How the unthinkable became the thinkable

Sometimes I say things that seem obvious and uncontroversial to me and am then surprised by the strong opposition they arouse. One such statement was in yesterday’s post where I strongly defended Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and added that president Obama “has not (as least as yet) tried to kidnap Snowden or kill him with a Navy Seal operation or a drone strike but you can bet that it is among the possibilities that are being considered.” This aroused some strong reactions both in the comments and privately and I thought I would try and understand why this might be so.

The negative reactions stemmed from two sources and I will take them in order.

One was that if we let each and every person decide for themselves what government secrets to reveal, we would have chaos. (An undercurrent of such comments is that Snowden is too young and low-level and poorly educated and low class to make such decisions. I have responded to such arguments before and will not repeat them here.)

But the more substantive point was raised in a thoughtful email that I received that said:

“You can support Snowden or not – I don’t think that’s the point – but you can’t give people a pass for doing what they think is right and in the public interest. Many horrible and wrong headed things are done for those reasons every day. It’s not up to the person performing that action to decide. The men who bombed the Boston Marathon took enormous personal risk to do what they thought was right and in the public interest.”

Two points are being conflated here. One is the right to decide to be whistleblower. The second is whether the action they took is right or wrong. When it comes to the first, who else but the whistleblower can make that judgment? Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, and William Binney all saw government wrongdoing and that their superiors were not taking any action on their concerns, so they took unilateral action. Snowden knew what happened to those earlier whistleblowers, how their concerns were ignored and how they became the target of government persecution. What would you expect a person of conscience to do if they saw massive wrongdoing? And if those people had no right to make such a judgment, would you also say that Daniel Ellsberg was wrong in deciding to release the Pentagon Papers?

The second question of whether they were justified in whistleblowing is something we, not they, judge based on what they revealed, not on whether they thought it right or not. This is true for Ellsberg and the rest. And what Snowden revealed showed that he was perfectly justified and is to be commended and supported. Similarly, we condemn the Boston bombers based on what they did, not on whether they thought it right or not. The whistleblowers get to decide if the information they possess is worth making public but we get to judge if they were right to do so or not.

The second negative reaction stemmed from what was felt to be my evidence-free assertion that Obama and his national security team had considered killing Snowden, even using a drone strike as one of the options. I thought it was an obvious inference considering the facts.

If Obama had never ordered such strikes in the past, then the accusation would be unmerited. But he has done so multiple times, and furthermore is not at all apologetic about it but has claimed that he has every right to do so. The only line Obama has not crossed (at least as far as we know) is to order the killing of an American on American soil. But that seems increasingly like a tenuous hurdle to be easily overcome as soon as the next ghastly atrocity comes along to provide a justification for doing so. I am not saying that I know for a fact that he has considered killing Snowden because I cannot eavesdrop on his conversations the way he can eavesdrop on mine. But I am surprised that people think it is unthinkable. Given the facts, why should we assume that he has not considered it in this case? What makes the targeting of Snowden so different from the other cases?

Is the discomfort at this idea due to the fact that ordering the killing of Snowden would be crossing a more disturbing, yet unspoken, line? Up to now, the murdered people have all been Muslims with foreign-sounding names, who have become the disposable ‘evil other’. This enables all non-Muslims to feel that they are safe from such attacks. But Snowden looks like an everyman, the quiet guy who works in tech support or is your neighbor. The idea that he could be ordered to be killed undoubtedly would make many more people uncomfortable because then it will strike them that no one is safe.

As it stands, according to the precedents set and justifications given by Obama, he has the right to order my death with a Hellfire missile strike the next time I go to Sri Lanka. Am I worried about that happening? No. But the only reason that I feel that way is because I know that I am not important enough to be killed, not because I have any assurance that the government honors my constitutional protections and feels it has no right to kill me. The latter illusion has long ago been shattered. I escape thanks to the indulgence of the government, not because I have the right to be free from summary execution. And indeed that is the whole point of such government-induced fear, to tell people that they had better keep their heads down, keep a low profile, don’t make waves, be good docile citizens, placing their trust in an all-powerful state apparatus.

But Snowden no longer has that luxury. He has challenged the government and he must be made to suffer and become a spectacle of in order to deter anyone else who may seek to emulate him. And what greater deterrence is there than death at an early age?

We already have evidence that Snowden is important enough that the US has pulled out all the stops in getting other governments to collude in capturing him. The steps range from revoking his passport and pressuring countries not to grant him asylum to forcing down the Bolivian president’s plane in an action that John Pilger describes as an act of air piracy. My one concern about Snowden going to Venezuela or Nicaragua is that it will be easier to kill him there with plausible deniability than in Russia because they are weaker countries whose rights can be more easily ignored.

