More on US hypocrisy

by Henry on February 24, 2014

The piece that Marty Finnemore and I wrote on US hypocrisy and Snowden has led to a follow up debate at Foreign Affairs. Michael A. Cohen of the Century Foundation wrote a rebuttal to our piece; Marty and I wrote a response to the rebuttal. Foreign Affairs allows us to put up a version on the WWW for six months – so here it is, for comments, disagreement etc.

Hypocrisy Hype
Can Washington Still Walk and Talk Differently?

By Michael A. Cohen; Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore

[Michael Cohen’s Response to the original Farrell/Finnemore article]

In their essay “The End of Hypocrisy” (November/December 2013), Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argue that the biggest threat from leakers of classified information such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden is that “they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it.” According to Farrell and Finnemore, the more than 750,000 diplomatic cables and incident reports leaked by Manning and the highly classified material disclosed by Snowden have provided “documented confirmation . . . of what the United States is actually doing and why.” Thus, the country will find itself “less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words . . . and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.”

The Manning and Snowden leaks do shed light on U.S. foreign policy, sometimes in an unflattering way. But they certainly do not prove that Washington acts hypocritically. Indeed, the most compelling revelation from Manning’s leaks is the remarkable consistency between what the United States says in private and does in public. Of the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables leaked by Manning, very few show wide gaps between the actions and words of U.S. officials. What hypocrisy the cables reveal is more often that of other governments, including, for example, U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia, which privately implored Washington to attack Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions while publicly opposing such a strike.

Snowden’s leaks do pose a number of dilemmas for U.S. policymakers, but they don’t really expose American duplicity. As Farrell and Finnemore note, before Snowden’s disclosures, “most experts already assumed that the United States conducted cyberattacks against China, bugged European institutions, and monitored global Internet communications.” And Farrell and Finnemore offer no evidence that the United States has denied such activities. Indeed, as the National Security Agency’s website plainly states, the agency “collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.” So where is the hypocrisy? One could argue that Washington acted dishonorably by criticizing other countries for collecting intelligence on their own citizens while it was doing the same thing to Americans. But that exaggerates the intrusiveness of the NSA programs Snowden revealed, which look nothing like the active monitoring of citizens practiced by authoritarian states.

Like Manning’s leaks, Snowden’s revelations also highlighted hypocrisy on the part of other governments, which reacted to the disclosures by expressing outrage over actions that they almost certainly knew were taking place and even participated in themselves. For example, when Le Monde reported that the NSA had scooped up more than 70 million French phone records, Paris lodged an official protest with Washington. But days later, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the records in question had actually been collected by the French government outside of France and then turned over to the NSA.

If Farrell and Finnemore believe, as they write, that “the U.S. government, its friends, and its foes can no longer plausibly deny the dark side of U.S. foreign policy” and that exposures of U.S. hypocrisy will transform international relations, they ought to present a clear case that U.S. foreign policy actually possesses a dark, hypocritical side. But they don’t provide much compelling evidence for that claim. In fact, one of the most striking assertions Farrell and Finnemore put forward is that although the United States “may attempt . . . to draw distinctions between China’s allegedly unacceptable hacking, aimed at stealing commercial secrets, and its own perfectly legitimate hacking of military or other security-related targets . . . those distinctions will likely fall on deaf ears.” But if U.S. hacking is, in fact, legitimate and genuinely distinct from Chinese hacking, then aren’t accusations of American hypocrisy unmerited? Farrell and Finnemore seem to be arguing that the credibility of U.S. policymakers is undermined not by facts but rather by unproven allegations and false perceptions.

A FEATURE, NOT A BUG

Still, even if one grants Farrell and Finnemore the benefit of the doubt, or concedes that even false accusations of American hypocrisy are harmful, it is difficult to accept their larger claim: that Washington’s alleged inability “to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets” will harm the national interest by changing the way other countries act toward the United States. Manning’s and Snowden’s leaks proved embarrassing, and Washington has had to deal with some short-term diplomatic fallout. But the leaks are highly unlikely to have lasting diplomatic effects. For the sake of comparison, consider the impact of the U.S.-led “global war on terrorism.” After 9/11, U.S. actions and policies on a wide range of issues, such as torture, detention, and preventive war, pointed to a fairly wide gulf between the country’s stated principles and its actual behavior. And during the Bush administration, Washington treated some of its close European allies so poorly that their leaders responded by publicly distancing themselves from the United States. In 2002, for example, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder successfully ran for reelection by trumpeting his opposition to U.S. plans to invade Iraq.

Yet none of these actions led to a wholesale change in the transatlantic alliance or to global bandwagoning against Washington. The reason should be somewhat obvious: foreign countries, particularly close U.S. allies, continue to rely heavily on American diplomatic, military, and economic power. Farrell and Finnemore assert that the potential gap between Washington’s stated values and U.S. actions “creates the risk that other states might decide that the U.S.-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.” But that risk is vanishingly small: after all, the U.S.-led order greatly (even disproportionately) benefits U.S. allies, and even some rivals. Germany might be angry about the fact that the NSA bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private cell phone, but not so angry that it will leave NATO or fundamentally change its bilateral relationship with the United States. Likewise, it is hard to imagine that Brazil would curtail its significant economic ties to the United States because of the NSA’s spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff—or, for that matter, that China would disengage from the World Trade Organization because the United States is hacking Chinese computers.

Farrell and Finnemore never explain why other countries would respond to U.S. hypocrisy (real or imagined) by taking steps that could end up doing them more harm than good. Throughout the post–Cold War era, even when the United States has taken actions that other countries opposed, those countries have nevertheless maintained their fealty to the U.S.-led liberal world order. That is not a bug of the international system: it is its most important feature, and an indication of its strength.

