Edward Snowden: Master of Realpolitik

by Ryan W. McMaken
Jun. 25, 2013

Some critics of Edward Snowden criticize his chosen escape route from the United States. This criticism initially showed up as moralistic shock and outrage over the fact that Snowden had chosen to flee to China. "Why, China is an oppressive regime!" the critics cried.

Like most states, including the United States, China is in fact authoritarian, and not exactly a libertarian utopia. For Snowden, however (and it's hard to blame him for this), it was better to be in China, than to be tortured in a military prison somewhere like Bradley Manning. Snowden has now apparently left China and is in Russia.

In neither Russia or China, has the local regime shown much interest in delivering Snowden to Snowden's pursuers. Snowden, so far, it appears, has been rather savvy in his strategy to elude the American police state.

For the average regime apologist, for whom the U.S. government is the embodiment of all things just and moral, it is for some reason outrageous that Snowden has been playing one regime against another to protect his own interests. He knows that the Russian and Chinese governments have little interest in helping the American regime, and he also knows that in those two countries at least, the local regime was less likely to be bullied by the Americans into turning him over. We live in a multipolar world now, and not the world of the "American Superpower" that nostalgic neocons still pine for.

In response, the claims of the nationalists in the media and government has been to claim that Snowden is somehow a traitor or in league with the U.S's "enemies." We're told he's a Chinese spy. Now that he's in Russia, I guess we're supposed to assume he is a Russian spy. The fact that these foreign regimes which Snowden is using to his advantage do not adhere to libertarian notions of civil liberties, is supposed to therefore prove to us that Snowden must not actually care about liberty, and that's he's some sort of hypocrite. This claim doesn't follow logically, of course, and it merely shows that Snowden likes to move to whatever place he feels is most likely to meet his particular needs.

People do this all the time, including libertarian-minded ones, who might move to a less free, more oppressive American State (i.e. New York) or unfree foreign country (i.e., The United Kingdom) in order to earn more money or be close to relatives. Few reasonable people would call someone a hypocrite because he accepted a job transfer to California, even if said person advocates for lower taxes or more gun ownership.

It is also true that Snowden is simply doing what states do all the time, which is to engage in realpolitik in pursuit of their own interests. Why is it immoral for Snowden to play the Russian regime against the American one, when it is moral for the American regime to pit the Syrian "rebels" (who eat the internal organs of their victims) against the Syrian regime? Over the years, the United States has allied itself with an endless list of mass murderers ranging from Stalin to Pol Pot to Pinochet and Saddam Hussein. But Snowden lived in China for a little while! What an horrible guy!

Unlike states, which use realpolitik to increase their own power and ability to kill, maim, and steal, Snowden has employed similar methods in the pursuit of being left alone and to simply tell Americans what the US Government does with our money.

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