I wonder also if the US government will threaten to torture Snowden’s girl friend or parents to force him to come back. Before readers get outraged at what seems like (and is) an abominable idea, recall that George W. Bush’s legal advisor John Yoo said that the president has the legal right to even crush the testicles of a suspected terrorist’s children in order to get them to cooperate, and Obama has effectively given immunity to everyone who was involved in the torture and rendition programs by refusing to take any action against torturers and their enablers. So we have to assume that Obama does not think that such actions are an abomination but are part of the tools at his disposal to achieve his ends.

So before people get outraged at the possibilities that I have listed, what I would like them to consider is this: Given the precedents set by president Obama and his predecessors and the known facts of what they have done and think is perfectly justified, why exactly does the assassination of Snowden seem unthinkable?


  1. slc1 says

    The notion that Obama is insane enough to order a drone strike or kidnapping of Snowden while he is in Russia is, itself, insane. Such an act might well set off WW 3. Neither Obama or any other US president is that nuts. As a matter of fact, he may be in a good position to blackmail the US government as he has secreted the contents of his encrypted laptop computers in multiple locations. He can tell Obama that, in the event of his demise, those contents would be released to the international press. I suspect that the information contained therein is a lot more valuable then Snowden is.

  2. MNb says

    As a cynical Dutchman I never thought it unthinkable that some US government would kill Snowden or some other “internal enemy”, “member of the fifth colonne” or whatever. Still I think Snowden is safe for a simple reason: the American people are not ready for it yet.
    It’s time for a Godwin. Remember: even after the “Machtsübernahme” the NSDAP failed to get an absolute majority in the elections of March 1933. Not to diminish the responsibility of the German people, but you can’t conclude that they in majority supported the Holocaust.
    So how did the Nazi’s do it? Via the stepping stone method; gradual implementation. That’s exactly what the American governments (btw also their Dutch counterparts) have been doing last 12 years. The public gets used to it; then the government can take the next step.
    Be assured, it won’t stop. And it won’t matter for this who wins the elections, the Democrats or the Republicans. It will only stop if the public comes aware of this poem:

    It can take a long time.

  3. Jeffrey Johnson says

    It is very logical to make the deduction that if the US killed an American, Anwar Al-Awlaki, then the US might also kill another American, Edward Snowden.

    Logical yes, but extremely oversimplistic. You have to reduce Snowden and Al Awlaki down to a simplified common category, that they are both Americans, and consider no other differences. And the important difference here is not skin color and a foreign sounding name. Nor is it religion.

    The important difference is that Awlaki allied himself with Al Qaeda, an organization that the United States had effectively been at war with since they attacked us on 9/11. Snowden does not make videos advocating the killing of any Americans at any time in any place as an act of devotion to God. No terrorist murderer (Hassan, Ft. Hood shooter) or would be bombers (underwear bomber, Times Square Bomber) have said that they acted on inspiration from Snowden. Snowden has not participated in planning and resourcing of bombing attacks on the US (Fed Ex printer cartridge bombs, though these failed). There is no evidence that Snowden is actively involved in trying to aid or enable or plan or participate in any future lethal attacks against Americans.

    There was good reason to view Anwar Al Awlaki as a direct threat to the lives of Americans in the future. There is no such reason to view Edward Snowden as this kind of threat. For this reason I’m not in the least bit worried that the US government is planning to kill Snowden.

    Evidently you have reached the point where you view President Obama as some kind of irrational, wildly dangerous, unpredictable enemy. I’m not at that point. I still view him as someone who is a good man who cares a great deal about protecting America and Americans, and that is the motive of his actions. I can question many of his decisions, but the idea that he would simply start attacking and killing any American that displeases him for any reason seems entirely implausible to me. I have seen no evidence of such a danger. It seems like either a misplaced and excessive fear, or else it seems like a disingenuous suggestion motivated by rage and anger rather than clear thinking.

    Now I happen to disagree with the aggressive whistleblower prosecution and persecution that the Obama administration has carried out. It makes me angry too when Assange is treated as a terrorist, or Manning is imprisoned without due process, or that the President won’t just stand up and admit that what Snowden revealed ought to have been shared with the American public already through government transparency. Government secrecy is not supposed to protect the government from Americans, from political embarrassment or from the inconvenience of having to explain themselves to the public. This is a dangerous and un-American abuse of secrecy, and Snowden informed the public of what they should already have known. Why should the public know what Snowden revealed? Because that kind of public knowledge about what their government is doing is the heart and soul of what the First Amendment is about. It is the heart and soul of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This kind of secrecy takes away from the public what the First Amendment was intended to give them: the ability to question, scrutinize, and register complaint against government misdeeds or abuse of power. It is a mistake to think of the First Amendment in terms of personal freedom. That is a dilution of its real intent. The intent is that information be available to every citizen, that it can spread from citizen to citizen, that citizens can act on their discontent by publicly raising protest. The intent is to enable citizens to check government power.

