Edward Snowden’s public statement about his case, released by WikiLeaks, left journalists scratching their heads. As Max Fisher noted, the assumption seemed to be that Snowden didn’t write the statement, and that perhaps WikiLeaks’s own Julian Assange had written it, both because of its defiant tone and its (since corrected) clumsy English.
But more puzzling than the statement’s authorship was that Snowden let such a statement (if indeed he had a say in it) be released in his name. Quite apart from the obvious language barrier was the fact that the author of the statement seemed to be either delusional or possessing only a passing familiarity with the details of Snowden’s case. After criticizing President Obama for seeking to protect national security secrets, “Snowden” writes:
This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.
For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.
In point of fact, this doesn’t seem to be describing Snowden’s ordeal. Though it’s unlikely Snowden came up with the phrase “extralegal penalty of exile,” it not only reads like it was put through a computer-generated translation tool but is also not relevant to Snowden. He wasn’t exiled; the United States has very publicly been asking for him back. It was his choice to run away rather than accept the legal consequences of his actions.
Additionally, revoking Snowden’s passport does not leave him a “stateless person.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “Such a revocation does not affect citizenship status.” He is not a man without a country but a man whose country would very much like to arrange a reunion with him. Snowden may not like the fact that he would be brought up on felony charges if he returns. But that is different from saying he is unwanted here in the States when the truth is precisely the opposite.
He is also not a stateless person for another reason: his current host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested that Snowden is welcome to stay in Russia if he would just keep his mouth shut and stop making trouble. Snowden has responded by apparently rejecting those terms, and searching for asylum in a different country that won’t require him to stop taunting and threatening his country of origin whose security he is working to undermine.
If Snowden does manage to find himself without asylum, he will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, since the Obama administration is about ready to run up the white flag on his pursuit. As I wrote last week, Secretary of State John Kerry started out taking a tough line with Russia before he was promptly and publicly rebuked by his Russian counterpart, after which Kerry backed off. Kerry has now followed that same path with China:
The White House last week described the development as a “serious setback” to American-Chinese relations, while Mr. Kerry himself warned that it would have “consequences” for ties with Beijing.
But after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart at a conference hosted by Southeast Asian nations here, Mr. Kerry struck a conciliatory note, casting the Snowden affair as one issue among many.
And here is how he’s spinning it:
“Life in international relationships is often complicated by the fact that you have many things you have to work on simultaneously, and so we will continue to do that even as we are obviously concerned about what happened with Mr. Snowden,” he said.
The comments appear to reflect a new phase in the Obama administration’s handling of the Snowden affair. Instead of casting its request for the detention of Mr. Snowden as urgent business, administration officials now appear to be trying to play down the episode, perhaps recognizing that the United States’ ability to force a resolution is limited.
Life may be complicated and all that, but this case really isn’t. The Obama administration cannot force Snowden’s extradition; they can ask. They have done so, and their request has been denied by both China and Russia. Kerry’s statement suggests that now that Snowden is out of China’s reach, there’s no need to further ruffle feathers because China’s cooperation on other issues is needed, and he’s not through having his requests summarily rejected by them.
The Times article also notes that Kerry was asked how he can convincingly lead a rebalancing toward Asia when he spends so much time traipsing around the Middle East. “I’m here,” Kerry responded. Yet as the Snowden case and Kerry’s recent trip to the Middle East demonstrate, it doesn’t seem to matter where Kerry goes, since the administration’s foreign policies are still going nowhere.