Slip sliding away

Fallout from the Snowden saga continues to spread.

Take Hong Kong’s press release on Sunday:

Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.

The US Government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR Government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden. Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR Government has requested the US Government to provide additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government’s request can meet the relevant legal conditions. As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.

The HKSAR Government has already informed the US Government of Mr Snowden’s departure.

Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.

The apparent reasons for his sudden flight (AFP) are also intriguing:

Snowden was warned that detention without bail would drag on for months as extradition proceedings played out in the courts. “He became extremely worried,” Ho said. [Albert Ho is a prominent pro-democracy lawmaker and one of three lawyers who agreed to represent Snowden in Hong Kong].

After the Tuesday dinner, according to Ho, an intermediary approached Snowden to relay that the Hong Kong government could not interfere in a circuitous legal process, but would not impede him if he tried to fly out of the airport.

It’s not hard to imagine the authorities in Hong Kong were eager to sidestep the pressures that would undoubtedly have accompanied extradition hearings. So, maybe it was as simple as that; turn a blind eye and profess innocence. Or, maybe they (and the Chinese) didn’t mind taking the opportunity for a little gesture.

Whatever the case, the US, understandably, was not happy:

The White House slammed China and Hong Kong for allowing him to fly to Moscow instead of handing him over to the US, where he is wanted to face espionage charges.

“This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant,” spokesman Jay Carney said.

In the same report, China rejected these claims:

But Chinese government spokeswoman Hua Chuying has called America’s claims groundless and unreasonable.

“It is unreasonable for the US to question Hong Kong’s handling of affairs in accordance with law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless,” she said.

“China cannot accept that.”

The Russians are shrugging their shoulders, albeit in a slightly touchy fashion:

MOSCOW, June 25 (Xinhua) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed on Tuesday the U.S. extradition demand of Edward Snowden as “groundless and unacceptable,” saying the fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker did not cross border [sic] into Russia.

“We deem absolutely groundless and unacceptable the attempts we are witnessing to accuse the Russian side of violation of U.S. laws,” Lavrov told a press conference after talks with his Algerian colleague Murad Medelci.

As for Snowden, he  vanished after a ruse that left half the press pack on an Aeroflot flight to Havana with Snowden’s “seat”  empty. It was, apparently, a dry flight.

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Presumably the White House is ropable. Being publicly humiliated isn’t much fun.

No one knows how this will turn out; entirely unanticipated turns may be just around the corner. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if we’re witnessing a watershed of sorts in international relations.

If so, it’s certainly of a piece with developments elsewhere.

Barack Obama is about to have his “butt kicked” by the Russians over Syria. [ . . . . ]

Putin made it clear yesterday to our British lapdog, David Cameron, that he considers Assad’s government to be the legitimate government of Syria and that there will be no resolution emerging from the UN Security Council that threatens that status.  He also made it clear that the rebels (whoever they are) are responsible for many of the civilian casualies that have occurred in Syria.

Russia, Iran, Hizbullah and Syria are in the process of finishing off the “rebels.”

Some people are saying that an unpopular minorities based government cannot hold Syria.  Really? His father did so for decades.

Putin said at Enniskillen today that Russia “will not allow” no-fly zones in Syria. That’s a real red line folks.

That’s Col W. Patrick Lang, former Green Beret and former Director of the Defence Humint Service at DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency). I’ve read (and occasionally commented at) his Sic Semper Tyrannis website for many years and he’s been consistent and remarkably accurate in his views.

Some of the comments that followed this post are arguably even more interesting:

Thanks for the link.I finally got round to looking at the Mail Online website. It usually gives you a good indication of what a great deal of ‘middle England’ thinks.

The ‘best rated’ comments on their report of the confrontations at the G8 summit begin with the following:

‘Hold firm Putin, you’re right, they’re wrong and most of us Brits want nothing to do with arming the rebels.’

Among a collection of similar comments, the eighth in the list is interesting:

‘Putin is right, and we should just stay right out of it – this must be the first time ever that the British public have more in common with a Russian PM than our own!’

(See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2343904/G8-summit-Putin-refuses-G8-removal-Assad-despite-Camerons-dinner-ambush-end-bloodshed-Syria.html )

Something has snapped. As I have said earlier, it is not simply a left-right thing. One of the most striking things, moreover, is the way in which the comments on the Financial Times website are not very far removed from those on the Mail Online website.

There is a very large-scale collapse of confidence in elites, even among many of those — like FT readers — who one would expect to identify with elites. Whether the process has gone further in the UK than the US is not clear to me.

Being temperamentally conservative, and cautious, in a rather old-fashioned British sense, I actually find this in many respects seriously alarming. But if you have elites which simply will not listen, and inhabit curious kinds of ‘bubble’ of their own, this kind of thing is bound to happen.

David Habakkuk (former BBC television producer) is a learned, careful man, not at all given to hyperbole and I think the sentiment he describes above is snowballing. While Americans are probably more instinctively patriotic, a similar undermining of trust is taking place in the US.

Certainly, the incoherence and overreach in foreign policy that the Daily Mail’s readers are apparently so fed up with has its true home in the US.

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No one doubts US strength. Its military, despite the problems and embarrassments of the last decade, remains peerless.

Still, the soft power that allowed the US to achieve most of its ends by persuasion, diplomacy, and the desire of much of the world to emulate its culture and mores seems to be misfiring. If anything, expressed US wishes are becoming a contra-indicator.

Do US leaders see what’s happening? Perspective can’t be easy from the inside, particularly when the domestic political culture has become so toxic. Nevertheless, all these disparate threads are slowly weaving a new tapestry. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the sub-prime crisis, political gridlock at home and now this whole messy surveillance business each eat away at America’s standing and authority in the world.

The tone of Hong Kong’s press release (and Ecuador’s somewhat gleeful diplomacy) may be an unusually clear expression of that shift.

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