Putin as America’s Frenemy: The Snowden Paradox

Russia’s decision on Thursday to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum for one year and allow him freely to live and work in the Russian Federation hit Washington like a hydrogen bomb. Angry politicians called on President Obama to cancel talks in Moscow with Putin scheduled in September.

Russia Today covered the decision rather breathlessly:

One of the meanings of ‘frenemy’ is someone who is both your friend and your enemy. In the first decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation suffered so horribly that it lost millions in population, because people stopped having children out of apprehension for the future while others drank themselves to death out of depression. Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia was neither inclined to nor able to challenge the United States. In the past decade, in part on historically high hydrocarbon prices, Russia’s economy has recovered, and, indeed, the World Bank now considers it a high income country and by purchasing power parity the fifth largest in the world (it is 8th in nominal terms). Under Yeltsin’s protege Vladimir Putin, who began as a KGB case officer, the Russian Federation has pursued a more independent foreign policy

So if Putin is a friend as well as occasionally an enemy, what are the signs of friendship?

1. Russia joined the World Trade Organization in 2012 and the United States and Russia now have formalized normal trade relations. Russia does $40 bn a year in trade with the US, only about $10 bn a year less than a close NATO US ally such as Italy.

2. Especially after the Boston bombings by Russian ethnic Chechens, the US and Russia have firmed up security cooperation against terrorism.

3. Russia has been extremely helpful to the US and NATO in Afghanistan. The US State Department says, “over 2,200 flights, over 379,000 military personnel, and over 45,000 containers of cargo have been transported through Russia in support of operations in Afghanistan.”

4. Russia and the US signed a New START Treaty in 2012 concerning the reduction and mutual inspection of nuclear arms. The State Department says, “The U.S and Russia have been implementing the New START Treaty for over one year and the process so far has been positive and pragmatic. The good working relationship we established during the negotiations in Geneva continues today.”

5. The Russians cooperate extensively with the US Drug Enforcement Agency in fighting heroin traffic, a cooperation that has survived recent tensions between the two countries.

On the other hand, sometimes President Putin is not so friendly to Washington, thus nailing down his status as America’s best frenemy. Examples:

1. Russia refuses to help the US impose a financial blockade on Iran.

2. Russia is supporting the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The US says it intends to arm the rebels.

3. Russia has criticized the US for “unilateral” actions toward North Korea that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warns could escalate tensions. The US shot back that such rhetoric only encouraged Pongyang in dangerous ways.

4. Russia has banned Americans from adopting Russian babies, in part in response to US legislation sanctioning Russia for the death in prison of tax fraud whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

5. Russia granted Edward Snowden Asylum!

There is of course another possibility. The Realists hold that countries don’t have friends, only interests. In that case, Russia is just pursuing its national interests, which sometimes coincide with those of the US and sometimes don’t. The Realists think it is good for each country to pursue its interests, since that balances the world out.

A Realist would say, if you want a friend, buy a dog! Clearly Putin knows this.

47 Responses

  1. The Snowden/Russia screw-up has been so badly handled that I sometimes wonder whether there is a deep and devious plot behind the mess. If Snowden’s knowledge was so vast and dangerous to US security our very first concern should have been to make sure he was beyond the reach of Chinese and Soviet intelligence. Whether Ecuador, Venezuela, Sweden, or some other non-communist country theoretically our interests would have been best served by reducing his vulnerability. Either some brilliant strategist presumed the US would be successful persuading Vladimir Putin to surrender Snowden or US intelligence was fully aware that while Snowden’s revelations were news to Americans they were not to the Russians and Chinese. Indeed with at least four million people walking around with various levels of security clearance it is probable that at least a portion of this sensitive material is in the hands of other countries. In this case the “hunt” for Snowden is really part of the Obama administration’s war on whistle-blowing. As with the aggressive prosecution of Bradley Manning this is more about keeping inconvenient information from the American people.

    Or else it represents one of the most impressive examples of totally inept security management in modern American history.

    • One of the few things that give me hope is the thought that the whole “intelligence apparatus” is managed by venal, fallible, often monomaniacal, egocentric, clumsy, stupid, protocol-bound bureaucrats, who occasionally have managed some “great success,” like screwing up Italy’s and Korea’s politics or installing the Shah in Iran or “managing regime change” and other really smart stratagems in other lands, but who have the same problems of sustained competence and divided counsels and idiot management as any large set of human critters with large secret open-wallet budgets and no accountability. All through history, the sneaks and Jesuits, Shakespeare’s “lean and hungry men” many of whom are fat and still insatiably hungry for more clout, have managed to screw up any number of Grand Plots and Actions. The problem for us little people, who have to struggle to create little interlocked bits of stability and wealth creation to support the enormous ponderous Apatosaurian bulk of our “betters” and self-appointed “agents,” is to avoid getting crushed as these behemoths lumber and battle and bite each other in the ass across our fragile planet’s land, sea, air and space-scape.