This should hardly come as news to Farrell and Finnemore, who have long been insightful observers of international politics. But they perhaps should have looked more closely at some of the very evidence they cite. Consider, for example, their interpretation of remarks made in 2010 by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said that the national security implications of Manning’s leaks would be “fairly modest.” Farrell and Finnemore claim that Gates downplayed the impact of the leaks because they did not reveal anything that was truly unexpected. But that’s not why Gates thought the effect of the leaks would be mild. “The fact is,” Gates said, “governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. . . . Some governments . . . deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. . . . So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us.”

Gates’ full statement, which Farrell and Finnemore disregard, is perhaps the most compelling refutation of their thesis: an unusually candid reminder of precisely how international cooperation works in the U.S.-led global order. Farrell and Finnemore are right to acknowledge that hypocrisy is the “lubricating oil” of that order. But they err in believing that is going to change anytime soon.

MICHAEL A. COHEN is a Fellow at the Century Foundation.

FARRELL AND FINNEMORE REPLY

We hoped to provoke a good debate with our essay, and we are grateful to Michael Cohen for his admirably clear and forcefully argued response. Cohen’s case is not convincing, however. He argues that the United States is not hypocritical, although its allies and enemies are. He then writes that even if the United States were hypocritical, it would not matter, since other countries would still have no choice but to continue to work with it. Both claims are wrong.

Hypocrisy is, in fact, a pervasive element of U.S. foreign policy. For decades, Washington has extolled human rights, free trade, democracy, and the rule of law while also supporting unsavory regimes and pursuing opportunistic trade policies. In recent years, the U.S. government has condemned other states for engaging in torture at the same time that its intelligence agencies were waterboarding detainees or shipping them off to be interrogated in countries whose security services are notorious for conducting torture. The Obama administration has reformed such policies but declined to prosecute the senior officials responsible for introducing them—a failure that is especially striking when contrasted with the zeal with which the administration has pursued leakers such as Chelsea Manning.

Nor is U.S. hypocrisy limited to the issue of torture. Consider just a few more examples. The cables Manning obtained and that the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks released suggest that the Bush administration knew that civilian casualties in Iraq were higher than it ever acknowledged. And yet the administration dismissed the estimates of outside groups as inflated. Meanwhile, Snowden’s leaks revealed that the National Security Agency has worked in secret to weaken cryptographic standards that it claimed to be improving. In another vein, last year, an unnamed senior U.S. official admitted to Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post that the United States gives countries that cooperate on counterterrorism a “free pass” on human rights while trying to “ream” less pliant governments. So, for example, last July, when Egypt’s army toppled the country’s first freely elected government, the Obama administration did everything it could to avoid even acknowledging that a coup had taken place. As for the hypocrisies relating to U.S. trade and economic policy, these are too many to list and describe.

As our original essay showed, American condemnations of Chinese cyber-incursions hypocritically ignore Washington’s own attacks on Beijing’s computers. The United States has at times emphasized a distinction between “legitimate” incursions, aimed at military and political targets, and “illegitimate” ones, aimed at stealing commercial and technological secrets. But this distinction is unconvincing to those outside the small club of technologically advanced countries with an interest in protecting their intellectual property. Indeed, even the United States, when it was at an earlier stage of economic development, once had laws actively encouraging the pirating of foreign technology.

NO MORE BLIND EYES

Cohen argues that other countries are hypocritical. We agree. American hypocrisy has not become more problematic because other governments are sincerely outraged by Washington’s behavior (although some foreign officials are genuinely shocked and unhappy). Rather, the real trouble is that the hypocrisies of the United States and those of other countries no longer reinforce each other. As we argued in our essay, countries that used to prefer to turn a blind eye to objectionable American behavior can now no longer ignore it. One case in point is Brazil’s reaction to the revelations of NSA spying on its state-owned oil company, Petrobras. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would likely have preferred to pretend that the spying had not happened, so that she could continue to build economic ties with Washington. But public anger at the revelations in Brazil led her to aggressively curtail relations and introduce legislation forbidding the export of Brazilians’ personal data overseas. This reaction is, of course, hypocritical. But Brazilian hypocrisy now cuts against U.S. hypocrisy rather than reinforcing it, by highlighting the contradiction between U.S. exhortations for a free and open Internet and its exploitation of that openness to compromise foreign computer systems.

European outrage at NSA spying is partly for show. European governments have their own spies and sometimes monitor their own citizens in intrusive ways. Yet the current outrage reflects genuine anger among citizens and is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Forthcoming European legislation will likely mandate harsh penalties for American firms that share the personal data of Europeans with the U.S. government, a restriction that will likely lead to a major transatlantic confrontation. U.S. President Barack Obama has described EU-U.S. electronic information-sharing arrangements as crucial to counterterrorism. Thanks to the scandal prompted by Snowden’s leaks, such arrangements are now threatened.

U.S. hegemony rests on military force and economic might as well as hypocrisy. Yet armies and money only go so far. Even the most powerful states need to persuade and exhort as well as impose. Over time, revelations of U.S. hypocrisy will tend to corrode this form of soft power. The United States will encounter increased resistance from allies, as advocates for civil liberties in other democracies decry American hypocrisy and stoke public outrage. Washington’s adversaries will use evidence of American hypocrisy as ammunition in their attacks on the U.S.-led liberal order. Finally, the decentralized international community that establishes the Internet’s technical standards will embrace stronger cryptography, which will make the NSA’s surveillance far more difficult and costly.

