Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
It's true that, as Glenn Greenwald and others have written, the American media has focused attention on the supposed peccadillos of Edward Snowden so as not to have to spend too much time on the sweeping system of government surveillance he revealed. At least for now, the Obama administration has cornered the document-less whistleblower at Moscow's international airport, leaving him nowhere on the planet to go, or at least no way to get there. As a result, the media can have a field day writing negative pieces about his relationship to Putin's Russia.
So Greenwald certainly has a point, and yet it would be a mistake to ignore Snowden's personal story. After all, the unending spectacle of a superpower implacably tracking down a single man across the planet has its own educational value. It's been a little like watching one of those Transformers movies in which Megatron, the leader of the evil Decepticons, stomps around the globe smashing things, but somehow, time and again, misses his tiny human target. In this strange drama, in a world in which few eyeball-gluing stories outlast the week in which they were born, almost alone and by a kind of miracle Snowden has managed to keep his story andthe story of the building of the first full-scale global surveillance state going and going. He seems a little like the Energizer Bunny of whistleblowers.
No matter what's written about him here in the mainstream, the spectacle of a single remarkably articulate and self-confident individual outwitting the last superpower has been, in its own way, uplifting. Although the first global polls haven't come in, I think it's safe to assume that from Bolivia to Hong Kong, Germany to Japan, Washington is taking a remarkable licking in the global opinion wars. Even at home, we know that, among the young in particular, opinion seems to be shifting on both Snowden's acts and the surveillance state whose architecture he revealed.
Given its utter tone-deafness and its flurry of threats against various foreign governments, the downing of Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane, and ever more ham-handed moves against Snowden himself, Washington is clearly building up a store of global anger and resentment, including over the way it's scooping up private communications worldwide. In the end, this twenty-first-century spectacle may truly make a difference. As Rebecca Solnit, author of the new book The Faraway Nearby, writes today in an open letter to Snowden, it's been a moving show so far. One man against the machine: if you've ever been to the local multiplex, given such a scenario you can't for a second doubt where global sympathies lie.