      Did G_D invent Murphy, or are we just lucky that randomness is a feature of this universe?

    • Well, we are the ones with the vast security apparatus that somehow missed that the USSR was on the verge of collapse in the Eastern Bloc and pretty much on the verge of collapse. Doh!

      Why the US intelligence community would have any credibility (let alone funding) after missing that little tidbit is a mystery to me. Or not.

      • thanks. excellent summary of snowden/putin/obama pas de trois at that link.
        mix in yesterday’s “wordwide alert” of imminent al quaeda action supposedly based on electronic interference with obama’s thursday stroll down the avenue for coffee with the guys. it’s a bit of legerdemain straight out of the cheney/rumsfeld playbook, lacking only the color-coded “level of alert.”
        “no one will remember what we were talking about, come september, mr president.”
        “very good. let’s go get some real coffee. that stuff at the house cafeteria was pathetic.”

  2. Right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Noam Chomsky, in an extremely prescient statement, said that this does not bode well for the world. The only thing holding the U.S. in check, was the Soviet Union, and now (then) that balance is gone.
    I am constantly reminded; of Chomsky’s understanding of how things really work.

  3. Its just been reported in the Guardian newspaper that Snowden has leaked information which states that the NSA in America has given GCHQ (our version of your NSA) over here in England, 100 million pounds funding. The NSA also told our agency that it “has to pull its weight” so there is much more than just cooperation between to like minded agencies. I don’t know how our members of parliament will react, but I anticipate a degree of outrage at the least. The Russians haven’t take in Snowden for nothing, because the man in a mine of information.

    • Given whose tax dollars were going where, it’s our Congress that ought to be outraged – but it won’t say a thing.

  4. “There is of course another possibility. The Realists hold that countries don’t have friends, only interests. In that case, Russia is just pursuing its national interests, which sometimes coincide with those of the US and sometimes don’t.”

    Bingo! You have nailed it, Professor Cole. That arch-realist Henry Kissinger could not have said it better. And that is precisely why the US national interest requires us to work with Russia in those areas of mutual concern and not let the Snowden case blind us to our real interests. If the US Government eventually gets hold of Snowden and puts him on trial, all to the good. But he certainly is not important enough to derail the much bigger fish we have to fry such as our relationship with Russia. Those in the US who advocate for pressuring Russia to become more democratic are just as misguided as those who want to cancel Obama’s summit with Putin because of Snowden. We should recognize that Russia has national interests just as we do.

    What liberal idealists and conservative neocons (both of whom seem to want to intervene in other countries to establish “democracy” and advance “human rights”) fail to understand is democracy, human rights, and all other such concepts and institutions grow organically in nations, if they grow at all. Other countries do not develop those concepts and institutions because the US or other Western countries hector and browbeat them.

    That is why the United States should intervene only when its vital interests are at stake, such as a country harboring those (Al-Qaeda for example) who would attack the US or its interests. Otherwise, we should not be too quick to intervene (as some would have us do) in Syria, Egypt, the Congo and African Great Lakes region, and all the other areas where “Do Gooders” across the political spectrum want to assist giving birth to democracy and human rights, and to quell civil unrest and tribal wars. When a nation and its people reach a certain critical mass (large middle class, higher standard of living, etc.) they will begin establishing their own pressure for change. Until then, no outside force will do it for them.

    John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State under President James Monroe, stated the “realist” credo most eloquently in 1821. In referring to those who wanted to help Latin American countries gain independence from Spain, Adams said of the United States:

    “She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

    Good advice then. Good advice now.

    • Too bad your “Realists” did not stop with Monroe’s admonition, and went on to create and effectuate the “Monroe doctrine,” with a certain amount of what do they call it, “blowback?”

    • I’m having second thoughts about the meme that positive change (democratization, human rights) must arise from within a society and can’t be imposed. I agree in general, but outside influences can influence parameters for expansion or retraction of rights.
      Look at what’s happening in the U.S. for example. We’re still mostly a bastion of human rights, if not of democracy. But human rights are being increasingly degraded, and movements for actual democracy (Occupy, organizing against fracking, etc.) are beaten down. Increased economic pressures make it harder to organize for individual rights or to fight for democracy. Increasing human rights might depend on the likelihood of greater economic security.
      International pressures influence society in individual countries, and if economic space opens up as a result, the space for human rights and democracy may also increase. And vice versa.
      Just an idea, I await comments.

