Sharp: Foreign AffairsWritten by Kenneth Sharp | | email@example.com
I watched the movie “Argo” recently and was disturbed by some of the footage of a female Iranian revolutionary narrating to the outside world what the sins America committed in her country were. That the brutal Shah was installed in place of an elected president is not news now, but the accusations of spying by America and its influence in a supposedly sovereign nation for capitalistic/imperialistic reasons struck an already resonating chord.
Before I proceed, I am obligated to state that the actions of the American government, no matter the degree of real or perceived criminality do not justify retaliation against American citizens. Hostage taking, terrorism in the form of hijacked planes or bombs in public places have no part in civilization.
American citizens and the rest of the world have become aware of the degree to which our government has invaded the rights of individuals and sovereign nations under the guise of security. The targets of this unprecedented data gathering have been U.S. citizens, all of us, and our allies abroad as well as nations that we might consider legitimate targets for such surveillance. We have learned a new word, metadata, enormous amounts of data, and it is disturbing, but yet is also supposed to ease our minds. We are told that when the National Security Agency or other agency sweeps up such vast amounts of data, there is no way they can screen it all, so we need not worry that it is collected. We are reminded that they are the professionals and know what to look for and will leave the rest alone.
But that data is stored. Knowledge is power and that is the ultimate goal, not security and not liberty or justice. That was the real warning Edward Snowden was letting us know about. When a central authority with the might of the largest most well-funded military has access to metadata on any individual or group, it can control those individuals or groups.
While this may sound useful in the War on Terror, it is more useful in the war on opposition to established power. If it was useful in the War on Terror, the war (such as it is) would have ended long ago. In truth, it breeds new and more enemies and now greater distrust and dislike of the United States by our allies. As easy as it is to put the blame on one whistleblower for the increased distrust, to do so is to blame the messenger and not the abhorrent act and perpetrators. The pathetic excuse offered by senior officials and our president, that everybody does it, is as absurd as when we used that excuse to our parents as children. Not everyone does it, and certainly not like this.
We, the citizens need to realize that we are not the shining beacon of Liberty we thought we were. We do not hold the moral high ground. Our drone program kills vastly more civilians than militants; we operate militarily in sovereign nations across the globe without regard to their citizens natural rights. We have military bases in nations we have not been at war with for generations, using these as leverage and to funnel money in order to peddle influence. Just recently, though our President said he “would not scramble jets” to get Snowden, the flight carrying the Bolivian president home from a meeting in Moscow was forced to land in Vienna. After being denied use of airspace in Portugal, Spain and France, it was searched under a rumor that Snowden was aboard. It was false, but the rumor was gathered no doubt by the same forces that we are to trust with metadata collection. The Bolivian people and other nations in the Americas are rightly indignant.
We are the bully, not the superhero. We are creating new anger directed at us from those in our own hemisphere. Our war on drugs is worse than our war on terror at creating animosity towards America. We may decry the violence in our neighborhoods due to crime associated with drugs, but it is a pittance of the mayhem daily in Mexico, Guatemala or Honduras. We choose to see it as a war and not a humanitarian problem. It enriches a few, empowers the establishment and distracts from the fact that those in charge have no real solutions even though solutions exist.
In Egypt, Turkey, Brazil and other spots, citizens are rising up in large numbers to demand accountability and transparency. In Iceland, they arrested the bankers and politicians responsible for the country’s economic crisis. While none of these popular uprisings have been ideal, and the actual outcomes are yet to be determined for some, we should look at cleaning our own house before others decide it must be done for us. I do not wish to see another scene where some foreign national recounts the sins of my country in a crisis situation that is out of control and we the people get blamed and hurt. Unfortunately, as with the Bolivian president’s experience, I am already witnessing just such events.
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