American hypocrisy has long remained unchallenged and deeply intertwined with U.S. foreign policy. This makes it nearly invisible to many members of the foreign policy elite, even ones as thoughtful as Cohen. One result is a good deal of inconsistency in the ways that U.S. officials have responded to the Manning and Snowden scandals, seeming to vacillate between denying that the leaks pose a major problem and harshly overreacting against those who have exposed the emperor’s nudity. Sooner or later, however, if the United States wants to remain able to convince others through the force of its legitimacy rather than just through threats or bribery, Washington must acknowledge the past importance of hypocrisy as well as its new limits.

{ 49 comments }

1

Straightwood 02.24.14 at 1:44 pm

I am inclined to agree with the criticism that the hypocrisy revelation is a non-issue. Realpolitik dominates international relations. 180-degree reversals of policy are not infrequent, and are accepted as diplomatic positions are adjusted to suit facts on the ground. Stalin made pacts with both Hitler and FDR. Was hypocrisy less evident then?

What is changing, albeit slowly, is the diminishing effectiveness of domestic propaganda in securing public support for military aggression. As the anti-terror hysteria ebbs in the USA, it will be increasingly difficult for the government to gin up support for military adventures. There are too many independent voices on the Internet to allow the old propaganda machinery to function well. Snowden is considered a hero by over half of the US population, despite a concerted and sustained attack by all the organs of US government and corporate propaganda.

2

Anarcissie 02.24.14 at 2:35 pm

@1 — Just thirty years after the end of the disastrous adventure in Vietnam, whose justifications were revealed to have been a pack of lies, George W. Bush and his fellow war criminals were able to sell another unnecessary war based on another pack of lies to much of the American public. There were a lot of supposedly intelligent people who actually believed government pronouncements and The New York Times, or who pretended to, like our leading presidential contender, whose prospects seem unaffected by Snowden and Manning. This is after 20 years of the people’s Internet.

3

Ronan(rf) 02.24.14 at 2:44 pm

“If Farrell and Finnemore believe, as they write, that “the U.S. government, its friends, and its foes can no longer plausibly deny the dark side of U.S. foreign policy” and that exposures of U.S. hypocrisy will transform international relations, they ought to present a clear case that U.S. foreign policy actually possesses a dark, hypocritical side.”

I think Cohen misses the boat here. The interesting question is why is it going to transform international relations, why is this moment so different. I still don’t fully get it from the original article, but to my mind Cohen would have been better off concentrating on that aspect, than a long, quite convoluted, at times contradictory, largely irrelavant defence of US hypocrisy. (which doesnt exist, apparently)

4

Crickets Chirpping 02.24.14 at 2:50 pm

Just hard to accept criticism about the US process, not the substance. Outrage in Brazil about this? Yes – but I would say along the same levels of the NY Times reported involved in the plane crash or the US pilot who flipped the bird to the immigration official. In both cases, Yanqui go home and a bunch of nationalist fervor can errupt with real, damaging consequences, but it has nothing to do with the NSA:

http://joesharkeyat.blogspot.com/2011/09/brazil-crash-epilogue.html

5

Straightwood 02.24.14 at 3:05 pm

@2

The trauma of 9/11 was sufficient to suppress the voices of reason and lead us into another quagmire, but the independent news and opinion sources on the net have grown steadily stronger since then. If state propaganda were a stock, I would be shorting it.

6

adam.smith 02.24.14 at 3:50 pm

I’m with Ronan(f) @3. Cohen clearly loses part 1 of the argument. The claim that the US’s foreign policy isn’t hypocritical is laughably weak. But I’m still entirely unconvinced that “this time is different”. Take this paragraph:

Hypocrisy is, in fact, a pervasive element of U.S. foreign policy. For decades, Washington has extolled human rights, free trade, democracy, and the rule of law while also supporting unsavory regimes and pursuing opportunistic trade policies. In recent years, the U.S. government has condemned other states for engaging in torture at the same time that its intelligence agencies were waterboarding detainees or shipping them off to be interrogated in countries whose security services are notorious for conducting torture. The Obama administration has reformed such policies but declined to prosecute the senior officials responsible for introducing them

None of these hypocrisies were exposed through Manning or Snowden. Iran-Contral, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions (etc. etc.)—these weren’t just known to a small cadre of academics and leftist activists, but dominated the news cycle for days or weeks. I haven’t looked systematically, but I’d assume more so than the Manning/Snowden leaks.
So when all of these have done very little to impact the US’s global hegemony, why should broader knowledge about the extent and nature of US surveillance do that? I don’t see it. Cohen’s best point is about the post Iraq invation situation, where the US’s international popularity was almost comically low (the otherwise quite pro-American Germany was just the tip of the iceberg), yet the impact on the US’s global hegemony was close to zilch.
Developments since the publication of the original piece are not helping Henry and Marty here. It seems like for the most part this has blown over. Merkel and Obama are good pals again and Roussef would probably be happy to come visit. Hollande already has.

7

politicalfootball 02.24.14 at 3:58 pm

Stalin made pacts with both Hitler and FDR. Was hypocrisy less evident then?

Stalin’s hypocrisy was in the Hitler pact itself, and not in the pact with FDR, which was the necessary result of Hitler’s doublecross.

While the obvious negative fallout from the Hitler pact wasn’t directly a result of hypocrisy, there was nonetheless significant fallout that was a result of that pact’s hypocrisy. It became a lot tougher in some circles to be pro-communist.

8

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 02.24.14 at 4:02 pm

Straightwood: I don’t think we’re winning, except in our own parts of the blogosphere.