  5. Meanwhile, while the only people paying attention to what’s going on over in this obscure corner of the Real World are “investors” and militarists and Free Traders and certain bits of the US and “other country” bureaucracies, some people have reason to observe, and be joyful, that “The Booming Global Arms Trade Is Creating a New Cold War.” link to motherjones.com It’s like finally dropping, with a familiar sigh of pleasure, into a comfy, well-worn recliner, with a cold one and a multi-function controller and a smart phone…

    The WSJ and NYT and WaPo people, many of them, are happy and proud that “we” lead the league in “arms contracts batted in.” That means GROWTH in an industry not tramelled by the restraints of contract compliance or serious budgetary limits. And those “Realists,” who think only in a frame that holds that “countries” are actual personifications/reifications that act, Galt-like, “in their own interest,” and that like “the market,” that somehow will balance things out and produce some kind of meta-stability, are on the clear, visible ascendant, once again. But only because they concentrate their intelligence and energies on expanding and extending the “policies” that have had human groupings attacking and leveling each others’ abodes and cities since “civilization” first got started behind the mud brick walls of Mesopotamia, and this tribe under its “king” snuck over in the night to put that other tribe to the sword and kill or enslave their people and take their stuff.

    One might hope that the people who create the wealth that the Realists, Realists like Rummy and Cheney and others, get to play with, might wake up and smell the coffee and the stench of rotting corpses and start asking “Is this really in our interest, or just the interest of a few who by constant pressure and intense concentration and flat-out lying and deception, see e.g. the ‘Bomber Gap,’ the ‘Missile Gap,’ and the ‘Window of Vulnerability,’ not to mention the hallowed ‘Domino Theory’ and ‘Yellow-cake/WMD,’ peddle a sick and self-advancing set of fundamentally planet-destroying frauds?”

    The structures that end up producing fracking and the F-35 and deep-penetration nuclear warheads and autonomous battle robots and custom mortal viruses both biological and cyber, don’t seem to be ineluctable, there are numbers of people organized around healthier principles. But then they don’t advance their systems via weapons and the willingness to use them. See, e.g., Costa Rica.

    One view of the Game, not my view of course: link to npr.org This is what “the end of history” looks like?

    Here’s another: link to sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com

    Still waiting for the self-declared but otherwise covert “Realists” that post here to offer some testable, vote-able definition of “national interest” that ordinary people might be able to chew on and decide if there is any nourishment or future there, or just subtle or overt poisons that only afflict the very many who aren’t given the Insider’s Antidote… Seems to me the “national interest” is just what a few (by birth, at least) of us, pursuing their own sick or self-satisfying preferences, like a war of choice in Afghanistan or setting up the Grand Global Interoperable Sees And Knows All But Is Too Clumsy And Stupid To “Win” Network-Centric Battlespace, can cram down the throats of the most of us. Like, for one piddling multi-trillion-dollar example, the “F-35 program.”

    “Russia” versus “the US,” with “China” and “the EU” and the other BRIs circling, circling inside the Mixed Martial Arts Penta-Octagon… “It smells like VICTORY!”

  6. The issue is RESPECT.
    Every person, nation or state has a natural sense,(and right) of dignity. It’s wise to recognize and respect it, which not necessarily means you agree with it.

  7. Russia isn’t pursuing Russia’s interests but rather Putin’s interests.

    • “Russia isn’t pursuing Russia’s interests but rather Putin’s interests.”

      You are, of course, correct, Mr. Zimmerman. And contrary to a couple of comments in this thread that attempt to draw equivalency between the authoritarianism of Putin and the pluralism evident in the US Government, there is, of course, no equivalency at all. The US is far from the authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia.

      That said, however, it should not matter to the US that Russia is ruled by an authoritarian government under Putin. The US interest should be paramount. Putin represents the government of Russia, and we should deal with him without the constant hectoring to “democratize.” Let the Russians worry about that, if that is of concern to them. It should not be our concern.

      Likewise, if Assad were to remain in power in Syria is of little concern regarding the US national interest. We have lived with the Assad family in power for 40 years without harm to our interests. Yes, they have been authoritarian and have operated against the best interests of the Syrian people. but that is a problem for the Syrian people to resolve, not the United States. And if he were to be deposed, the result may well be worse for US interests.

