“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Is it really too much to ask of The Obama Administration to play its part internationally with a bit more skill and professionalism, and that it treat its partners with respect?

Edward Snowden leaks reveal Barack Obama's foreign aims
The Australian
July 06, 2013 12:00AM

THE continued leaking of classified information by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has provoked heated debate about privacy and international law, which, unfortunately, has overshadowed the geostrategic dimension of his actions. In fact, Snowden's revelations about US surveillance programs, and his own ongoing struggle to avoid extradition, reveal much about President Barack Obama's imprimatur on US foreign relations.
More than any other incoming American president in recent memory, Obama raised expectations worldwide. Yet he has proved to be mainly, if not solely, interested in domestic issues, resulting in a foreign policy of reaction. The Snowden affair highlights three elements of this: US-Russia relations, US influence in South America, and US relations with Europe.
The Kremlin's handling of the affair is indicative of the tense state of US-Russia relations. In the aftermath of the bilateral relationship's ill-fated "reset," Russia has been eager to maintain its global position as a foil to the US, causing many people on both sides to revert to a Cold War mentality. By falling into this trap, the US has provided President Vladimir Putin with endless fodder to score political points and solidify his domestic position.

Putin regards anti-Americanism as an effective tool for short-circuiting domestic discontent. Developments like the US Congress's enactment of the Magnitsky Act, portrayed in Russia as an American provocation, have allowed the Kremlin to rally support at home with retaliatory measures such as a ban on foreign adoptions, while providing cover for a crackdown on domestic opponents.
Following the NATO-led intervention in Libya in 2011, which the Kremlin regarded as another example of Western overreach, Russia has been more aggressive in asserting itself internationally, mainly in opposition to the US. This is most obvious in Russia's dogged support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. And Russia's refusal to hand over Snowden, under the pretext of strict adherence to the law, has allowed Putin to poke Obama in the eye once again - this time while posing as a defender of legality and human rights.
This was magnified by Putin's cynical claim that Russia would allow Snowden to stay only if he stopped leaking information "aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners." Presumably, Putin would not object to the infliction of such damage behind closed doors, during a debriefing with the Russian security services.
Moreover, the Snowden affair reinforces the perception that the US is losing its sway in South America. With few notable exceptions, such as US Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon, US diplomacy has lacked a strategic vision for Latin America. Barack Obama's 2008 election created high expectations in this region, too; but his administration's approach has been reserved, at best, and often obtuse.
While China's influence in Latin America has soared, the US has remained aloof. Obama's visit in May was presented as an effort to reinvigorate relations in the context of the rise of the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, the chickens of Obama's first term have already come home to roost.
For example, the US is far and away Ecuador's largest trading partner, accounting for more than a third of its foreign trade. Yet, facing the possibility that Ecuador might grant Snowden asylum, the US felt the need to scramble, with Vice President Joe Biden personally pleading America's case to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, even after Obama announced that he would not engage in "wheeling and dealing" over the extradition.
The threat by US officials to cut off aid to Ecuador, which would amount to a measly $12 million in 2014, further evinces a clumsy approach. America's traditional sources of influence - its soft power, regional alliances, and financial leverage - appear to be running dry. The message to the world is clear: the US is not the regional power that it should be.
Finally, turning to Europe, Obama's flippant attitude concerning alleged US surveillance of the European Union and its member states shows that American exceptionalism is alive and well. Instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of European concerns, he shrugged them off as a frivolity: "[I] guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders."
The US certainly has an interest in gaining deeper analytical insight into its European allies' decision-making than can be gained by simply calling, say, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Accepting that spying is realistically part of the US toolkit, we Europeans expect it to be conducted responsibly. By dismissing European concerns about how such surveillance is carried out, Obama has demonstrated one of America's worst habits - that of patronizing Europe.
In fact, Europeans have raised serious questions about US intelligence practices. These range from the lack of professionalism implied by allowing contractors to conduct such sensitive work to America's hands-off approach toward certain allies, like the United Kingdom and New Zealand, while relegating many of its other allies - including most of the European Union - to surveillance-worthy status.
The bitter irony is that, at this suddenly inauspicious moment, Europe and the US are launching their most significant joint project since the creation of NATO - a transatlantic free-trade agreement. For the sake of its success, is it really too much to ask of the US that it play its part internationally with a bit more skill and professionalism, and that it treat its partners with respect?
Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State.


  1. I guess Snowden will have to fly to Cuba. May I suggest a Russian cargo plane?

  2. By grounding Bolivian President’s plane Europe has united South America against the US – and opened new prospects for asylum seeking Snowden, believes the international affairs analyst Pepe Escobar.