    Peronally I’m not pissed off about the actual gathering of data. I’m pissed off about the secrecy. What scares me is not that my data may be sitting on a computer somewhere (google and verizon and facebook already have it). What scares me is that someone might abuse the fact that my data is there, and the secrecy and lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the government makes that even more likely. To me the issue is not the data gathering, it is the secrecy and government accountabity. I would happily share with the government what I’m up to if the government allows us to know what they are up to, and if I have the ability to discover abuse of my data, and the recourse of a legal challenge in such an event. But I will not tolerate the assymetry of unchecked government power, and no American should.

    But I keep my anger focused on these issues. What I see that Snowden has revealed is bureaucratic creep resulting from a zealousness to make sure no 9/11 is repeated. I don’t see an evil Big Brother taking away our freedom. It is a convenience to doing their job when they can skip the rigor of full transparency and accountability. Even if the government is gathering this data out of good will to protect innocent lives, we can’t trust in good will forever. There must be real accountability. It’s similar to Wall Street whining about regulations. We know that such regulation, such transparency and accountability, are needed to check human weakness from taking things too far. So we should take notice in Snowden’s revelations, and we should intelligently decide on what the meaning of these revelations are. I don’t see the meaning as being that we have to fight to protect our personal on-line data from being gathered. I see the meaning as being that we have to fight to restore honesty, accountability, and transparency to government so that when and how such data is used, is audited, monitored, and checked by adequate procedures to ensure it is only done to accomplish the protection of the public from terrorist violence and crime.

    To me it seems silly to think that the government is suddenly a terrible threat to the public because of Snowden’s revelations. They have already possessed the most lethal military power as far back as I can remember, so Snowden’s revelations don’t suddenly make the government more dangerous than they have ever been. They have been caught improperly spying on Americans in the past, and there have been legal changes put into place to stop it. We don’t need to become paranoid and to overreact. Trying to entirely shut down the government’s ability to constructively use one the most powerful counter-terrorism weapons available to them by cutting off the data gathering so that individual demands of total privacy on the net can be placated is misguided. What we need to do is exercise democratic processes to pass laws to put assurances in place that no individual in the government can on their own discretion access individual data. We shouldn’t be forced to just trust the government; we should be able to trust but verify. Computer technology is quite capable of such access control and the auditing of attempted violations. Individual data must only be accessible when evidence merits it, and multiple parties are involved in reviewing and approving and documenting the instances of such access. It should be a severe crime for a government employee or contractor to access such data without proper approvals, and without properly documenting it in records available for future legal defenses. In the case of a person who is discovered, suspected, surveilled, and charged with a crime based on such gathered data, they and their attorney should have access to a full report of every single usage of their personal data, who accessed it when and how and under what legal justification. No evidence should be admissible without such transparency requirements being fulfilled. I’m sure there are many more details to what proper legal protection for citizens would be, but the point is that we should focus on such protections, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater by killing an invaluable counter-terrorism tool that, had it been in place prior to 2001, would have had a chance of stopping the 9/11 attacks.

  4. CaitieCat says

    Seriously. Here in Canada, I cannot but watch The Sound of Music and wait. Been saying that since somewhere in 2002, or after the PATRIOT Act, whenever that was.

    In fact, I read a fringey little conspiracy theory that says that while 9/11 was an inside job, it wasn’t by anything as ridiculously complex as planting explosives in two well-trafficked office buildings: it was in grooming OBL to do the attack in the first place, so as to have a Reichstag Fire of their own. However, I still believe that the likelihood of the same government which runs my local driving licence office managing to pull off such a move in such perfect secrecy with the involvement of elected politicians (who are not, always, let us say, from the top of the barrel in the critical thinking milieu) is…insubstantial, at best.

  5. CaitieCat says

    I should clarify – when I suggest Anschluss as a part of the long-term plan, I do mean long-term; I haven’t been insisting that it’s coming this year, just you wait, oh, conditions aren’t right, no, next year for sure.

    My point comes from resources, of which Canada has a great deal (water and increasingly-livable land, on top of many other materials valuable to an Empire fighting decline). As the global climate change continues, Canada will be looking more and more to the US like the companion always does in cartoons where people are stranded: a well-cooked leg-of-something. We have an enormous access to fresh and generally clean water, lumber, oil/gas, strategic minerals like uranium, and bags of other stuff. We have a very sparsely-populated country that is unimaginably enormous to most people – three times the size of India in toto, maybe twice the size in soon-habitable land (especially with the subcontinent becoming less so under the same strains) with about 1/40th the population.

    Very hard to imagine the US not finding some sort of Manifest Destiny about the drive to the new north coast, sometime in the next – well, say forty years? Fifty? Within my possible lifetime, given the longevity of my various gene sources.

  6. says

    The important difference is that Awlaki allied himself with Al Qaeda, an organization that the United States had effectively been at war with since they attacked us on 9/11.

    BZZZZT!!!!! Sorry, mate, but criminal gang =/= army. You might as well say we’re at war with the Mafia. This is, incidentally, why our military response to the problem has been so massively ineffective.