      The US intervened twice in the Balkans: First to protect the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, and than to wage war against Serbia because of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In neither case were important US national interests at stake. Both were “humanitarian” interventions, and both should have been left to the Europeans to handle. The US had no stake in the interventions. I am reminded of Bismark’s famous observation: “The Balkans aren’t worth the bones of one Pomeranian Grenadier.”

      Oddly enough, the one thing the US did right, refusing to get involved in the Rwanda fighting and killings between the Hutu and the Tutsi, is looked upon by some as a failing. The US had no national interest whatsoever in getting involved in that problem. If the Hutu and the Tutsi could not get along and manage themselves, it was not our obligation to do it for them.

      The bottom line is: Whether it is Russia, China, the Balkans, Rwanda, the Congo, or anywhere else, the US national interest should prevail. And whether or not to get involved should be dependent upon whether or not the US national interest is served.

      • “Whether it is Russia, China, the Balkans, Rwanda, the Congo, or anywhere else, the US national interest should prevail.

        Was this a Freudian slip, revealing the real mindset behind all those you’ve tossed out here comments over the years? Maybe just a problem of habits of ponderous composition and grammatical style? Of course, you and Joe have dodged the pending question about what exactly constitutes “the national interest,” other than imperial faves of yours…

        • No Freudian slip at all. Plain English. Realism. Our dealings and interaction with any country should protect and advance the US national interest. Just as any other country’s dealings and interaction with the US will be accomplished with an eye to protecting and advancing that country’s national interest. The last line of my comment sums it up: “And whether or not to get involved should be dependent upon whether or not the US national interest is served.” This is International Relations 101.

        • “Of course, you and Joe have dodged the pending question about what exactly constitutes “the national interest,”

          No one has “dodged” any question. The question is “pending” only in your own mind. I cannot speak for Joe, but it is clear to me that you are not interested in having a rational discussion and debate over what constitutes the US national interest. As evidence (if any was needed) I offer the following from your comment above.

          “Seems to me the “national interest” is just what a few (by birth, at least) of us, pursuing their own sick or self-satisfying preferences, like a war of choice in Afghanistan or setting up the Grand Global Interoperable Sees And Knows All But Is Too Clumsy And Stupid To “Win” Network-Centric Battlespace, can cram down the throats of the most of us.”

          Well, now: “sick or self-satisfying preferences,” “too clumsy and stupid,” “cram down the throats,” and this is just a sample of your usual cant. You are not interested in discussing the US national interest. You simply want a platform to rant and spew your usual venom.

      • Even if we’re to take as given that the US has the moral high ground , “democracy” and “human rights” promotion comes with an inevitable degree of Orientalism. The US has used media outlets and certain talking heads (namely New Atheists Chris Hitches and Sam Harris) to push the more liberal segment of American society to support (or at least tolerate) the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of women’s rights.

        The statement that the US is a bastion of democracy and human rights, of course, should elicit a chuckle from any thinking person nowadays. We use gay rights as a way to deflect attention from the backwardness of lobbyist clientelism (read: corruption), effectively pre-selected presidential candidates answerable to the same interests, the conspiratorially racist construct of the war on drugs, a for-profit prison system, a lack of respect for the 1st, 2nd and 4th amendments, corrupted financial regulatory bodies, and a host of other absurdities.

        Yeah, America is great if you’re middle class, like most people on this site I imagine, but even we have to admit at a point that, outside of some honest local politicians, our government doesn’t answer to us. It’s some mixture of plutocracy and empire.

        US attempts to “promote democracy” have never been undertaken separate from security and energy interests, anyway, nearly always leading to disaster, turmoil, and at worst, civil war. They have of course been relatively successful in securing energy interests, which was the point all along.

      • “you are, of course, correct, Mr. Zimmerman”

        Translation: your single sentence confirms all my pre-conceived sentiments on Vladimir Putin, ones that thankfully preclude having to do any actually research on Putin’s popularity (hovering steadily at 60-65% according to the *Western funded* Levada Center), the complex dynamic of the Kremlin clans (imagine a Mexican standoff), or admit that the biggest myth in foreign policy analysis is that of the power vertical.

        The reality is that Russia’s bureaucracy suffers from incompetence, not only because of petty corruption, but because the president’s decrees are simply not carried out with any semblance of regularity. The Putin-as-czar nonsense is getting tired and adds nothing to the conversation save for helping ideologically tunnel-visioned activists get a nice fuzzy feeling.

