.S. secrets for asylum. “This is not going to play out well for the national security interests of the United States.”
Ros-Lehtinen is absolutely correct: over the last few months we have certainly seen Russia and China play crucial roles in events that have not played out well for US interests. In Syria, the Russians have effectively strengthened their position by continuing to support Assad, sending him S-300 missiles despite alleged interest in working with the US to stop the civil war. And they have also strengthened their position in the Middle East through their alliance with Hezbollah and the Iranians, both enemies of the US.
In Asia, while the Chinese have expressed displeasure with the continuation of the North Korean nuclear program, the bottom line is that the Chinese have not succeeded in dissuading the North Koreans who are continuing with their development of nuclear weapons. And the Chinese certainly haven’t tightened the flow of goods and services, much less money, between the two nations despite a few high profile actions that suggested the Chinese were on-board with US thinking on North Korea. If the “shirtsleeves summit” at Rancho Mirage taught us anything, it’s that the Chinese is not interested in working constructively with the US on the issues that really matter.
Put another way, despite the fact that Russia and China’s economies are both weakened – China’s seriously and Russia’s perhaps not as visibly but weakening nonetheless – their foreign policy has had a greater degree of success than observers have acknowledged and understood.
Compounding the issue, Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to broker an international peace conference in Geneva on Syria have floundered. And Kerry’s efforts to make peace in the Middle East thus far have yet to make any discernable headway in what is an increasingly erratic and conflict-ridden region. It follows that it is hard to see how much, if at all, he has accomplished.
The Snowden incident is indeed troubling. But if considered in isolation as the story of an NSA leaker, we risk missing the point. Snowden’s saga needs to be seen in this broader context and in so doing it makes a very bad and dangerous situation seem even more perilous.