Thomas Friedman, who I'm sometimes convinced the New York Times keeps around solely to provide the internet with a chew toy, has written another column that strays from his areas of expertise. When Friedman fails, he does so spectacularly -- there's nothing half-assed about it.
Attacking the subject of the Obama/Putin/Snowden trinity, Friedman argues that "you only get one chance to make a second impression," and hands out some suggestions for Edward Snowden's "redemption" and stating Putin has already blown his. Unfortunately, his unsolicited advice is front-loaded with errors.
Considering the breadth of reforms that President Obama is now proposing to prevent privacy abuses in intelligence gathering, in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures, Snowden deserves a chance to make a second impression — that he truly is a whistle-blower, not a traitor.
First off, Obama's reforms may be "broad," but that's because they're only skin deep. This is what happens when you apply a few ineffectual efforts
to a wide range of problems.
Second, whether or not you agree with Snowden's actions, he's not a "traitor," at least not in the legal definition of the word. Snowden has been charged with espionage, not treason, a charge whistleblowers often find applied to their actions as the exposed wrongdoers grasp in vain for an effective deterrent to further whistleblowing.
The fact is, he dumped his data and fled to countries that are hostile to us and to the very principles he espoused. To make a second impression, Snowden would need to come home, make his case and face his accusers. It would mean risking a lengthy jail term, but also trusting the fair-mindedness of the American people, who, I believe, will not allow an authentic whistle-blower to be unfairly punished.
Oddly enough, the administration of this
country also appears to be "hostile" to Snowden and "against the principles he espoused." I'm not sure how this theory that whistleblowers must be punished in order to establish their "credentials" first developed, but that seems to be a common thread in articles by writers who seem to believe no good deed should go unpunished.
Also, that bit about "dumped his data and fled" -- that's not true and (as if this were possible) undermines Friedman's credibility even more than usual. As anyone who's been following this even slightly knows, Snowden very carefully vetted the information he was handing over to a trio of extremely experienced journalists, and then made it clear that he expected each of them to do further reporting in deciding what should and should not be published, noting that he did not want them to publish anything that might put people at risk. That's anything but a data dump.
And the claim about fleeing to countries hostile to us... there was an initial strategic choice to go to Hong Kong for legal reasons which made a ton of sense if you looked at the legal regime of Hong Kong (not China). As for Russia? That was supposed to be nothing more than a waypoint to somewhere else, and it would have been
if the US hadn't pulled Snowden's passport and more or less forced him
into Russia's hands. To suggest he "fled" to Russia without mentioning that it's mainly the US's own actions that left him stranded in Russia suggests Friedman is either uninformed or is being willfully misleading.
Unbelievably, Friedman somehow feels he's being generous by "granting" Snowden a right he already enjoys as an American citizen, as Barry Eisler points out in his thorough takedown of Friedman's article
Wow. Snowden now "deserves a chance" to be afforded a trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, but in the absence of Obama's proposed whitewash, he would have had to forfeit his Sixth Amendment rights? This is very generous of Friedman, suggesting that under proper conditions an American might deserve Constitutional protections. What does Friedman think Snowden "deserved" before Friedman decided he had earned his "chance" at being afforded his Sixth Amendment rights -- an imperial drone execution?
Friedman also somehow believes the "fair-mindedness of the American people" will have any bearing on Snowden's trial and sentencing. Even more incredibly, he somehow believes the American people are blessed with the power to prevent a vindictive government from harshly punishing the whistleblower. Because that worked out so well for Bradley Manning.
Friedman obviously can't sincerely believe any of the above, which means he truly considers Snowden to be a traitor, not a true
whistleblower. If Snowden does somehow end up back in the US and sentenced to lengthy stay in prison, it will just prove Friedman right: Snowden is not
a true whistleblower. If he was, he wouldn't have been sentenced so harshly! At this point, Friedman should just lay all his cards on the table because by the end of his second paragraph, he's already holding his hand face-out.
From this point on, his piece becomes largely more tolerable and less enragingly stupid, with Friedman offering up suggestions on how Obama should have handled the Putin/Snowden situation. Of course, it doesn't take much to top Obama's decision to sulk away
from his scheduled meeting with Putin like a child on the losing end of a playground argument.
Friedman makes the point that Obama should have attacked Putin for his xenophobic, homophobic policies, and how those policies are directly undermining
his country's financial success, rather than made it about the only quality dissident Russia's hosted in years. He's absolutely right. In the larger scheme of things, Russia's human rights violations should be a much bigger concern than the continued freedom of an ex-NSA contractor who exposed disturbing information about domestic spying. Instead, Obama chose to make it about his administration's
problems and came out looking much weaker for it.
As much as I want to give Friedman more credit for his stronger finish, I can't. His article basically revolves around the assumption that Snowden should be punished for his whistleblowing and any suggestions he's giving Obama on foreign affairs are subservient to that assumption. Even worse, his starry-eyed supposition that Snowden will be treated fairly and safeguarded from the administration's vindictive actions by a "fair-minded public" shows a woeful, or willful, ignorance of the tactics employed by our government against whistleblowers