        • Vladimir Putin clearly is in charge in Russia, and his imprimatur is paramount in determining Russian policy on many fronts, from dealing with the United States to energy policy. To think otherwise is to not understand how Russia is run today.

  8. “All politics is local.” Putin had no choice but to follow what his public demanded, which was not to cave in to the Americans. The added bonus is a potential intel bonanza.

  9. Ref: asylum for Mr. Snowden: If situation were reversed and a Russian whistle blower sought refuge / asylum in the US, how likely would it be that the US would send that asylum seeker back to Russia????

  10. We should remember that in the past Washington has often refused Russian government for the request that certain Russian citizens were wanted for various economic and political “crimes.” So the idea that Russia is doing something unheard of does not match the reality of the relationship. In most of the cases where we refused, I was glad we did but we should not be surprised that “what goes around comes around”

  11. Cats get bad press, but they’re wonderful friends. Besides, if you get one that lives up to that press, you’ll be better prepared for foreign affairs.

  12. “Russia refuses to help the US impose a financial blockade on Iran.”

    From a civilized and sane perspective that is a very good thing. Consider:

    “Tough-guy-ism is still a powerful ideology in the U.S. Congress, where House members just voted to ratchet up sanctions on Iran even as its new leadership is eager to reach an accommodation with the West on its nuclear program. This behavior raises questions in Iran about America’s real goal, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.” link to consortiumnews.com

    “Rouhani’s inauguration and the West’s strategic suicide: The West is miscalculating Rouhani and fail to understand the system that governs Iranian politics and policy-making. By Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett” – link to aljazeera.com

    and other commentary by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett

    • I would suggest there is a big difference between talking tough and being tough.
      Putin is a genuine tough guy; he could very likely, literally, kick the ass of every politician in American, including the president.
      This plays into perceptions; and in world politics, Putin knows who’s tough. I wouldn’t count on him blinking first…

      • Truth be told, the cultivation of the tough guy image is starting to rollback on Putin a bit, from what I’ve read and the Russians I talk to. People are demanded less fluff and, say, a more salient plan for economic diversification or a more effective battle with corruption to facilitate foreign investment.

  13. And now Obama may skip the upcoming Moscow summit over the Snowden affair. Well, “thank you, frenemy,” say I. The Obama Administration, which has amply demonstrated its vindictiveness toward whistleblowers, now shows the world its petulance when that vindictiveness is thwarted.

  14. The US needs Russia more than Russia needs the US. All because of the inteventionist US policies. This is what puts the nation at risk.

  15. Putin didn’t buy the dog in the photo.
    He simply took it from an American billionaire.

  16. “Angry politicians called on President Obama to cancel talks in Moscow with Putin scheduled in September.”

    Among the “angry politicians” were the same people who approved the Operation Cast Lead massacre in Gaza.

    “A Realist would say, if you want a friend, buy a dog! Clearly Putin knows this.”

    Perhaps, the old saw about “the enemy (Putin) of my enemy (Obama administration and much of Congress) is my friend” is at play here.

  17. “Russia isn’t pursuing Russia’s interests but rather Putin’s interests.”

    The Obama administration and Congress aren’t pursuing America’s interests but rather their own interests and those of the corporations on whose behalf they serve.

    • Bingo. And what people like the other Bill on this post still maintain, against all evidence all to even the most novice Russia watcher, is the goofy scenario where Putin runs everything and pulls all the levers.

      Yes, he’s in charge. He’s the first man since 1991 to wield any sort of power in the country, in fact.

      This does not mean his administration is pursuing ends that Russians don’t support. A stable and economically integrated post-Soviet space, an end to arbitrary Western invasions (that seem to happen where Russia has security or economic interests), and getting parts of the world economy to function on something other than the US dollar –all these things are in Russia’s interests.

      This is all reflected out in Russia’s latest foreign policy declaration, which is available in English for anyone who is curious.

  18. I read recently that Russia had asked for an exchange, Snowden for some Russia (spy?) US is holding. If US said no then Russia maybe had no choice.

    Sadly, our politicians got something else now to rail about without any regard for any diplomatic efforts going on behind the scenes.

    NSA spying grew large in the early 2000s under GOP leadership using this guy named Poindexter to build this massive data gathering system. Congress got wind of the program and railed against it. They were told that they pulled the program but actually they renamed to program and kept on data mining.

    President Obama said he wants to have a discussion on this data mining, but the discussion must start at the beginning of when, who, why, how it started so this cancer can be destroyed at the root.

