Snowden, Cold War Nostalgia, and The New Politics of International Power

I've got a new article up at The Daily Beast. It looks at what Edward Snowden's flight tells us about international politics - and how states actually wield less power than they used to (thank god).

Here's are some snippets:

As Edward Snowden lams it, his story is morphing from a new-media surveillance scandal into something closer to a classic Cold War thriller. The Snowden saga started off redolent of Girl With Dragon Tattoo (computer hacking, manifesto-style sloganeering about justice, rights, and corrupt goverments, and a half-naked dancer girlfriend). But it’s now driving deep into Graham Greene territory as the world’s most famous high-school dropout is reportedly seeking refuge in a left-leaning Caribbean banana republic run by a Hate-America-First autocrat. Call it Our Man in Quito: Cold War Redux....

What Snowden’s revelations—like those by WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and other, lower-tech channels—really underscore is what Moises Naim documents so powerfully and optimistically in his new book, The End of Power: “Power is shifting—from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, from presidential palaces to public squares. It has become harder to wield power and easier to lose it, and the world is becoming less predictable as a result. As people become more prosperous and mobile, they are harder to control and more apt to question authority.”

It’s as likely as not that Ecuador’s Correa will turn on Snowden in relatively short order. Snowden has told the South China Morning Post that he plans on leaking more and more secrets about more and more countries over the coming months. How long will it be before he either reveals something unflattering about Ecuador or, same thing, inspires a citizen there to hack Correa’s own massive surveillance program? Today’s hacktivists—broadly defined to include social-media-savvy rebels such as China’s Ai Weiwei and Russia’s Pussy Riot—are nothing if not persistent. However unpatriotic they may be as citizens, they’re even more frustrating to governments as prisoners or honored guests.

Read the whole thing.

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  • ||

    Read the whole thing.

    Done. Do I win a prize?

  • Lord Humungus||

    yes, a 1989 Yugo. Enjoy!

  • Almanian!||

    HAHA! That was really a 2004 Chongqui - a Chinese KNOCKOFF of a Yugo that's even CHEAPER!

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Fluffy||

    He doesn't even need Correa to turn on him.

    His problem in Ecuador is that country is in fact democratic.

    The next election could easily bring in someone happy to trade Snowden to the US for something of value.

  • Almanian!||

    Equador! I wondered where Chick Corea was these days!

    Oh - Correa with TWO R's. Never mind.

    /Return to Forever

  • gaijin||

    wait, I thought correa was in asia?

  • Almanian!||

    We've always been at war with Correa

  • Bardas Phocas||

    This is EAST correa.
    No kimchee for you.

  • Almanian!||

    Thought Balloons:

    "I bet he's trying to figure out a way to steal my ring."

    "I need to figure out a way to steal his ring."

  • Spoonman.||

    Ecuador doesn't border the Caribbean. At all.

  • SIV||

    Geography Fact Check gives Nick 5 Miss Teen South Carolinas.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yeah, that's pretty embarrassing. Gillespie is probably the guy who booked his vacation to Paraguay and then complained that he didn't get to spend any time at the beach.

  • Nick Gillespie||

    Worse still, back in the 1990s, I lost on Jeopardy! partly because I didn't know the capital of Ecuador.

  • ||

    partly because you didn't know Quito, but mostly because Pat Sajak feared The Jacket, right?

  • Jordan||

    I believe you mean Alex Trebek.

  • Almanian!||

    "I'll take Game Show Hosts for $400, Fred..."

  • sarcasmic||

  • Sevo||

    Would you go on a cruise with this guy?

  • MJGreen||

    It's next to Portugal, down in South America.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The world’s most famous high-school dropout? Welch is going to totally lose his shit.

  • sarcasmic||

    He's totally more famous that Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein!

    Like, totally! And stuff!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Gates dropped out of college not high-school.

  • sarcasmic||

    Well, he's certainly more famous than Walt Disney.

  • Almanian!||

    Walt who?

  • gaijin||

    As people become more prosperous and mobile, they are harder to control

    So, the obvious solution is to destroy the prosperity of these upstart proles? I think alot of Progressives could get on board with that.

  • Rich||

    Why does anyone *need* mobility?

  • SIV||

    (thank god)

    I'm sure you "skeptics" had a momentary flash of revulsion but Nick makes the save with a disrespectful lowercase "g".

  • Sevo||

    Actually, he misspelled "dog".

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I say this as a fairly devout Buddhist who has no patience with those who engage in shock-value disrespect of other peoples' religious beliefs for a sense of intellectual superiority, your "Grumpitarian faux-cynicism with an Auburn, Alabamian drawl and permanent sneer" shtick grows tiresome.