  7. ollie says

    Very well said.

    Mano strikes me as someone whose null hypothesis is that “our government/Obama” is inherently evil, deranged, etc. when it should be the alternative hypothesis.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Well put, MNb. We are all boiling frogs now*.

    The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

    *The premise is almost certainly nonsense, but still a useful metaphor from long usage.

  9. Mano Singham says

    Jeffrey Johnson said:

    Evidently you have reached the point where you view President Obama as some kind of irrational, wildly dangerous, unpredictable enemy.

    Actually, no. I view Obama as coldly rational and predictable. As David Halberstam wrote in his book The Best and the Brightest, it was the coldly calculating ‘smart’ people who got the US mired in Vietnam. Because Obama is not ‘irrational and wildly unpredictable’ is why I can make predictions based on his own words and actions.

    Let’s look at the facts. He himself has said that he has the right to kill people he views as a threat to the US. So the only question is what he sees as a threat. And his actions in response to Snowden’s and other whistleblower revelations show that he sees whistleblowers as a major threat. He has been willing to torture Bradley Manning and persecute Thomas Drake and William Binney but that failed to deter Snowden from following their example. So, being the rational, calculating person he is, he must be wondering what more must be done to deter future whistleblowers.

    The idea that skin color and religion are not factors in how the US government treats people is untenable on its face. Do you really think that the lack of outcry at the way in which people are being bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan has nothing to do with them being Muslims and that the government is unaware of that? And don’t forget that there were three other Americans who were killed in addition to Awlaki. He was not an isolated case.

    As for this:

    I can question many of his decisions, but the idea that he would simply start attacking and killing any American that displeases him for any reason seems entirely implausible to me. I have seen no evidence of such a danger.

    I did not say that he will kill people who ‘displease him for any reason’. If so, he would have killed off all the Republican members of Congress. I said that he claims that he has the right to kill people he views as a threat to the US. He has done so and admitted to doing so and seems proud of it. You perhaps do not see that danger because you do not see yourself as being seen as a threat to the US, and neither do I. But I think Snowden cannot be as sanguine. He has been accused of treason and being a traitor by prominent members of government. He has become an enemy of the state. The fact that he is not a Muslim is the one thing working in his favor.

  10. slc1 says

    Let’s remember that this is the same US Government that allowed a low level munchkin like Snowden to walk out of the building with the crown jewels of intelligence information. Sounds more like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight then a cunning set of conspirators.

    The notion that a US president is going to order the US armed forces to invade and conquer Canada is, to say the least, far fetched. How did that work out in 1776 and 1812?

    CaitieCat seems to the the Canadian equivalent of Don Williams, a random conspiracy generator.

  11. Mano Singham says

    Please see the detailed response to Jeffrey Johnson because it covers your comment too.

  12. Jeffrey Johnson says

    The slippery slope argument, much the same as the boiling frog, is an old one, and it certainly has some limited applicability.This is the common approach used, mostly seen on the right, when trying to scare people with lots of emotion and only a few facts. The metaphor involves lots of implicit assumptions that deserve to be questioned.

    The questions not answered by the metaphor are: how hot is the water really, and how hot will it get? Are we really in a situation where there is a threat of an unchecked monotonically increasing temperature without limit that is definitely going to boil us to death? Or do we have some control so that we can push back and adjust the temperature to our liking?

    And while I agree there is danger, it is important to not just reflexively and recklessly jump out of the pot in any direction. You’ve heard of out of the frying pan into the fire before I assume. That same caution can apply to the frog in the pot. In a post below I said more about how I see the danger and the appropriate response. The appropriate response is to not panic and engage in paranoid conspiracy theories about the government. The appropriate response is to clearly assess all the dangers involved and develop a rational and effective response.

    Lot’s of very idealistic people are grossly exaggerating the danger, in my opinion. I don’t doubt people do so with good intentions, but it doesn’t always reflect a thorough and accurate assessment of reality.

  13. says

    That was actually my first thought when I heard about Snowden’s flight. “They’ll take him out, as soon as they possibly can.” But then, I spent a couple of decades in Latin America; long, long ago, I lost all faith in the American government’s moral superiority.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    If you read CaitieCat’s clarification below, xe does not see invasion as an imminent threat. Longer term, when climate change and reduced resources increase levels of desperation, who knows?

    How did that work out in 1776 and 1812?

    Britain was a superpower then.

  15. Jeffrey Johnson says

    I agree Obama is rational and calculating, but I don’t view him as cold and evil. He said he has a right to kill people who pose a threat. The English language can’t convey exactly precise information unless one goes into pages of legalese. What is meant by “threat”, when it comes to drone attacks, has been elaborately defined on paper, and I don’t think it includes whistleblowers and leakers. I think it means people trying to kill Americans, in short. I can’t know this for sure. I was horrified by the treatment of Bradley Manning. I just hope you are wrong that things are so bad that they would try to kill Snowdon.