  19. I assume Putin’s new gay-bashing crusade and the call by Harvey Firestein to boycott the Winter Olympics is going to get dragged into all this. I support Putin’s independence from American hegemony, but subjecting all gays to arrest, and even persecuting tourists simply because their countries have legalized gay marriage, is a ridiculous and reactionary act. Uganda’s war on gays was the fault of American Christian Right missionaries. But Putin came up with this one all by himself, for reasons that he is surely objective enough to see are only a distraction from his petty tyranny. If we’re going to boycott one country over such policies, we should boycott both.

    However, I must admit I’m amused at the cognitive dissonance in our country as those who hate Putin but also hate gays try to square whatever position they take on Russia. If they call for an Olympic boycott over gays, not only do they look confused, but their hero Reagan was the one who said that Olympic boycotts were not the answer.

    • The cognitive dissonance among the paleoconservatives is amusing, no doubt.

      However misguided Russia’s new law is, it has been blown out of proportion by the likes of Dan Savage, culminating in the misunderstanding above.

      The law essentially bans gay pickets, parades and public activism. The clause that allows the authorities to deport gay tourists or detain gays simply for being so, doesn’t exist to the best of my knowledge. It’s only referenced by liberal leaning English language articles that all link to each other.

      If you watch the public debates they’ve had about the law on Russian television, not even the LGBT activists have cited such a clause and they would be the first to do so. The gentleman who was on Channel One actually did an admirable job defending his position but made no reference to this.

      The real root of the issue is the perennial myth that gays are made and not born. It is rampant in Russian society. Subverting this myth is the first step towards more understanding social policies. Until then, Russians of various walks of life will continue to think gays are a threat to their demographics. After the country’s experience in the 90s (fresh heroin from Central Asia, organized crime, a spike in alcoholism and ethnic violence), they are simply having none of it, especially now that the country’s birthrate is on a modest upswing.

  20. I sincerely appreciate your efforts to lean against the usual anti-Russian tropes in American society. There is so little understanding of Russia, really.

    Your quote, however, “Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia was neither inclined to nor able to challenge the United States” is a bit of a serious understatement. Better, “Under Boris Yeltsin Russia was giving away its state assets in fraudulent auctions largely overseen and directed in the United States.”

  21. “The US is far from the authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia.”

    Nevertheless, authoritarians have had and still have an enormous impact on the American way of life. It was people of authoritarian dispositions who maintained slavery and then segregation. It is authoritarians who have maintained versions of slavery and segregation ever since. Think corporate Amerika and Wall Street. It was people of authoritarian dispositions who caused and supported the illegal and immoral war on Iraq and who built on their power with the surveillance systems exposed by Edward Snowden. It takes an authoritarian disposition to shred the Constitution and proceed to assassinate American citizens overseas without their right to due process.

    Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has written one of the best studies on authoritarians. It is free at link to home.cc.umanitoba.ca.

    Perhaps, we are not so far from the authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia. We appear to be not quite as crude as the Russians, but there isn’t much difference for the victims.

    • American society will have a hard time shedding the illusion that the only kind of tyranny is statist. It’s been woven into every narrative from the revolution to the Cold War.

  22. The other part of the authoritarian problem is what Bob Altemeyer refers to as the authoritarian follower. They are a vital componenent to an authoritarian’s success. At one time Hitler was considered a crackpot ranting and raving in Vienna, but when he achieved a position of authority and acquired a legion of followers that is when he becamse a problem.

    Same thing with the Bush administration getting us into the war on Iraq. They were the authoritarians, but they wouldn’t have gone anywhere without their followers, including the authoritarians in the armed forces who switched to the roles of followers, then back again to authoritarian mode to order their troops into that illegal and immoral war.

  23. Just imagine if the roles were reversed. Not that Russia has one-tenth the number of people engaged in the type of activity that the US has thru bloated signals intelligence bureaucrazies and gigantic budgets for private contractor involvement, but just assume that a Russian lieutenant colonel with deep knowledge of everything Russia was doing in the realms of sigint and electronic spying and data-gathering showed up in the transit lounge of JFK airport asking for asylum.

    The question answers itself.

  24. As an American, I am glad Russia is giving Snowden asylum. As far as I am concerned, the real “frenemy” of the U.S. public is their government. What is weird about U.S. demands for Snowden’s return is that he revealed cyberspying on Russia, among other countries. Perhaps the U.S. should be apologizing, not demanding.

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