    RT: Much of the blame over this diverted plane controversy now lies with the EU, so presumably Washington must be pretty happy about that?

    Pepe Escobar: Exactly. Like the Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera remarkably put it, it was an “imperial kidnapping,” but the puppets were the most important part of the equation in that. Don’t forget that until 24 hours before what happened to Evo Morales, they were outraged and furious that they were being spied upon in a base in Frankfurt and out of a NATO headquarters in Mons outside of Belgium. Twenty fours later they did what they did against Evo Morales, leader of a small South American nation, a peach of a person with immense grace.

    RT: Why that sudden change in sentiment?

    PE: Look, we have to compare… Everybody knows now about the famous Joe Biden phone call probably impersonating Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas” to Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador. You saw how Rafael Correa changed his tune radically after that. Now it is different, because the whole thing backfired. What the America’s tried to do with Evo Morales’ plane, what the puppets did – France, Portugal, Spain and Italy especially – the Austrians are more or less in the middle, there’re conflicting version, the Austrians say that Evo Morales authorized the search of the plane in the Bolivians say this never happened.

    Now, they have united South America against the US and this ridiculous, pathetic role of the European puppet. So this opens for Snowden a possible alternative asylum way in South America. It could be Venezuela, just like President Maduro told RT. It could be Bolivia, just like President Morales told RT as well, or it could be a consultation among the countries in UNASUR – let’s try to find a collective solution to solve the Snowden case.

  3. {…}

    RT: Well if they were that angry, surely one of those countries would offer pretty swift and safe passage for Snowden, so in some ways isn’t it just an overreaction to these Latin American countries, just an excuse to have a go at the US?

    PE: No. No. No. It is not an overreaction. Look, people in South America know one of two things about the former colonial power – Spain. They know how arrogant the French can be and I heard this from diplomats from all sides dealing with Europeans. It’s usually the mission civilisatrice, the civilizing mission of the French all the time, and they always know better. So people are extremely sensitive, and if you do this against Bolivia, come on, it is a small South American nation. It is a slight against the first indigenous president in history of South America. These things they take very, very seriously.

    RT: And if it is that serious and they are talking about taking it to the UN, will that achieve anything? Will they get any result?

    PE: They’ve already launched the complaint – but look at the UN Secretary General that we have at the moment. Ban Ki Moon in Iceland two days ago said that Edward Snowden was wrong at what he did! This guy, he does not even know the charter of the United Nations, so you cannot trust even the UN. So I would suggest UNASUR, union of South American countries, get to act together and solve the Snowden case for the benefit of the whole world.

    1. .

      I constantly complain about the U.S. but I am glad I am here rather than anyplace else.

      I might have had my doubts at times but this latest fiasco is just the latest example. We may be dicks but that's better than being pansies. The countries of the EU yell and scream about the U.S. being a bad ally as we spy on them but then when we jerk their chain and 'demand' they do something for us they kowtow and do it automatically like trained seals.

      Thank you, sir. May I have another?


  4. >>>FLIP-FLOP: State Dept. confirms Kerry was yachting during Egypt crisis...

    SPOTTED: Back out on 'Isabel' today...Drudge<<<

    As far as I'm concerned Snowden can come live with me, but I don't know how to get a hold of him.


    1. Has he actually been charged with anything yet? I am uncertain.

      Iceland seems out. He might live with Quirk outside of Detroit, or maybe with Deuce in Penn. or perhaps Arizona with rat, or OGF in Vegas. We are all against the national security state of which Quirk has warned us. My niece simply doesn't have big enough apartment.

      He does need a lawyer. That seems certain.


  5. Note to Kerry:

    Stay on the yacht, por favor.

  6. You mean the aristocrats in the US State Department, would lie when it comes to informing the plebeians? If they would lie about whether Long Face is at the wheel of state or his yacht, do you think they lied about Benghazi?

    1. What difference does it make now?


  7. All those slam dunkin motherfuckers in DC would lie?

  8. He could stay with WiO but then it would look like a Jewish conspiracy.


  9. With Rufus in Mississippi?,no, he's for the national security state.

    Doug in Hawaii?

    That might work.


    1. Perhaps with Obama in the White House, who, after all, promised us the most transparent administration in history.


  10. Krauthammer just said on the Fox News that if the MB opts for violence now, they will lose.

    While they have lots of support they are not the majority. Close to it maybe. They can throw it into true civil war. There were even coptic Christians standing behind the military guy when the military announcement was made, along with many other factions.


    1. Perhaps they need a puppet show?