    Being calculating to some extent is something Obama’s job forces him to do. He has lots of bad trade-offs where he can’t be idealistic and stand on principles. The choices at times come down to acting in a limited fashion to kill some people, or doing nothing and allowing more people to be killed. You may reject this formulation, but to imagine such trade-offs don’t exist is I think idealistic. I think the US President has always had to make very unpleasant choices, and just being a nice guy and loving everyone and being loved by everyone usually isn’t available as an option. So I don’t see Obama as evil, but rather as someone who cares about people and is trying to carry out his responsibilities in the best possible fashion. There is plenty of room to disagree about whether he chooses the right decisions and actions. But when it comes to motives, I think he is trying to protect America and Americans, not trying to control the American public and coldly killing anyone who stands in his way.

    So I can’t see any reason to fear that killing Snowden would be seriously considered an option. He simply doesn’t pose enough of a threat, but I think Awlaki did. I do think Snowden is being treated too harshly by Obama, and that the security apparatus that has exploded post 9/11 is getting out of control and needs to be reigned in. I don’t think it is tantamount to an intentional overthrow of the Constitution by an evil dictatorship. I think it’s a case of human error, weakness, and laziness, a case of good intentions going awry, aided and abetted by greed. I think it’s correctable.

    When I remarked on religion and skin color I was specifically comparing only the cases of Awlaki and Snowden. I agree that in the US in general religion and skin color matter a lot when it comes to attitudes and treatment. I think the law strives to factor out such inequities, but people are weak and fallible. During both Iraq wars I felt sickened by the degree to which the American press only emphasizes American deaths, while practically ignoring Iraqi deaths. This kind of tribalism creates a kind of cultural myopia that enables people to suppress their humanity and minimize the negative consequences of their own actions.

    I agree that Americans in general are more willing to be patient with and give the benefit of the doubt to whites, Americans, Christians, and Europeans. They are quicker to be distrusting and suspicious of dark skinned people, non-English speaking people, and non-Christians. Americans are not unique in this kind of ethnocentrism. I think this results from primitive tribal instincts that have been re-channeled into nationalism and religion.

    The question is are these tendencies responsible for the different treatment of Awlaki and Snowden. Imagine if Snowden were dark skinned, named Ali Hassan, and did and said exactly what Snowden has done. I still don’t think he would be killed as Awlaki was, but I agree that he would probably receive more slanderous attacks in the media than even Snowden has. What if Anwar Al Awlaki were white, Christian, and named Bill Smith? I believe that if he did and said everything that Awlaki did, he still would have been targeted as an Al Qaeda enemy of the US. Perhaps there would have been more public resistance to it because of him being white and Christian. However, look at Timothy McVeigh. He received the death penalty, among widespread public approval, as Awlaki probably would have had he been in a place where he was subject to arrest and trial.

    So I agree with you that in general race and religion clouds people’s judgement. But I think that what primarily accounts for the different treatment specifically in the case of Snowden and Awlaki is the difference between their crimes.

    I agree with you that Snowdon’s actions should be considered as correcting a failure of government to inform the public, and as such any crime he may have committed doesn’t rise to the level of espionage, nor does it make him an enemy of the United States. I think he should be treated leniently, and that the government needs to admit its errors in keeping such programs secret from the public, and failing to ensure that proper safeguards were in place.

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    how hot is the water really, and how hot will it get?

    In the USA, I’d say pretty warm. I think the biggest impediment to change is the obscene campaign financing, which ensures that the concerns of ordinary citizens are largely ignored, in favour of corporate interests.

    There’s nothing paranoid about observing, over the last few decades, the gradual erosion of the middle class, the decline of unions, the rising power of corporations and the rich, and the growth of the rich-poor gap.

    I can’t count the number of times during the last election that I read blogs and comments urging liberals to vote for Obama as the lesser of two evils. That’s pretty damning.

  17. Corvus illustris says

    The Anschluss didn’t just happen*: it followed a long development of pan-Teutonism. While there might be sentiments of a similar type in the western provinces–some of them roses are pretty wild–if there is a general feeling in Canada that Anschluss would be nice, it’s inaudible down here. A better plan for the Amis would be to establish a free trade zone and have economic control from the south, keep weak, pliable governments in office (especially at the provincial level) and maintain the form of Canadian independence as a shell. I wonder if such a program(me) has ever been considered? Oh, wait …

    *Apropos The Sound of Music see Billy Wilder (approximate): The Austrians have had the genius to convince the world that Beethoven was an Austrian and Hitler was a German.

  18. smrnda says

    When people complain about whistle-blowers being low-level staff who don’t have the experience to see the big picture, the unspoken assumption is the higher-ups are all responsible, morally upstanding people doing what is clearly in the best interests of everyone, and that whistle-blowers are inviting chaos by making their own calls.

