Mark Adomanis: Do As US Officials Say, Or Else!…

Mark Adomanis thinks Russia should extradite – or at least expel – Edward Snowden because… get this, it’s current stance (i.e. leaving him in at Sheremetyevo Airport, an international territory) constitutes “trolling” of the US.

This is, to be quite frank, a rather strange argument. Would the US extradite a Russian Snowden? To even ask the question is to mockingly answer it. Said Russian whistleblower would not only be sheltered by any Western country, but awarded with all kinds of freedom medals and lecture tours. It is commonly expected for defectors from not entirely friendly powers to get sanctuary and both Russia and Western countries regularly practice this. If anybody is trolling anybody, it is the UK which gives refuge to Russians who are patent economic criminals so long as they bring some money and claims of political repression with them.

Furthermore, he believes (a faint and vague) promise of improved Russia-US relations is worth sabotaging Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western “dissidents” – a status that is extremely valuable in international PR terms. It is a lot harder to argue with a straight face that West – Russia disagreements are a standoff between democracy and autocracy when for every Russian political exile there is an Assange or a Snowden. But Adomanis would like Russia to forego this advantage and betray the trust of any future exiles or defectors just to please a gaggle of perennially anti-Russian blowhards in D.C.

This is not to mention the fact that many other countries are peeved off by Snowden’s revelations, so if anything it is the US that is internationally isolated in demanding his extradition. Even ordinary Americans are somewhat split on what to do about him, with 49% believing his leaks to be in the public interest and 38% against prosecuting him. The Chuck Schumers not to mention the McCains (does Adomanis seriously think that John “I Saw the Letters K-G-B in Putin’s Eyes” McCain would suddenly become well-disposed to Russia if it were to extradite Snowden?) do not even have the overwhelming support of their own constituents.

Adomanis’ argument ultimately boils down to “might is right”:

But a country like Russia, a country that is less than half as populous as the United States and which is much, much poorer, can’t afford to deal with the US as an equal because it isn’t. You can fulminate against that fact all you want, but in the world as it exists in mid 2013 Russia simply can’t afford to go all-in on confrontation with the United States because that is a confrontation it is guaranteed to lose. The Russians usually do a reasonable enough job of picking their battles, but they’ve suddenly decided to go 100% troll for no obvious reason. As should be clear, Russia doesn’t actually gain anything from helping Snowden,* all it does is expose itself to the full wrath and fury of every part of Washington officialdom. Unless you’re defending a national interest of the first order, exposing yourself to the full wrath and fury of Washington officialdom is a really stupid thing to do.

Here is what La Russophobe wrote in her interview with me, on another matter in which Russian and American interests (in her opinion) diverged:

Now please tell us: Russia has risked infuriating the world’s only superpower and biting the hand (Obama’s) that feeds it. … Are you suggesting that you believe Russian power is such that it can afford to act however it likes regardless of the way in which its actions may provoke the USA and NATO?

When you are starting to sound like La Russophobe, it’s probably a good time to stop and reconsider.

The answer to this objection – apart from the entirely reasonable one that kowtowing to the demands of a foreign power is a contemptible thing to do period – is that the Russia doesn’t need the US any more than the US needs Russia. And clumsily attempts to equate “need” with economic/military beans-counting (Adomanis: “Someone just commented on my blog saying “the West needs Russia as much as Russia needs the West.” Yeah, that’s definitely not true… The West, taken together, is so much more wealthy and powerful than Russia it’s actually kind of a joke… You can dislike the West as much as you want, but if you think Russia and the West are equally powerful then you are simply wrong… And if Russia creates policy based on the assumption that it’s equal to the West in power and influence it will fail catostrophically”) isn’t going to fool many people. Because, you know, the level of a country’s “need” for another isn’t a direct function of how much GDP and tanks it has relative to the other. And yes, while I am a realist, it’s a position tempered by the observation that today’s world is a wee bit more complex than it was in the days when the guy with the biggest club set the rules for everybody.

The US is of course a lot more wealthy and powerful than Russia. Nobody is arguing the reverse; it’s a strawman set up by Adomanis himself. What is however of some relevance is that the US has real need of Russia on some issues (e.g. Iran and nukes; transportation to Afghanistan) while Russian economic dependence on the US is actually very small (trade with the US accounts for something like 5% of its total). Both countries benefit from anti-terrorism cooperation. I think it is ridiculous to believe that US politicians will torpedo all that in a hissy fit over Snowden. I give them more credit than that.

UPDATE: Just recalled that Mark Adomanis works for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same consultancy that employed Snowden – and which happens to get 99% of its business from official DC. So it may well be that Adomanis’ opportunities for saying what he really thinks on the Snowden affair may be… rather limited. While I am not saying this necessarily influenced his articles – as regards this, we can only speculate – it would have probably been appropriate for him to mention this considering the obvious conflict of interest.

UPDATE 2: This article was translated by Inosmi.

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