It’s getting worse, and it’s bipartisan.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/11/a-grim-report-on-press-freedoms-under-obama/
~

9

Henry Farrell 02.24.14 at 5:46 pm

adam.smith – unacknowledged in our FA article (because word limits, and it’s not an academic article with a properly worked out causal claim) is what I think is our rump theory, which we will try to work out at greater length, which is about publics. The causal bet that I think we are making is that publics in some countries at least will be sufficiently sensitized by the Snowden revelations that they will restrain politicians from returning to business as usual, as they surely want to do (our argument is completely compatible with Merkel etc wanting to quiet things down again; indeed, I think that it predicts it). The interesting question is whether or not Merkel and some others find it impossible to work together with the US as they have in the past, and in particular whether this will have major implications for the forthcoming fights over data privacy between the EU and US. I think they will, but I think you could make a perfectly reasonable case that they won’t. On the broader workings of hypocrisy; my co-author Marty Finnemore has a great article in World Politics a few weeks back, which is the source of the key underlying insights that we try to develop in this and the previous piece.

10

adam.smith 02.24.14 at 7:33 pm

Thanks Henry.

Marty Finnemore has a great article in World Politics a few weeks back

you mean the 2009 piece (which does seem very relevant) or something more recent? Couldn’t find anything else, the January issue of WP is on trade&int’l agreements. If there is something more recent, link? (gated is fine)
I read the 2009 piece and that just leaves me more puzzled. Marty lists a number of examples of hypocrisy gone awry and how they have caused, shall we say, bruises in the legitimacy of US-created institutions. But in comparative terms, those bruises seem quite minor and not a major impediment to US unipolar power.

The interesting question is whether or not Merkel and some others find it impossible to work together with the US as they have in the past, and in particular whether this will have major implications for the forthcoming fights over data privacy between the EU and US.

I’m very skeptical that this will change the general nature of co-operation, same as the examples given in the 2009 Finnemore article haven’t, but let’s look at privacy specifically, where I think you have a much better chance of being right.
I’d be interested in an empirical strategy how you’re going to assess whether you are right.
I would argue that there was always going to be conflict about privacy between EU and US—the EU data privacy directive was on its way long before Snowden. It is also clear that civil society actors will bring up Snowden/NSA in the course of the debate. But how are you going to assess causality or establish the relevant counterfactual (or anything else useful to establish causality if you don’t like a counterfactual framework)? In other words, how do you tell whether the Snowden leaks make the confrontation about privacy significantly more acrimonious.

11

roy belmont 02.24.14 at 7:36 pm

This is after 20 years of the people’s Internet.
Well that’s the existence of the “people’s Internet”. Which exists no matter how many of us are using it.
The actual numbers – of those online and actively seeking info – aren’t available to me but I’m willing to assert that the demographic shift from easily propagandized MSM to the diffuse chaotic and uncentralizable-so-far net has been huge in the last ten years. Facebook to the nonce.
Rapid sophistication, not universal, but a big number of no-longer-gullible-to-that-particular-form-of-deceit.
It’s got its Babel overtones – the half-completed tower and a bunch of people who can’t understand each other wandering around dazed and uncertain what to do.
But it’s caused the thing(s) behind the curtain to have to publicly defy the public will, confident the little folks can’t do anything about it. That they’re divided and easily turned against each other through artificially amplified polarities. But there’s a pregnant silence from the social commons.
That’s really different than the substantial if tacit approval for something like the Viet Nam debacle. And post-traumatic support for the invasion of Iraq.
And the aftermath of the Iraq thing has broken the trust of government pretty thoroughly and completely, for lots of regular decent Americans.
It’s just that there’s no longer any centralizing locus, no leaders, no amplified unison chorus. No plan of resistance with clear duties and responsibilities, other than don’t buy the b.s.

12

Agog 02.24.14 at 8:27 pm

“. . . makes it nearly invisible . . .”

And your lance strikes squarely the dark shield of the opponent. Bravo!

13

geo 02.24.14 at 8:34 pm

For decades, Washington has extolled human rights, free trade, democracy, and the rule of law while also supporting unsavory regimes

Once again, I marvel and rejoice that you’ve managed to sneak uncouth sentiments like this into the house organ of the American foreign policy elite.

A parenthetical question. You probably see a good deal more of Foreign Affairs than I do. Is the appearance in that journal of fundamental moral criticisms like the above as rare as I assume it is? Can you remember any other articles in FA (not just responses or comments or letters) from as far or farther left than yours?

14

adam.smith 02.24.14 at 9:04 pm

Can you remember any other articles in FA (not just responses or comments or letters) from as far or farther left than yours?

FA had a very favorable review of Peter Kornbluh’s “The Pinochet File,” which demonstrates with great rigor and detail the degree to which the US in general and Kissinger in particular where implicated in the coup and purposefully looked away in its aftermath.
This caused quite a dust-up and IIRC ended up with the reviewer renouncing his post at the CFA amongst significant protest among historians and Latin Americanists. Wikipedia has a write-up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Maxwell there is also a NYT article and more.

15

LFC 02.24.14 at 9:56 pm

geo@13
I subscribe to FA. It runs critiques of US foreign policy from a pragmatic standpoint, but morally charged critiques — critiques whose basis is moral, as opposed to having the moral considerations tacked on at the end, as it were — are, I think, fairly unusual (though not nonexistent). Very often the only things I will really look at in FA are the full-length book reviews (or review-essays, as the journal calls them to distinguish them from the capsule reviews at the very back). These are often quite interesting and well done, and my sense is they’ve gotten better in the past few years, in terms of range of books and reviewers.

Btw, one quite annoying thing about FA is that if you take a year’s subscription (Jan. to Dec.) they will start dunning you, by mail, for renewal in May, or maybe even April. Perhaps other magazines do this too, but I find it a disgusting waste of paper. B/c I am not going to write the damn renewal check until Nov. or Dec. (and the subscription dept. can go f*ck itself as far as I’m concerned).