    To me, that’s a ridiculous ‘shut up and know your place’ type argument that nobody would ever apply consistently across the board. People defy authority all the time – in the end, it’s a risk, but we judge the people who do this based on what they’ve refused to do (or made public) and the results.

    The other issue I have is that democracy (or a constitutional republic form of government if you want to be precise) requires a level of transparency by the government. Snowden’s crime is showing what a farce due process and checks and balances are at present.

  19. didgen says

    At fifty-eight, I have gone from believing my country was consistently right, and a power for good, to disillusionment and cynicism. Now I have graduated to feeling ashamed of how we do things, I hope we can become a country my grandkids can have pride in. We are treating our own laws with an appalling lack of respect, in the name of safety from terrorism, we have given up our sense of self.

  20. slc1 says

    Great Britain was a superpower on the sea. The British Army was pretty small beer. The Duke of Wellington was able to defeat French forces in Spain and Portugal because Napoleon was otherwise occupied elsewhere against the much larger forces of Austria and Prussia and later Russia. General Winter was Canada’s best military asset in 1776 and 1812, just as General Winter was the former Soviet Union’s best military asset in 1941.

  21. henry_pet says

    Comment to

    I’d like to respond to a couple of Jeffrey Johnson’s lucid points.

    It isn’t necessary to attribute maliciousness to Obama – it’s enough to look at past actions, and remember that plenty of evil is done by people for the best of intentions. Also, let’s not personalize this. It isn’t a case of a grudge match of Obama vs. Snowden, but one where the national security system may want to remind people of its reach. The U.S. is plenty capable of going after individuals it has determined to be inconvenient, for example, Noriega in Panama, who was deposed extra-legally and dragged to Miami for a drug trial. And, they just went after Snowden extra-legally, though he turned out not to be on the plane with President Morales when it was grounded and searched.

    It would serve the government better to catch him and put him on trial than to assassinate him.

    Realistically I doubt there will be an attempt on Snowden’s life, because to be an effective deterrent it would have to be publicized after the fact with lots of pomp, as Al Awlaki’s was, and there would be a huge media build up ahead of time to demonize Snowden, like what happened with Al Awlaki. Not to say Al Awlaki was an innocent victim. He was certainly vocal in his calls for violence against Americans, but we don’t know how or if he was involved with actual attacks because he was not accorded a trial, and we have to accept the government’s word. But the fact that we’re having a rational conversation about this topic is … disturbing. The fact is – based on evidence of past actions and not on personality types – it’s not a tin-hat conspiracy theory that the government might murder Snowden. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

    I admit that as President, Obama has lots of nuanced decisions to make. He may have the best motives of trying to protect America. But assuming the extra-legal role of judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner is a step too far. I really don’t care what his motives are, and I just don’t buy the argument that we have to kill them before they all kill us.

    What I see are rationales that are dragged out of the government, where time after time they release as little hard information as possible, qualified in every conceivable way, unless there’s some PR to be won by spinning some secret. Every time there’s a case in open court, the administration does everything in its power to assert “executive privilege” and claim – so far successfully – that the court has no jurisdiction because the U.S. government can’t jeopardize our safety. Without asking us.

    There is no pattern of good faith shown by the national security bureaucracy. When they say, “Trust us,” I reply, “Show me.” They are unwilling to do this, and when someone dumps a lot of inconvenient material out there that by rights we, as citizens of a Democracy, ought to be aware of, they go after the poor SOB tooth and nail – the entire strength of U.S. against … Edward Snowden.

    Good luck, Edward. You will need it.


  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    The British Army was small(ish) beer during the Revolutionary War. During the War of 1812, the regular army had a strength of about 250,000 (not all fighting the Yanks, of course).

    General Winter was Canada’s best military asset in 1776 and 1812

    My impression is that Canada’s best military asset 1812-1815 was the same old story; American overconfidence, infighting and incompetence.

  23. says

    He said he has a right to kill people who pose a threat.

    Can you explain how some guy in Pakistan, in the tribal areas, is a “threat” to the US?
    For one thing, if ‘we’ knew enough about him to consider him a threat and worth killing, and we knew where he was in order to kill him, then we know he’s a) not in the US and b) not going to travel to the US by any means in which his ingress is controlled. Exactly how is some lone guy – or even a small group of people – who get their asses blown up by a hellfire missile a threat to the US?!

  24. says

    Are you kidding me? Wellington utterly hammered Napoleon at Waterloo, and the Prussians weren’t even on the field yet! The British army was not as large as many that took to the field but – name a battle Wellington lost. Go ahead. Now, name a battle Bonaparte lost, or barely won.

    I’m a big fan of Bonaparte but your comment is either deeply ignorant or a lie; at least it can’t be both.

  25. Deepak Shetty says

    You miss Mano’s point – Suppose Snowden moves to Venezuala – now is what Mano saying a possibility?

