A Common Denominator between Edward Snowden and Ahmed al-Assir

There is somewhat of a common denominator between former consultant for the National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden, who "blew the whistle" on violations committed by the United States in spying on the American people and on countries like China or Russia, and Sunni cleric Ahmed Al-Assir, who "blew the whistle" on Hezbollah's hegemony over Lebanon through weapons and fear-mongering, making of himself a phenomenon he put an end to by himself. Both men, Snowden and Assir, found themselves this week wanted men, to be brought to justice for deeds deemed unlawful by the US administration and the Lebanese government respectively. The fate and the location of both men are unknown. They both considered themselves to have been defending what is right. Perhaps they even considered themselves to be heroes. This is perhaps where the resemblance ends, and any common denominators between the two. Indeed, Snowden has brought about a state of tension in American-Russian as well as American-Chinese relations. He has provided ammunition to the countries that hate the United States to mock American "hypocrisy" when it comes to respecting personal freedoms and the rights of individuals. In fact, one of the most harmful effects of Snowden's deeds - aside from exposing the NSA and its methods - is that they have made President Barack Obama the object of mockery and derision by leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, strengthening their ability to make light of the United States and of its President. Assir, for his part, almost dragged Lebanon into a civil war when he chose to point his weapons at the Lebanese army and called on the latter's Sunni members to defect. His failed strategy against Hezbollah has made him the object of mockery and gloating by Hezbollah, which has received the "gift" of Assir with the utmost gratitude.

Both Snowden and Assir betrayed their country when they did not take into account the consequences of their deeds. Now the phase has begun of cleaning up what the Assir phenomenon left behind. It was a wretched phenomenon to begin with, one that had adopted responding to the overbearing strength of a powerful organized party by finding strength in weapons and gathering a group of armed fighters behind what they had through to be competent leadership. Such a phase requires a great deal of wisdom and patience from all those who are trying to protect Lebanon from falling into the trap of the war in Syria. As for what Snowden set off, when he flew to Hong Kong and to Moscow asking for political asylum most likely in Ecuador, it takes the form not just of innocent idealism - if that truly is what was caused him to blow the whistle - but also of foolishness, in view of how such innocence has been used for international blackmail, something which had most probably never even occurred to Snowden. Then again, the waning of American influence under President Barack Obama is not due to the harm caused by Snowden's leaks, but rather to the policies of the US President himself, who found himself this week being made light of by the Taliban as well, not just Russia, China and Iran.

In Snowden's case, the facts are known. After blowing the whistle on NSA's massive surveillance operation, he left to Hong Kong. When Washington asked China to arrest him, the Chinese government replied that the request "did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law". Beijing ignored the American request and allowed Snowden to leave, amid rumors that he was being kept under protection at a house provided by the Chinese government. When Washington heard that Snowden was in Moscow, it asked Russian authorities to stop him from traveling on to Ecuador, and also asked for his arrest after issuing an indictment against him on charges of espionage. The Russian response was a sarcastic one, with the spokesperson for the presidency stating that "I am not in charge of tickets; I don't approve or disapprove plane tickets". Later on, following the denial by his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Snowden's presence on Russian soil, the Russian President revealed that he was in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. He then in turn mocked the US administration, while Lavrov asserted that there was no extradition treaty between Russia and the United States.

As for the details of what happened between the Taliban leadership and the leaderships of the United States and Afghanistan, they contain enough embarrassment, disdain, and disparagement to be denounced. The Obama administration agreed to the presence of Mullah Omar - and some say the Haqqani network as well - at the negotiations table, despite Mullah Omar's conditions and his refusal to accept the Afghan constitution and a ceasefire with coalition forces, in addition to his refusal to formally pledge not to allow Afghanistan's soil to once again be used as a safe haven for international terrorism. The Taliban have thus obtained legitimacy from the United States, by having Washington agree to them joining the negotiations table under their own conditions, as has the Haqqani network, which Washington had previously designated as a terrorist organization. Washington offered this without anything in return, neither for itself nor for the Afghan government, angering the latter and leading it to refuse to participate in the meeting that would have been held in Doha last week. America is "keeping the bar low" these days in the view of many international players, especially those who harbor hatred for the United States and lie in wait for the opportunity to humiliate it. But more importantly, a significant country like Iran finds in the Obama administration its best ally, with its "low bar" which it can easily jump over in order to achieve both its regional and nuclear ambitions equally. To be sure, the Obama administration has become the "enabler", reassuring such countries and parties that they would not be held to account or punished by the United States no matter what they do, because the US President would not dare do so.