16

Straightwood 02.24.14 at 10:19 pm

@13

Omnipotent hegemon is no longer the American ideal of the Very Serious People, and FA reflects the shifting consensus. It remains to be seen if this indicates a permanent gain of sanity or just a rest break for the neo-imperial dragon before the next onslaught. The next war criminal in the White House will have a harder time selling mass destruction than W, largely because the Internet is eroding the propaganda power of broadcast media.

17

Bruce Wilder 02.24.14 at 11:15 pm

Henry Farrell @ 9

The most active channels of public reaction so far, seem to be commercial.

I just got an email from Dropbox, notifying me of changes to their terms of service, featuring prominent, this:
Dropbox’s Government Data Requests Principles
https://www.dropbox.com/transparency/principles

This kind of commercial reaction could become a very powerful political constraint in short order.

18

LFC 02.24.14 at 11:22 pm

Omnipotent hegemon is no longer the American ideal of the Very Serious People, and FA reflects the shifting consensus.

The range of debate in FA on U.S. ‘grand strategy’ is probably well represented by the exchange, not too long ago (I forget the date), between Barry Posen on one hand, who calls for pulling back from the US global footprint of bases, drones etc and concentrating on securing sea lanes etc, versus the liberal-internationalist J. Ikenberry et al, who think that U.S. ‘leadership’ is needed to sustain and improve the ‘liberal’ world order, or something like that. (Not that I actually read the exchange closely, but those are roughly the positions.)

Interestingly, Mearsheimer, whose work generally appears elsewhere than FA (though I think he may be on FA’s board), has been writing stuff in which he criticizes the current posture of US for. pol. (incl. NSA surveillance etc) b.c, among other things, it tends to undermine democracy domestically. Yes, the arch-’offensive realist’ making an argument that you could doubtless find, albeit stated somewhat differently, in geo’s favorite, namely Chomsky. How about that.

19

shah8 02.25.14 at 12:21 am

You know, I can think of a lot of data dumps from the ’50s or so through to the early ’70s that have engendered some profound restraints on geopolitical action. I’m inclined to think that the perception that hypocrisy doesn’t matter is held by people who believe that the US as a unipolar state cannot be held to account.

I think hypocrisy is a reflection that actions are more expensive than they used to be, are known for being more expensive than they used to be (after all, Vietnam used drafted people and Iraq has volunteers, will all that implies), and hypocrisy is used to ply consent from other elite factions, the public (for where political perceptions hold purse-strings) for stupid ideas that ought to be known as stupid ideas that no one should ever try. Including incurring a reputational hit for double-dealing. After all, the primary impact of the surveillance scandal is just how much of it is industrial espionage, and that is what has the genuine fury, rather than peeping on Jane Schmo. This is what feeding the breakup of the global internet, and bringing about local crippled intranets, for example.

20

Oxbird 02.25.14 at 1:08 am

I am with Cohen on this one because I believe your response misreads his argument. I do not believe Cohen is seriously arguing that the US is not, or never, hypocritical. Indeed, he cites US actions such as torture that are obviously inconsistent with our professed principles. Rather he is arguing — really predicting — that the increased awareness of US hypocrisy that you correctly note is not likely to have much of an impact. You concede that US hypocrisy in many instances has been well known before Snowden et al, particularly to other governments and that other governments are generally not a model in this regard. You noted in a response to an earlier comment that: “The causal bet that I think we are making is that publics in some countries at least will be sufficiently sensitized by the Snowden revelations that they will restrain politicians from returning to business as usual, as they surely want to do . . .” Maybe, but I expect not very likely. In which countries are publics not consistently demonstrating their ability to readily accept hypocrisy by their own governments? Certainly not Germany or Brazil. The UK? The US? Indeed, trying not to be overly cynical, I would note that the veneer of basic civilization is very thin and that a strong ability to accept hypocrisy in government policies and actions may be part of our DNA.

21

Ronan(rf) 02.25.14 at 1:26 am

Oxbird – no, he spends the first half of the comment arguing that the US doesnt behave hypocritically, admittedly in a slightly mealy mouthed way by concentrating on the leaks:

“The Manning and Snowden leaks do shed light on U.S. foreign policy, sometimes in an unflattering way. But they certainly do not prove that Washington acts hypocritically. Indeed, the most compelling revelation from Manning’s leaks is the remarkable consistency between what the United States says in private and does in public .. Snowden’s leaks do pose a number of dilemmas for U.S. policymakers, but they don’t really expose American duplicity.”

Even if you grant that the leaks (specifically) don’t document US hypocricy (which I understand to be wrong, but none the less) Cohen’s argument is clearly extended to a general claim ( devoted to half the response) that the US does not behave hyprocritically in any meaningful way.

How else can this line be understood:

“If Farrell and Finnemore believe, as they write, that “the U.S. government, its friends, and its foes can no longer plausibly deny the dark side of U.S. foreign policy” and that exposures of U.S. hypocrisy will transform international relations, they ought to present a clear case that U.S. foreign policy actually possesses a dark, hypocritical side”

He then adds this caveat:

“Still, even if one grants Farrell and Finnemore the benefit of the doubt, or concedes that even false accusations of American hypocrisy are harmful”

And goes on to list moments when the US has “possesses a dark, hypocritical side.” It’s very convoluted and incoherent, afaict.

22

Oxbird 02.25.14 at 1:56 am

RF: I can accept your points for purposes of argument but I do not believe that changes my basic argument. Like many, he wants it both ways and your reference to “a mealy mouthed way” captures it nicely. But he is hardly arguing that US actions have been entirely consistent with our highest principles. The question is: Will what has happened make a difference? Henry is apparently counting on public reactions in other countries to cause that difference. Cohen doubts there will be much consequence. So do I. Which of course does not mean I am pleased with that assessment.

23

Ronan(rf) 02.25.14 at 2:07 am

I agree with you and Cohen, with the caveat that I’m open to change my mind when the research mentioned above comes out. I just dont think Cohen made the counter argument well. I mean the first part makes no sense to me, and the second could have been done by someone with a passing interest in current affairs.

24

Henry 02.25.14 at 2:13 am

adam.smith – on the EU-US privacy stuff at least, I think that there probably would have been no very big brouhaha had it not been for the Snowden revelations. Abe Newman and I have two of three empirical chapters written for a book on the development of EU-US privacy through the SWIFT and PNR disputes, where we think we have very good evidence that all the privacy stuff was kicked into the long grass, thanks to alliances between security actors on both sides of the Atlantic. There is some lovely stuff available via Wikileaks on this. With respect to the emerging disagreements over data, the US had the fix in, thanks to Cameron Kerry’s representations, with a clause immunizing businesses who cooperated with the US for security purposes from EU enforcement actions. That clause was deleted thanks to the controversy, and while it is not impossible that it will be snuck back in (the UK is trying to delay the forthcoming Directive as long as possible in the hope that the public furore will die down), it is going to be a much tougher climb than it had been.

George – we got no pushback from the editors at FA . My sense is that while the new editorial team are very far from being a bunch of flaming leftists, they are interested in provoking more lively and wide ranging debate than some of their predecessors have been. They are actively encouraging people with sharp and focused ideas for pieces to submit them, and as best as I can tell would like a much broader spectrum of views than in the past.

25

LFC 02.25.14 at 2:43 am

“new editorial team”?

Hasn’t Gideon Rose been the editor for at least 5 or 6 years or something like that, if not a good deal longer? I guess ‘new’ is a relative term.

26

LFC 02.25.14 at 2:45 am

Or I could just look it up, couldn’t I.
(I am very lazy.)

27

LFC 02.25.14 at 3:11 am

Just looked at masthead of Jan-Feb issue. There do appear to be some newish names on the editorial staff.
And I was wrong, Mearsheimer is not on the Board of Advisers, though I think he was in the past.

28

Norbert Hornstein 02.25.14 at 3:26 am

The Cohen piece is directed at what governments might or might not do. The hypocrisy issue, however, concerns not the effect it will have on governments, but on ordinary citizens. The USA is loosing its privileged status as the country to emulate. The wars and the banking scandals were bad enough. But what manning and snowdon made clear is that the whole thing is rotten through and through. It doesn’t take much to see that our government lies to us and everyone else all the time. This is now starkly revealed and this is what’s corrosive. Politicians act for reasons of state. Citizens are in part motivated by values. These leaks reveal that all the values talk is BS, and this is not good for the powers that be. And this seems to be the point Cohen is missing for really he does not think that ordinary people count much. Here he is wrong.

29

Marcos 02.25.14 at 4:18 am

30

Peter T 02.25.14 at 4:22 am

As in the “borders are becoming more stable” post, I think one element that’s missing here is a sense of the time over which this sort of thing plays out. I don’t think that the Wikileaks/Snowden disclosures will have much immediate effect, and I doubt that public opinion will, in the medium term, have much influence. But they do add to the steady erosion of US soft power, and this erosion is in turn further fed by the decline of US hard power. The US is projecting cuts to Army numbers which would take it back to pre-World War II numbers. In other words, another Iraq would be very difficult, and Iran is off the table (for the avoidance of doubt, I think myself this is a very good thing). By contrast, in the late 60s the US had the forces to deal with two medium wars and one major one at the same time.

Wikileaks did not add much new. But Snowden did show that US agencies were unilaterally ignoring the web of agreements that govern intelligence gathering and sharing. This pisses off a wide range of officialdom, and so makes it difficult to maintain current arrangements in the face of pressure for greater privacy. It could also spill over into attitudes to cooperation on IP protection, and lend a bit more emphasis to moving away from centring financial transactions in New York. This will not show up next week or next year, but I would not be surprised if US ability to collect on IP and transaction fees weakens over the next decade or so, as does the ability to impose sanctions on other states. But a lot of this will show up in what the US does not do, so will be a bit hard to spot.

31

Marcos 02.25.14 at 4:24 am

@29 my link does not seem to be working,
Here it is again
http://crookedtimber.org/2014/02/12/third-time-lucky-for-eu-and-internet-governance/

32

LFC 02.25.14 at 4:51 am

@Peter T: I’ve replied to your comments on the borders/stability issue at my blog, as I did not want to prolong further that thread here.

33

Pat 02.25.14 at 8:31 am

I don’t think I’m being too chary in summarizing Michael Cohen’s position as, roughly, (i) the United States is not hypocritical for mass surveillance it officially denied and sometimes criticized other nations for, (ii) it’s really other countries that are guilty of hypocrisy, and (iii) hypocrisy by the United States is actually a good thing. I’m reminded of the joke about the lawyer who borrowed a neighbor’s gardening tools and, when the neighbor complained they were returned broken, answered, “They were broken when I borrowed them; I returned them in perfect condition; and, besides, I never borrowed your tools.” In the context of lawyer jokes, it actually makes sense, as in the American system, all legal defenses have to be raised in pleadings if they are to be preserved for later proceedings, even if some defenses are inconsistent with each other. Here it just makes it hard to tell what larger argument Cohen’s assertions build toward, if indeed they do anything other than attempt to punch as many holes in Farrell-Finnemore as possible.