  26. markdowd says

    “George W. Bush’s legal advisor John Yoo said that the president has the legal right to even crush the testicles of a suspected terrorist’s children in order to get them to cooperate”

    People like John Yoo are about the only kinds of people that I would CHEER for a summary execution of. Someone who can support something so evil is beyond hope of any redemption.

  27. cotton says

    I agree with Jeffery Johnson, who makes my own points far more strongly and eloquently than I could. I do want to defend an accusation that might have been leveled in my direction about attacking Snowden for his class and education level. I don’t know his class at all, though I do know his educational achievement. While he never earned a college degree, I think its clear he’s highly intelligent and well trained in the difficult field of IT.

    I’m making the argument that there is simply no way for an intelligence service or army to operate if the rank and file are allowed to disclose information without any fear of consequences.

    I would also posit that al queda is not merely a “criminal organization”. The mafia didn’t go around killing citizens for the hell of it. They didn’t fly planes into buildings or kill US soldiers.

  28. slc1 says

    It is certainly more likely then a drone strike or Vanunu type operation in Russia.

  29. slc1 says

    The lesser of the two evils argument is quite meritorious. Consider the what the makeup of the Supreme Court would have been if Gore had been elected in 2000. Does anybody believe that, had a President Gore appointed the replacements for Rehnquist and O’Connor, that the campaign finance decision would have been the same? Not hardly.

  30. sailor1031 says

    Oh I don’t think that we canadians are quietly pining for ‘Anschluss’ – we’d actually rather be much further away from you than we unfortunately are. But we are realistic enough to understand that your county has a habit of ignoring laws, domestic and international, and civilised behaviour rules whenever it suits. You americans may believe your own bullshit about being a peaceloving democracy, a country of laws, and all the rest of the BS mantra, but nobody else does!

    As Caitie says, Canada has a lot of resources. And some US persons, particularly from western states, have expressed an interest in helping themselves to Canadian resources especially water – which is in short supply because with typical american shortsightedness you have allowed unrestricted development in areas where it was not sustainable. Think Las Vegas for example.

    Only a fool would think that the USA would not invade a neighbouring country. Canada twice. Mexico at least twice. How much territory did you steal from Mexico? And since you don’t learn from history your experience of defeat in Viet Nam and Iraq won’t prevent you from going to war again. But I’m thinking current canadian politicians are so corrupt they’ll just hand you the keys – or sell them to you at a bargain price – so you won’t need to invade.

  31. slc1 says

    Re Marcus Ranum

    If Ranum want’s to re-fight the Battle of Waterloo, I will be happy to oblige him. The fact is that Napoleon lost the battle, Wellington didn’t win it,.

    The fact is that, just after the fall of Hougoumont about 3:30 in the afternoon, Wellington’s line atop Mt. St. Jean was in considerable disarray. Around 4:00, Marshal Ney approaches Napoleon and requests him to send in the Imperial Guard agains Wellington’s line. Napoleon, who was suffering from an enlarged prostate and was unable to mount a horse was distracted by the presence of a Prussian corps on his right that was engaging French troops there. Unable to ride over and investigate for himself, he relied on the information supplied by the commander of the French troops engaged with the Prussians, which implied that 2 Prussian corps were present. In fact, only 1 corps was present. In addition, Napoleon lacked confidence in Ney’s military judgment. Napoleon then held back the Guard force, thinking it might be needed against the Prussians. As it turned out,it was not needed there and the Prussians were beaten back.

    Thus, at about 6:00, Napoleon orders the Guard to advance. Unfortunately, he had violated one of his own maxims, namely that he might lose a battle but he would never lose a minute. He lost 2 hours, giving Wellington time to recover from the loss of Hougoumont and strengthen his defensive line, a fatal mistake by Napoleon as you can’t give an opponent as dangerous as Wellington time to recover. Had he sent in the Guard at 4:00, IMHO, the British line would have collapsed and Napoleon would have won the battle. As it turned out, Wellington’s forces were ready to receive the Guard and met them with a volley of musket fire that caused it to halt and then retreat. The cry goes up in the French Army, “La Guarde recule.” At that point, Wellington made one of the most momentous decisions ever made by a commander on the battlefield. He turned to his bugler and remarking, “in for a penny, in for a pound”, order him to sound fix bayonets and the advance, despite the fatigue his troops, who had been fighting all day, were suffering. The sudden appearance of the British line from behind the reverse slope of Mt. St. Jean caused the Guard troops to retreat in great disorder. Just at that time, Blucher with the second Prussian corps and the Prussian cavalry appears in the woods. Taking in the situation, Blucher orders his cavalry to attack the retreating French army, which turns the disordered retreat into a rout. Blucher joins Wellington atop Mr. St. Jean who remarks to him that, “it was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”.

  32. slc1 says

    Gee, the fact that Canada was invaded, unsuccessfully, 200 years ago means that we might invade at any moment. As for stealing resources, the Canadian Government is having trouble convincing the US Government to please take the oil from the tar sands of Alberta.

