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How Edward Snowden suddenly became a valuable asset to the White House

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 14.48.32 By Simon Davies

It should come as no surprise that Barack Obama has canceled his scheduled summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Relations between the two countries have been in decline ever since Putin took power, and Washington has been ill at ease with an increasingly aggressive, isolated, corrupted and inward-looking Kremlin.

imagesThe sad reality is that Russia is in rapid decline, both internally and on the world stage. Its incapacity to live up to the promise of Putin’s predecessors has prompted the US to wonder why it even bothers to treat the country seriously. Importantly, Russia’s pretence at being a superpower has profoundly irritated the US to roughly the same extent that it has amused the Chinese (which one Financial Times commentator says regards Russia as “useful idiots”).

Only yesterday Russia maintained this pretence of being a superpower by insisting that the US was refusing to treat it on “an equal basis”. This claim further inflamed tension with the US, which although itself is sliding into economic decline has at least avoided the free-fall into legal and political disintegration engineered by Russia.  

The impending G-20 summit is an important opportunity for the US, and giving favour on its eve to a corroded nation that has largely abandoned democracy and rights was never going to help the bigger US global agenda.

There are many reasons why the Putin meeting was troublesome for the US. The impending G-20 summit is an important opportunity for the US, and giving favour on its eve to a corroded nation that has largely abandoned democracy and rights was never going to help the bigger US global agenda.

Of course at the broader diplomatic level it would be impossible to lambast a major economic power over its systemic decline. That degree of condemnation is reserved for nations that are outside the core framework – such as North Korea.

So, set against this backdrop of failed negotiations, declining mutuality, geopolitical friction and economic stalemate the US president hilariously chose to blame Edward Snowden for the summit cancelation. Sure, he mumbled something about an impasse over Syria, but no-one watching the talk shows was the slightest bit interested in that bit – and the White House knew it.

Thankfully not all media outlets bought the White House line, with a small number recognising the smell of a stitch-up to protect a bigger political agenda by the US.

Snowden’s asylum certainly played a part in the decision process but his contribution is largely anecdotal. The Kremlin is incensed that the US has blamed it for a situation created entirely by the White House. Had America allowed Snowden to leave Russia then the problem would rest with Cuba or Latin America – and Russia could wash its hands of the matter.

Of course forcing Russia’s hand to give asylum to Snowden has played out perfectly for the US, which can now pretend the moral high ground. Russia quite rightly senses that it has been set up, but even its chess mastery couldn’t find a way out of this checkmate.

Snowden has served his country well by performing the role of scapegoat. Perhaps he should be rewarded with a well-deserved South American vacation.