It’s also hard to take certain of these hole-punches seriously. Cohen states “Snowden’s leaks … don’t really expose American duplicity.” But surely he’s aware of Director Clapper’s statement to Congress about mass surveillance that was flatly contradicted by the Snowden leaks. Chancellor Merkel’s phone-tapping certainly came as a surprise to European officials who assumed such a step would be off-limits; while I don’t know of any specific communications, say, from Obama to Merkel herself about ihre Handy prior to the revelation, it would be reasonable to assume at least customary assurances to that effect had been made at some level.

Furthermore, it’s hard not to react with disbelief to Cohen’s conclusion there’s been no “wholesale change in the transatlantic alliance or to global bandwagoning against Washington.” Certainly the Europeans are rethinking accepting American hegemony over Internet standards. Cohen points to Germany remaining a part of NATO, China within the WTO, Brazil in economic trade with the United States, each as evidence American power has not been dimmed.

I think it’s fair to label these objections true but trivial. The liberal critique of American foreign policy is often put in terms of “soft power,” and as Farrell and Finnemore note, this sort of power is diminished by Obama-era surveillance revelations in the same way (if not to the same degree) that it was undermined by Bush-era militarism and unilateralism. The problem with this debate, I think, is whether one believes in and values soft power. Farrell and Finnemore, clearly, do; Cohen, I suspect, does not. Across that analytic gap, a meaningful conversation may not be possible.

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Pat 02.25.14 at 8:38 am

… grr, that sentence should have read, “The problem with this debate, I think, is that one’s conclusions are entirely disposed by whether one believes in and values soft power.”

35

Straightwood 02.25.14 at 2:19 pm

One straw that should be added to the NSA bundle on the American camel’s back is the damaging drop in international sales of US computer and communications equipment. Both IBM and Cisco suffered a significant loss of business in Asia after the Snowden revelations. This is setting up a conflict between the US high-tech sector and the Military-Industrial complex. Even if the complaints of citizens are ignored, the NSA may be reined in by business lobbyists.

Deep state conspiracy theories have always assumed a close collaboration between the mega-corporations and the national security apparatus. But if the NatSec people have free access to corporate information, the business sector will be at their mercy. Thus the reckless technology exploitation of the NSA may ultimately destabilize the deep state alliance, a desirable outcome for advocates of democracy.

36

Oxbird 02.25.14 at 3:02 pm

Marcos@29:
I liked the piece you cite when it was posted and it is an analysis that suggests some impact. But a “clear signal?” I am skeptical. The issue of control of the internet infrastructure has been around for some time. Whether a meaningful improvement that will lead to greater integrity and less inappropriate government controls and interventions can be negotiated remains to be seen. At the moment, putting aside (not defending) US actions, what type of agreement that would be a real improvement is likely over what time frame? And, with whom? China? Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey?

37

Patrick 02.25.14 at 3:44 pm

Sorry not to be commenting on this particular piece, but I did not see a better place to send feedback: The RSS feed is broken for this blog. I would love to get it in my reader!

38

Anarcissie 02.25.14 at 3:49 pm

@5, @11 , etc. — I hope you all are right about the Internet limiting the ability of the government and other ruling-class types to lie. Thus far I have not noticed much actual effect, but these are the early days. For those who desire to maintain and increase power over others, lying and secrecy are necessary, because (valid) knowledge is power and if it is widely distributed their project will be impeded. Therefore, I expect considerable efforts to be made to bring the Internet under centralized control in one way or another. The fate of the pre-Internet print media may be instructive in this regard. Although radio and television were subjected to direct censorship, in theory anyone could own and run a printing press. Yet the channels of public communication were dominated by ruling-class propaganda outlets like the New York Times, Time and the other large news magazines, major book publishers, official academic and religious institutions, and the like. Some of you will be old enough to remember when getting effective publication could be a serious problem for the unanointed. How this was accomplished in the absence (mostly) of direct force (in the U.S., anyway) is an interesting story. It may be that, for technical reasons, the Internet will not be susceptible to similar methods. In that case we ought to eventually observe a noticeable weakening of central authority and power.

39

Shelley 02.25.14 at 4:02 pm

Off the foreign affairs slant, but on the topic of hypocrisy, VIDA has just released their “Dudeville” list of major magazines (including several liberal ones) that have way more male than female reviewers, and review way more male than female books.

40

Straightwood 02.25.14 at 5:19 pm

@38

The Internet allows large volumes of sensitive information to be encrypted and copied to multiple locations all over the world in a matter of minutes. This is what Snowden did. The problem for state actors is that there is a global interest in the truth, outside the jurisdiction of individual states, while deception has only local interests and powers.