  33. Rob Grigjanis says

    The lesser of the two evils argument is quite meritorious

    Yes, it is. Third party voting is pointless. But it doesn’t bode well for the future. Question is: How does campaign financing get fixed when Congress has already been bought and paid for?

  34. says

    With respect to Waterloo – it was not even close to a near-run thing. And quoting Wellington is fraught. He also said “they came on in the same old way and we defeated them in the same old way” did he not? And that’s pretty much what happened.

  35. slc1 says

    Re Marcus Ranum

    By the way, Wellington was given a big assist by French Marshal Grouchy who was supposed to prevent the Prussians, who had been defeated 2 days prior to the battle of Waterloo by Napoleon, from uniting with Wellington’s army and failed to do so. If Grouchy does his job and no Prussian corps has shown up in the woods at 4:00, Napoleon sends in the Imperial Guard and wins the battle.

    Sort of reminds one of the failure of the Union general near Martinsburg during the 1st Battle of Manassas who was supposed to prevent Johnston’s force there from reinforcing Beauregard’ s force facing McDowell. Had that general done his job, McDowell would have won the 1st Battle of Manassas and the entire complexion of the Civil War would have been different.

  36. slc1 says

    Re Ranum

    Ranum asks whether Wellington was ever defeated in battle. AFAIK, the answer is never. However, I would argue that the Battle of Waterloo was the first serious challenge he faced where he was in a position to lose, and in fact should have lost.

  37. MNb says

    Al Qaeda didn’t dot it for the hell of it either. As Bin Laden asked: why didn’t they attack Sweden?

  38. sailor1031 says

    Invade at any moment? No; but invade if it suited the USA in the future? – sure! Nothing in US history suggests that international norms apply when the US thinks it has something at stake. As for Alberta oil, the US being currently a net exporter of peroleum products doesn’t actually need Alberta oil – at least not right now. And who knows; Canada might be holding weapons of mass destruction……..

  39. slc1 says

    Re sailor 1031

    The US is a net exporter of natural gas. It is still a net importer of oil and will remain so indefinitely. Contrary to the crap published in the lamestream media, Canada has no other outlet because the provincial government of British Columbia won’t allow a pipeline carrying the oil to be built on their territory. What does the Government of British Columbia know that the morons in the US government don’t know?

  40. slc1 says

    Incidentally, speaking of the Duke of Wellington, after Napoleon was exiled to Elba, the former was offered the command of the British troops in America. Since he was not sympathetic to the British government’s policy vis a vis the USA, he declined the appointment. That was fortunate for the allies as, IMHO, that would have made him unavailable for further service in Europe and Napoleon would have been facing inferior commanders after his return from Elba during the 100 days. Wellington was by far the best the allies had.

  41. Corvus illustris says

    Excuse me, sailor1031, the tabbing arrangements made your post appear as a reply to 5.1, in which I said among other things

    … if there is a general feeling in Canada that Anschluss would be nice, it’s inaudible down here …

    so I don’t hear Canadians pining for Anschluss either. (I have heard such sentiments expressed by a couple of people from Alberta, apparently without intentional irony; these expressions were hardly representative.) You and I are in substantial agreement about conditions in NAmerica generally; you don’t seem to agree with sic1.

  42. Corvus illustris says

    John Yoo is Peter Arnett’s son-in-law. Some of these things you just couldn’t ever make up.

  43. Corvus illustris says

    But history will never forgive Wellington for beating Joseph Bonaparte in Basque country and thus inspiring(?) Beethoven’s Wellingtons Sieg, oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria, Op. 91.

  44. Jeffrey Johnson says

    Wow. Did he have to, you know, give the bride away at the wedding, or was he able to skip that unpleasantness?

    Seriously though, I would think he would have a hard time coming to terms with his daughter’s choice. Thanksgiving must be tough.

  45. cotton says

    You’ll have to forgive my lack of desire for pyschoanalyzing people who seem hell bent on murdering me and my fellow citizens. I have quite the deficit of sympathy for them.

  46. sailor1031 says

    I think you got it right about how the US controls Canada! We’ve come a long way from the days of St.Laurent and Diefenbaker…….and no – I don’t agree with slc1 on this….

  47. slc1 says

    Re sailor1031

    I said that the US is a net importer of oil. Much of the gasoline referred to in the NPR article is refined from imported oil. I suggest that sailor1031 learn how to read.

  48. slc1 says

    As a graduate of UC Berkeley, I find it appalling that a criminal like Yoo is on the law faculty there.

  49. slc1 says

    A little tough to blame it on Wellington, who probably never heard a performance of Beethoven’s work. Actually, Wellington’s Seig isn’t all that bad, no worse then the 1812 Overture.

  50. Nick Gotts says

    I think it means people trying to kill Americans, in short.

    So Obama will be ordering a drone strike against himself, presumably.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *