17 April 2014

The Putin-Snowden Show

Even those Americans most sympathetic toward Edward Snowden may regret his participation in President Putin's call-in show today. If so, it's all about Putin rather than Snowden. For those who haven't heard: Putin held a live call-in program today and Snowden was one of the callers. The American exile asked if Putin had a surveillance program similar to the one Snowden exposed in the U.S. Probably before Putin opened his mouth, most western observers will probably have rolled their eyes. Could Snowden be so naive as to think Putin would give him an honest answer? Assuming not, many immediately leap to the conclusion that Snowden's participation was pre-arranged and that the American was the willing tool of Russian propaganda. All these assumptions depend on the premise that anything Putin might have said short of "Of course we have such a spy program, only bigger and more intrusive!" would be a lie. (As for what he did say, this article includes some attempted corrections) Because he is an "authoritarian" if not a dictator, and perhaps also because he's Russian, and definitely because he was KGB back in the day, Putin is presumed to lie whenever it suits him. The west thinks it knows Putin, or knows his type: essentially a gangster, ultimately interested only in his own power, ruthless and lawless at heart. This isn't necessarily wrong, but it's also possible that many in the west, whether they call themselves liberals or conservatives, simply can no longer fathom the attitude someone like Putin may have toward his nation and its state. so that a difference in political philosophy becomes a moral failing. Many of us can't help seeing Putin as evil, especially since some people, Russians or not, have a vested interest in portraying him that way. Thus every time an opposition politician gets arrested, whatever the alleged offense, it's a fraud instigated by Putin. Every time a Russian journalist is killed or attacked, Putin is ultimately to blame. At the worst extreme, every time a terrorist attack takes place in Russia, some Russian (or Russophobic) "truther" will call it a false-flag incident designed to justify a new war or another Putin power grab. Again, my point is not to presume Putin innocent, since power has resented dissent throughout history, but to warn against a knee-jerk presumption of his constant guilt based on a culturally-biased perception of what he is and what he stands for. As for Snowden, I suspect that he actually doesn't give a damn about Putin. The show gave him a chance to repeat his basic charges against the U.S., and that may have been all that mattered to him. To go further, Snowden may be so convinced of the paramount threat posed by American surveillance and American power to both peace on earth and individual liberty in his home country that he may not care where a countervailing force comes from, or what it stands for, as long as it checks or balances the U.S, or at least protects him from his former employers. Apart from sticking it to the U.S. and the Obama administration, Snowden and Putin probably have no common interests, but as human beings we can't help linking things together to make Snowden a tool of or collaborator with Putin in some evil scheme. Before drawing such conclusions, ask yourselves why Snowden is in Russia today. Is that his fault, or ours?

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