The age of American powerlessness, as it is now being dubbed, has become part of the strategies of Russia, China, Iran, the Taliban, Hezbollah... and even the likes of Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front. Syria in particular represents a shining example of President Barack Obama's insistence on not getting involved, no matter how clear and patent is the fact that it is on the verge of falling prey to the influence, control and hegemony of Iran and Russia, with China's support and Hezbollah's participation. Syria today provides a clear illustration of the fact that the US administration's failure to anticipate the danger of growing terrorism there contributes to prolonging the war and to the growth of armed extremist movements, and in fact to reinventing Al-Qaeda and similar groups inside and outside of Syria with capabilities that could later reach the heart of American soil.

The age of American powerlessness has given both Russia and China the ability to completely control the UN Security Council. Their dual veto has paralyzed the latter's ability to issue resolutions, and has made this major body in charge of preserving world peace and security hostage to their veto. Had the Obama administration truly wished to take it upon itself to deal with the Syrian issue, and had the United States not been stuck in the age of American powerlessness, it would have been able to gather the majority of Security Council members on its side and embarrass Moscow and Beijing on a daily basis by summoning them to their twentieth veto if necessary. This would perhaps not be necessary if the leaderships of Russia and China were to reach the conclusion that the leadership of the United States actually and truly was serious. Both leaderships have made of the powerlessness of the United States under the Obama administration a cornerstone of their veto and others strategies. It is Washington's submission that has led to the arrogance of others. And the more the US administration submits, the more it encourages those keen on making light of it and on implementing strategies at its expense. Members of the Obama administration are contributing to encouraging those of Putin's government and the mullahs of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as members of the Taliban and similar groups.

The personalities of President Obama, his Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his Secretary of State John Kerry suggest that those three men are convinced that America is in the wrong and must compensate for its misdeeds. Those men do not want battles. They are peaceful, indulgent and tolerant of offenses and contempt, and even of insults if this allows them to avoid a battle. They are men who don't fear the triumph of Russia, Iran or China, as long as such triumph does not cost them a war or a battle.

Others outside the US administration are advising members of the Obama administration to withdraw and concern themselves with the American interior instead of expanding their foreign policy. Thus, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Richard Haas, is promoting in his latest book the idea of "restoring the balance" in foreign interests, far from the Middle East and towards the "East", in the spheres of China and its strategic ally Russia. There, in his opinion, the major powers would intersect and interact with one another, not in the Middle East, regardless of all the intersecting and confrontation taking place between these major powers in Syria. Indeed, Haas writes something to the effect of that the Middle East can cause major problems, but they are problems it is causing for itself, not for the world. In his view, the Middle East is at the start of a long and violent conflict, which is why the United States must choose wisely and lower the level of its interest in the Middle East and raise it in Asia. The "pivot" to Asia emerged some time ago, after the United States discovered that it would become energy independent with its newly discovered reserves. President Obama has decided to focus on resolving the issues of the American economy and the problems of the United States, and he has distanced himself from getting dragged into the Middle East, with all of its problems and its hurdles, from Iran to Israel through the Arab region, whether they concern allies or places in which Russia is finding a strategic foothold for itself, such as Syria.

Perhaps the US President will be the one to have the last laugh after Russia and Iran truly sink into the quagmire of Syria and of confessional and doctrinal wars. Perhaps he will, in his opinion, be the one to laugh longest in the end, not the mocking Russian leadership or the gloating leaderships of Ecuador or Venezuela. Perhaps he will remain above sarcasm, or perhaps he will angrily rebel at being made light of and derided. Whatever he does, the decision to reduce American influence worldwide is a decision that was taken by Barack Obama, and it has led to diminished standing and declining respect for the United States. Moreover, President Obama's stances on Syria have revealed waning interest in fundamental American values, such as rejecting massacres and refusing to stand idly by and watch while hundreds of thousands of civilians fall victim to brute military force. This is the historical narrative that will be associated with Barack Obama, if he perseveres in his stances: the narrative of the fall of America's humanitarian side.

Indeed, hiding behind unmanned drones, cyber warfare and illegal surveillance operations will not bring the man the narrative he promised the world when it followed his entrance into history through the White House. It is therefore inevitable for the likes of Edward Snowden to emerge, "blowing the whistle" on those who broke their promises and thought that they would, like others, move on without being held to account.

What Snowden did was both right and wrong. As for Assir, what he did was wrong and wrong. The difference is vast, despite the similarities.