41

roy belmont 02.25.14 at 7:17 pm

The problem for state actors is that there is a global interest in the truth

While not as endearing as truly childlike unknowing, an intentional naivete is still pretty innocent, and deserves more than outright scornful dismissal.
Otoh…
This vision of whatever it is that’s being seen, in that statement, as impacted by Snowden, has a childish quality of “big ugly stupid bad thing”.
It is big, and it is ugly, and it is bad, but it is most definitely not stupid.
So…let’s see. You’re completely eliding the time lapse after C. Manning’s much darker reveal. That what was hit it hard. Even probably surprised it.
It had a while to recover from the blow.
And yet…it did nothing, aside from throwing Chelsea Manning into a prison cell, just stared at its sadly corrupted little screens while Snowden’s “secret” data drifted away into the virtual atmospheric jet stream. Somewhere.
Not into the public datascape though.
And then…it started crying, in its own ugly stupid way, and it stamped its giant stupid foot and demanded Snowden’s head on a pike, for treason.
And there we are.
Right.
It must be occurring somewhere to someone else that in that cartoonish scenario that thing would be smart enough to recognize its vulnerability to the truth, and it would take steps to manage the truth. Shock!
Something that’s afraid of the truth, and desperate to prolong its survival, will attack the truth! And truthtellers! Awe!
By…ooh let’s see, maybe it would try to, you know, get in there and control it, own it, deliver it?
That it might be, in the words of one of its minor priests some few years back “creating reality”, while you’re running after it yelling muttering whining talking about what it’s done. Already.
That “state actors” might be now the equivalent of real actual actors on an elaborate stage set, and the realer activities happening somewhere in the obscure unlit wings…nah.
It’s way more comfortable to think that Snowden really nailed their asses, and now the poor things just don’t know what to do.
Except wreck all kinds of peoples’ lives in all kinds of places, mostly places where there’s serious energy resources and channels of delivery of those resources.
Afganistan’s inexplicable without opium as resource aaaand it’s right next door to China’s easiest access to the sea for its virtual monopoly on rare earth minerals, in the landlocked areas due north of Pakistan.
Ukraine is artery and vein for Russian oil. In addition to all its significant boundary and language issues.
There’s a vital difference between hypocrisy and outright deception.
Hypocrisy in the functionaries and spokespersons, yes, but their masters aren’t being hypocritical, they’re being straight-up lying sacks of shit.

42

Collin Street 02.25.14 at 8:16 pm

… grr, that sentence should have read, “The problem with this debate, I think, is that one’s conclusions are entirely disposed by whether one believes in and values soft power.”

If one doesn’t believe in or value soft power then one has severe mental/cognitive health issues and shouldn’t be working in a position of responsibility over others.

I mean, let’s be blunt here. Yes, people can in good faith disagree that having people generally assume that your actions are reasonably likely to lead to collective benefit will reduce opposition to your actions, but they can’t disagree in reasonable good faith: the position is stupid or insane, and so are those who hold it.

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Straightwood 02.25.14 at 9:05 pm

@41

There is ample evidence of stupidity, particularly at the NSA, an agency that still doesn’t know what information Snowden took from it. Further stupidity is evident in Clapper’s lying to Congress, then clumsily attempting to cover his tracks. But perhaps the greatest stupidity is to attempt to capture covertly all electronic communications in the world without expecting any adverse political consequences.

44

Michael Cohen 02.25.14 at 9:08 pm

“Cohen’s argument is clearly extended to a general claim ( devoted to half the response) that the US does not behave hyprocritically in any meaningful way.”

Just to clarify, that’s certainly not my argument. Indeed, as one person has noted here I list several examples of US hypocrisy during the Iraq War and the GWOT – and do so to point out that the long-term impact of this hypocrisy was not terribly severe.

I certainly believe that the US, like all countries, acts hypocritically – though I do think the US does it less than most. My response to Henry and Marty was more narrowly directed – namely that the central argument of their article about the evident hypocrisy in the Manning and Snowden leaks is overstated or at the very least unproven. If anything one of the fascinating elements of the Manning leaks is the opposite of their argument – that the gap between the public statements of US officials and the private actions of US diplomats is remarkably narrow.

45

roy belmont 02.25.14 at 10:06 pm

43-
Adverse? Consequences? Such as?
Besides the tarnished reputations of hypocritical if not delusional flak-catching sock puppets. Are you suggesting that some kind of electoral adjustment is on the way?

Maybe you weren’t there but I lived through a brightly illuminated nightmare of relatively intelligent sensible people deriding GWBush as a stupid fool, mistaken in almost everything he said and did, laughably claiming “Mission Accomplished” in his phony flight suit, and on and on. Including that wonderful “on the internets”. Hah-ha. Like the whole thing was just a grotesque and absurd mistake.
And yet there were “internets” really truly all along, and anyone who isn’t afraid of the truth can see the intentional devastation of Iraq now for what it was, truly an accomplished mission.
And the policies of that “mistaken” administration have been carried forward, furthered, elaborated virtually seamlessly, except for some cosmetic partisan differences, by the present one.
Obama was presented as the anti-Bush, smart where GWB was “stupid”.
And the voting country, enough of them, bought it hook line and sinker.
How’d that work out?

What Snowden has revealed so far is only the useless fact that a monolithic unconscionable bureaucracy with no visible allegiance to or alignment with anything like responsible oversight, let alone moral governance, is snooping everything and everybody.
To a population in the US that virtually half of already believe they’re being watched full-time 24/7 by the ultimate Arbiter of Moral Behavior. So they’re not that concerned.
Whereas those of us who value freedom and privacy are being consistently informed by these “leaks” that we have no freedom and privacy, haven’t had for some time, and that we’re virtually powerless to do anything about it.
Except catalog the details.
La-di-effing-da.

46

Straightwood 02.25.14 at 10:22 pm

@44

Largely a correct assessment, except for the fact that the powerful overreach, and this brings their downfall. Bush is now a political pariah, and Cheney and Rumsfeld are thoroughly discredited. If our wicked political masters preserved their cunning throughout their tenure in office, we would truly live in an Orwellian nightmare, but they fall from power when they come to believe their own omnipotence. The NSA’s digital wings will be clipped, either by the corporations or by ambitious politicians – not because good policy prevails, but because arrogant men have overreached.

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roy belmont 02.25.14 at 10:42 pm

Straightwood-
It may sound like I’m dissing you personally or disagreeing with your fundamental stance, but I’m not.
I’m just really pissed off about what I’m seeing, and the voluminous sludge in the way of even marginal consensus on what to do.

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David (Kid Geezer). 02.26.14 at 5:40 am

There is a good deal of difference between hypocrisy being well known and the fact confirmed. Cohen is really only left with arguing that everyone does it.

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Query 02.26.14 at 9:21 am

“America: the international Jekyll and Hyde” — Gil Scott-Heron

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