Letting secrets out of the box
Recently the tactics of the National Security Agency, tapping phones in the name of protection of the state, has refueled elements of the Tea Party as well as the left wing American Civil Liberties Union. As well, the whistle blower, Edward Snowden, has come forth to claim he was doing it all in the name of liberty. But even he admitted that he personally picked those items that he believed the public should see.
If there is a weakness in the libertarian view of the world, Snowden revealed it. He arrogated to himself, often without context, the right to play with national security. It represented his faith in the imperial “I” or individualism run amok. Perhaps the 29-year-old knows more than others looking after American foreign policy, but one would doubt it. But Snowden represents an attitude that has long existed since the 1950s and 1960s, that the people had the right to know – regardless if it was dangerous and could be exploited by enemies of the United States.
Such actions display a singular arrogance acting without fear or evidence, the stamping of the foot and an insistence that any dissent is in the service of a righteous cause. Also what Snowden did, and to the same degree, Bradley Manning, was to take current information and make it public. Daniel Ellsberg in the celebrated Pentagon Papers released a secret history of the Vietnam War with cables and documents that were no longer vital. In the Snowden and Manning case, the information that they shared has a current impact.
Certainly the Tea Party, with its devil take the hindmost attitude, can be understood to support the leaks, but for some on the left to do so is incomprehensible. Perhaps it is the residue of the years out of power, where liberals opposed to oppose. Or maybe it is simply to slide down memory lane, imagining Snowden as Ellsberg.
It is good to reflect that President Barack Obama was highly critical of these policies which were, after all, placed by President George W. Bush. But once Obama assumed power, he followed them – not being overwhelmed by foolish consistency. Obama ran into the big bear that plagues all candidates until they become president, that the world is easier on the stump than in reality. Not all policy can be made playing to the base.
Sometimes critics cannot distinguish between being authoritative versus authoritarian. During the discussion and development of foreign policy, the government has to keep secrets. Sometimes out of context they do not seem so important. But on a bigger level they can help an enemy develop and solve a diplomatic or military puzzle. Certainly no one person can decide – and Snowden, with his limited experience and relatively low grade, is not the one to gamble with the fate of a nation.
The Rand Pauls might squawk and the ACLU litigate, but both must realize that in a dangerous world the individual is not supreme.
This is a childish delusion that entraps libertarianism, whether its origins are left or right. Based on a simple view of the world, such ideas can be dangerous. That Bush and Obama came to the same conclusions might give a hint that their fears were not entirely without substance. The individualism that has run rampant in American society, where everyone wins a trophy, with or without merit, cannot be allowed to interfere with foreign policy.