    No one of any import cares about your Culture War posturing. A true man of God would comport himself with humility and be content to keep his spirituality within the inner world of his conscious and his deity.

    Jus' sayin'

  • Libertymike||

    The "No one of any import" assertion is compatible with the spirit of your post (with which I fully agree), how?

    Of course I fail to live up to that standard. Every. Day.

  • Duke||

    A true man of God would comport himself with humility and be content to keep his spirituality within the inner world of his conscious and his deity.

    "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”
    Matthew 10:28

    "And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

    jus' sayin'

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    I have no patience for those who think that religion is some kind of special snowflake immune from criticism or mockery.

    Not saying you are one, just putting my two cents in.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    “Power is shifting—from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, from presidential palaces to public squares. It has become harder to wield power and easier to lose it, and the world is becoming less predictable as a result. As people become more prosperous and mobile, they are harder to control and more apt to question authority.”

    I am afraid that is an aspiration, not reality. Sigh.

  • John||

    It is funny how little bits of 60s leftist thinking infiltrates the thinking of people like Gillespie. The idea that the noble savages with primitive weapons will defeat the big evil Westerners has been an article of faith among Leftists since World War II. I am unsurprised Gillespie buys into such crap.

    Yeah. Power isn't shifting that way at all. I don't see the Russians being to worried about Chechnya or the Chinese too worried about the Uyghurs. Great powers are still great powers. But power only matters to the extent that you are willing to ruthlessly use it.

    To the extent the US has failed it has been because we have not succeeded in turning our enemies into something that they are not. We have been a great success at defeating them on the battlefield and killing them.

  • Rasilio||

    I think this is what Nick is getting at. He is not implying that a ragtag group of rebels will overthrow the US or Russia or China bu rather that the great powers have lost the ability to do anything other than kill their opponents

  • John||

    bu rather that the great powers have lost the ability to do anything other than kill their opponents

    That is all they ever had. Colonialism worked because the great powers were ruthless enough to enforce it. When they lost the will to do that, it stopped working.

  • Libertymike||

    John, given the great discrepancy in resources available to the combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Vietnam, don't you think you should retire the US military is invincible narrative?

  • John||

    Mike,

    The US left Vietnam with a complete military victory. The North was demolished and its military destroyed and they agreed to everything the US demanded at the Paris peace talks. If that is not victory what is? It was only two years later, after the North rearmed with the help of Russia and China and the US cut off all aid to the South, did the North invade with a ramshhackle conventional army and take over the South.

    Vietnam was not a US military defeat. And to the extent it ended in victory for the South it ended with a conventional invasion and war. Vietnam in no way is an example of a successful insurgency. The communist insurgency in South Vietnam was a complete and utter failure. It never won the support of the population and never won a single military victory. Can we please retire the myth of Vietnam.

    And Afghanistan is a bit closer to a successful insurgency but hardly a good one. At best the Taliban has turned Afghanistan into what it always was, a decentralized country of warlords. The Afghans never have and never will tolerate a central government. The fact that they still won't after the US leaves is hardly evidence of any success on the Taliban's part.

  • Libertymike||

    John,

    First, you ignore the disparity of resources portion of the equation. Given far less with which to work, the Vietnamese did not, and the Afghanis have yet, surrender to the US. There was no Waterloo for the North Vietnamese nor has there been for the Afghanis.

    Second, are you claiming that the objective of the US was to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the Vietnam war effort thereby initiating a voracious appetite for deficit spending leading to stagflation and two generations of declining real wages so that there would be "peace with honor" and no defeat of communism?

  • John||

    Jack Schafer makes a great point here on Reuters this morning (sorry the link is blocked as spam). If Snowden's leak is so damaging and the existence of Prism so secret the program so valuable, then why hasn't anyone at NSA lost their job for allowing someone like Snowden access to so much information? If you take the program's defenders at their word, the NSA just had one of the worst security leaks in US history. Yet, no one at NSA is being held responsible. So is NSA incapable of holding any of its employees accountable, which makes their claims that the information won't be abused dubious, or are the defenders wrong about the seriousness of this leak? It can't be both.

  • Mainer2||

    The editorial cartoon in yesterday's Union Leader showed Snowden saying, "I had to destroy my country in order to save it." So it's much worse than a security leak, Snowden has Destroyed the Country.

  • John||

    The entire existence of the United States apparently depends on its ability to spy on its citizens.

    Editorial cartoonists really are a special breed of stupid.

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